ISLAMABAD - A top Pakistani official has hinted that his government would be willing to discuss with the new American administration freedom for Shakil Afridi, the jailed doctor who helped the United States hunt down Osama bin Laden in 2011.
“We will handle this issue within the parameters of our legal system but at the same time we don't want it to become an irritant with anyone. That is not the purpose of [our legal proceedings],” said Tariq Fatemi, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy aide.
His remarks to a local television station, Geo News, followed reports of renewed pressure on Pakistan to release Afridi since U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office last month.
Fatemi denied the reports, however, saying the issue has not "at all come under any discussions" his government has held so far with the Trump administration.
Fatemi went on to acknowledge the previous U.S. administration had demanded Afridi be released, but was “elaborately” informed that the man is a Pakistani national who violated local laws and was being dealt with accordingly.
Hailed as a hero in US
Afridi is hailed as a hero in the U.S. for helping the CIA obtain the Bin Laden family’s DNA by organizing a fake immunization campaign that led American forces to raid and kill the fugitive al-Qaida chief in his hideout in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May of 2011.
Fatemi maintained that “if a third country’s assessment finds his [Afridi's] actions useful to them, it is not the case under Pakistani rules.”
Afridi’s fake immunization campaign was followed by the covert American military action that triggered widespread backlash in Pakistan, prompting many internationally-backed health programs to shut down.
Soon after media reports emerged about how the world’s most wanted man was tracked down, Pakistani authorities moved to detain the doctor, put him on trial and convict him for treason. Currently, Afridi is serving a 33-year jail sentence in a Peshawar prison.
Fatemi also dismissed reports the Trump administration plans to add Pakistan to its list of seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens have been subject to strict screening before being allowed into the United States.
Instead, the key Pakistani advisor described as “positive and constructive” his discussions with the Trump team during a visit to Washington days before the inauguration of the new U.S. president.