With the majority of Pakistanis skeptical about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Pakistan's judicial commission entrusted to probe the assassination had failed to do so until now.
The government named a five-member commission of inquiry last June. The responsibility of the commission, which is headed by a supreme court judge, is to pinpoint negligence on the part of civil and military authorities that made the U.S. military operation that claimed bin Laden's life possible.
The commission questioned over a 100 witnesses, including military and security officials, former foreign secretaries and ministers, police and intelligence officials, bin Laden's family, neighbors, and media personnel in Islamabad, and from Abbottabad: former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, who, along with President Zardari, was allegedly privy to the U.S. operation.
Publication of the commission's findings, originally scheduled for December 2011, has been repeatedly postponed, and critics of the government smell political pressure on the commission to tone down its findings. The Express Tribune reported on February 16 that the commission is in a fix over the question of pinpointing responsibility.
According to the newspaper, officials privy to the inquiry attributed the delay to the explosive question of naming and blaming those who were at the helm of affairs in secret agencies during the years bin Laden was allegedly living in his safe house. At least four generals, including incumbent military chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, served as head of the country's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), from 2003 to 2011 -- during Bin Laden's supposed years in Abbottabad.
Osama's Widows are Deported to Saudi Arabia
The U.S. client Pakistani government seemed more interested in moving on than seeking answers. Not surprisingly, on the night of Feb. 25, 2012, the local authorities in Abbottabad sent bulldozers to demolish bin Laden's house after nightfall, erasing a painful symbol of an embarrassing episode involving the government in Islamabad. But on April 26, Pakistan deported the family of Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia. Osama's three widows and 11 children were found at the compound on May 2, 2011. Two Saudi women -- Siham Sharif and Kharia Hussain Sabir -- were among the widows, according to court documents cited by the Express-Tribune and other Pakistani newspapers. Osama bin Laden's third wife in Pakistan was Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, a citizen of Yemen.
The women and children were interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agents and eventually charged in March with illegally entering and living in the country. The three wives and two adult daughters were convicted and sentenced to 45 days in prison. Their prison term, which was spent at a well-guarded house in Islamabad, ended earlier last month.
Pakistan Snubs U.S. Over Osama Informer
In a another twist, Pakistan has reportedly turned down a demand by United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to release a Pakistani physician who faces treason charges for helping the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Abbottabad operation. Pakistan's political and military leaders discussed at length Panetta's demand and decided the alleged informer, Dr. Shakil Afridi, should not be given leeway, according to Asia Times. The snub was made in light of a recommendation from the Abbottabad Judicial Commission to register a treason case against him.
Dr. Afridi, who the commission has declared a "national criminal," has been charged with conspiring against the state by collaborating with a foreign spy agency. However, Afridi has not yet been charged with treason -- a sentence that would carry the death penalty. The doctor was arrested by Pakistani security agencies at his home in Hayatabad, Peshawar 20 days after bin Laden's alleged death. In his appearance before the commission, Afridi confessed to having set up a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad aimed at collecting DNA samples to establish the whereabouts of bin Laden and his family.
Dr. Afridi confessed to conducting a fake polio vaccination drive in the Bilal Town area of Abbottabad from March 15-18 and April 21-23, 2011 in an attempt to collect DNA samples from the residents of the compound in which bin Laden was allegedly hiding.
Amir Mir of the Asia Times reported that well-informed diplomats in Islamabad believe the orders to initiate a treason trial against Afridi must have something to do with the apparent refusal of the CIA to provide any information to the commission after it had been sent a detailed questionnaire last year through the Pakistani Foreign Office. Pakistani security agencies continue to interrogate Afridi in a bid to ascertain how the CIA recruited him and several other civilians who have been under interrogation since the Abbottabad raid. This would help them expose the American's recruitment network in Pakistan, the Asia Times said.
Coming from a humble background, Afridi graduated from the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar in 1990 and was working as the doctor in-charge of Khyber Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The doctor's close aides say the whereabouts of his family remains unknown.
The U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta admitted in a January 28 interview that Dr. Afridi had been working for the Americans and had provided information to the CIA about bin Laden. Based on this information, U.S. Navy Seals raided his hideout.
In a related development, a group of U.S. Congressmen has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives seeking citizenship for Dr. Afridi. "Today, I have introduced legislation to grant American citizenship to Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistan medical doctor who risked his life to identify Osama bin Laden and help U.S. military forces bring him to justice. If convicted, he could be executed," said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) on February 4.
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