The Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden will face 33 years in prison for what the Pakistani government calls involvement with an Islamic militant group. Shakil Afridi was tried in Pakistan’s tribal court system for colluding with an Islamist warlord to whom he allegedly donated more than $22,000.
Afridi was recruited by the CIA to run a vaccination program in early 2011 as a cover for an operation meant to verify whether bin Laden was living in a compound in Abbotabad. Shortly after the Navy SEALs raided the compound and killed bin Laden, Afridi was picked up by Pakistani intelligence and news began to spread that he would be charged for treason in a regular court in Pakistan. His case was then moved to Khyber Agency in a tribal court system, where he would have to face a draconian council of tribal elders without a lawyer.
Afridi is currently being held in Peshawar, where Pakistani Taliban and other extremists are also incarcerated. Officials with the provincial government have asked the federal government to move Afridi because they fear he could be attacked by other prisoners due to his involvement in the death of bin Laden. The U.S. has expressed concerns over Afridi’s safety, but it is uncertain whether the Pakistani government and military will comply with the transfer requests.
Adding to the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, after news broke of Afridi’s conviction lawmakers in Washington voted to cut $33 million in American aid to Pakistan, $1 million for each year of Afridi’s sentence. It is assumed that the U.S. will try to reach a deal with Pakistan to free Afridi and resettle him and his family in the United States. However, it could be years before the U.S. is in a position to negotiate with Pakistan for Afridi’s freedom.
In the meantime, officials for an anti-extremist advocacy group maintain that Afridi is innocent of the charges and are arranging legal aid to assist him in the appeals process.