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Pakistan: Dr Afridi, scapegoat in the death of Bin Laden

By staging a fake hepatitis C vaccination campaign, Dr Shakeel Afridi helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda leader was to be killed by US special forces on May 2, 2011.

In isolation

Imprisoned since then, he is being held in solitary confinement in a prison in the province of Punjab. And nothing suggests that he will one day be exonerated by Pakistani justice. Today, he spends his time counting the days, which nothing differentiates from each other. “Let’s be clear: Afridi paid the highest price for the raid against OBL,” says Michael Kugelman, deputy director Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington. “He has become the scapegoat,” he adds.

AFP reconstituted his daily life thanks to interviews with his brother and his lawyer, the Pakistani doctor not being allowed to speak to anyone other than his family and his defenders.

To keep up physically, he walks around in his two-by-two-meter cell and does push-ups from time to time, according to his family. He has a copy of the Quran, but is not entitled to any other book.

A few times a week, he shaves in the presence of a guard, but is not allowed to have any contact with other inmates.

Behind a metal grid

Family members can visit him twice a month, but must stay behind a metal gate and cannot interact with him in Pashto, their mother tongue. “The prison authorities told us that we cannot talk about politics, nor about the situation inside the prison,” says his brother, Jamil Afridi.

Originally from the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan, the doctor was well placed, with his fluency in Pashto, to help the CIA as it approached Osama bin Laden’s hiding place.

Looking for physical evidence

The American agency only needed physical proof of the presence in Abbottabad of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. She therefore asked Shakeel Afridi to launch a fake vaccination campaign to obtain a DNA sample from a person living in her residence.

The exact role played by the doctor in identifying Bin Laden is not clear. But he was arrested by Pakistani authorities a few weeks later.

He has never been convicted in connection with the death of Osama bin Laden. But he received a 33-year prison sentence for financing an extremist group, under an obscure law dating back to colonial times.

” To give a lesson “

Successive American administrations have protested against the fate that awaited him. Over the years, the possibility of a prisoner exchange has been raised, but no agreement has ever been reached. “Today, he is only kept in prison to teach every Pakistani a lesson not to cooperate with a Western intelligence agency,” said Husain Haqqani, who was Pakistani ambassador to the United States in 2011. “Instead of telling the truth about Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, the authorities have made Dr Afridi a scapegoat,” he also considers.

Announced withdrawal from Afghanistan

10th anniversary of bin Laden disappearance comes weeks after Joe Biden confirmed the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11.

In justifying this departure in a speech to the Nation, he cited the death of Osama bin Laden as proof, in his eyes, that the United States had long since accomplished the initial objective of the invasion of the United States. Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t mention Shakeel Afridi’s name.

“The withdrawal from Afghanistan and the weakening of ties with Pakistan that this could provoke suggests that Afridi is no longer as sensitive an issue as it has been in the past,” said Michael Kugelman.

“One of the most unforgivable crimes there is”

In Pakistan, where Abbottabad’s spectacular intervention was seen as a humiliation, leaving deep traces in its relations with the United States, few people still pay attention to the fate of Shakeel Afridi. “When someone works for a foreign intelligence service, it is one of the most unforgivable crimes there is,” says Asad Durrani, former head of the powerful Pakistani secret service, for whom the arrest of Shakeel Afridi has him. probably avoided being lynched.

But even ten years later, Shakeel Afridi’s legacy continues to be felt in Pakistan. The American ruse has indeed shaken confidence in vaccination in the country, where many families continue to refuse their children to be vaccinated against diseases such as polio. And, over the past decade, dozens of vaccinators have been killed.

In his prison, Shakeel Afridi remains cut off from the world, spending his days walking in his cell or reciting his prayers.

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