PESHAWAR – The Taliban attempted to kidnap the brother and other relatives of the Pakistani doctor jailed for helping the CIA hunt down Usama Bin Laden, members of the family told Fox News.
The alleged attempted abduction happened on Monday, according to Qamar Afridi, a cousin of Dr. Shakil Afridi, when a man identifying himself as a representative of Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with a family lawyer in Peshawar to discuss the case. The man reportedly said the Afghan leader wanted to help the Afridi family, and was willing to offer them financial support in their efforts to free the doctor.
The man, who identified himself as Haji Hukam Khan and said he was “very close to Karzai,” asked the lawyer to bring Jamil (Dr. Afridi’s brother) and other family members to Kabul, Afghanistan to meet Karzai. “He wants to aid you,” Qamar said the man told the lawyer.
The family reacted to the offer with alarm because the Karzai government has shown no interest in the Afridi case. An Afghan official confirmed those suspicions on Friday, saying “no one from the Karzai administration has reached out to Afridi, nor do they intend to."
Qamar said he had little doubt about who was behind what he is convinced was an attempted abduction.
“We believe it was the Taliban. It has to be … We firmly believe this is the Taliban trying to get us.”
Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in jail on May 23, 2012, a year to the day after his arrest. He was convicted of supporting and financing a terror network, in what the U.S. government considers to be trumped-up charges. The Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan have also declared Afridi a “sworn enemy.”
The attempted abduction is the latest in what has been a series of difficult ordeals facing the Afridi family. They have not been able to visit the surgeon in his jail cell in Peshawar since Aug. 2, only their third visit permitted since he was jailed in May. They were not allowed to talk him without senior prison officials present.
The doctor has also told his family that for the first six months after his arrest, he was kept handcuffed and in total darkness – attempts, he told his family, that were meant to leave him paralyzed and permanently blind. “Shakil told us that as a doctor he knew what long-term impact his body would suffer from prolonged physical restraint and by having no exposure to light,” said Qamar.
Afridi said that because of his knowledge of anatomy as a physician, he would try and do exercises to mitigate some of the harmful physical effects. All the same, Qamar said, the doctor now has “deeply sunken eyes in his head,” and his arms and hands have clearly been physically affected.
Afridi was moved from confinement by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, after his conviction in May. He was able to see that he had been held in a private residential property in what he recognized as the capital, Islamabad. He described it as being near Pakistan’s Supreme Court, in the very heart of the city.
The location and style of property bear similarities with that in which Bin Laden's wives were housed after they were arrested by the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, following the U.S. raid on the Bin Laden complex at Abbottabad. The ISI held the women in a private residence a stone’s throw away from the same court complex, in a leafy, well-heeled neighborhood on the edge of the government quarter, close to a number of foreign embassies.
Afridi was then transferred to a Peshawar jail, where he was informed of his sentence by an assistant to tribal court judge, referred to as a political agent. That meeting lasted around 15 to 30 minutes. It is the only personal encounter he has had with any judicial official since he was apprehended by the ISI.
A ruling on Afridi's appeal is expected by mid-September. Prosecution and defense lawyers will have an opportunity to present final arguments in the case at an Aug 30 hearing.
Afridi’s family says they have been denied access to the original prosecution file against him by the tribal court system. They also said there are 15 pages noticeably missing from the file that they did receive, including the verdict by the ruling jirga, a four-man group of tribal elders who heard his case.
The family says if the original verdict is not presented, it will be a fatal flaw in the prosecution’s case and would mean that, in theory, Shakil would have to be released. But they are not optimistic that would happen due to interference by the ISI.
The Afridis say they have also found themselves ostracized and in dire financial difficulties amid mounting legal costs. Afridi’s wife, who Qamar says is now in hiding somewhere in Punjab, is set to be fired from her job as a college principal in one of Pakistan’s most dangerous tribal towns.
Notices were published in the Pakistani media that informed of her imminent dismissal due to her prolonged absence.
The family says it cannot raise the $50,000 dollars it says is needed to fight the case and also to support the family’s basic needs. Shakil’s brother, Jamil, earns just $84 dollars a month as an 8th grade teacher in Multan.
The Afridi case has caught the attention of a handful of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, though political conventions and the presidential campaign have distracted from Afridi’s plight.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is pushing for a vote on a bill that would strip Pakistan of all U.S. aid unless Afridi is released.
On the House side, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has been pressing Afridi's case for months, but has expressed concern about the administration’s commitment to Afridi’s freedom.
"It doesn't appear that other people are taking this case seriously," Rohrabacher said earlier this year. "If we let that person just hang on a limb and forget him, now that he's put himself in danger for us -- well shame on us."