PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench has put off hearing into a petition filed by former surgeon Dr Shakil Afridi against the upholding of his conviction by an appellate forum for links with banned militant outfits. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s advocate general sought time for preparing answers to “important legal questions”.

The bench, which consisted of Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Muhammad Naeem Anwar, fixed Oct 22 for the next hearing of Dr Afridi’s petition. It had remained pending with an erstwhile Fata tribunal for four years and was shifted to the high court a few months ago after the former tribal areas merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In June the court had put on notice the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in the petition.

The FCR (Frontier Crimes Regu­lation) commissioner had upheld the conviction of Dr Afridi in 2014 for links to a banned militant organisation of Bara tehsil, but reduced his prison term slapped by the assistant political agent’s court from 33 years to 23 years and the fine from Rs320,000 to Rs220,000.

Through the revision petition, Dr Afridi had challenged the commissioner’s decision in the Fata tribunal — the third and final judicial forum under the erstwhile FCR.

The administration had also moved the tribunal through a petition seeking a lengthier jail term for Dr Afridi.

The bench adjourned the administration’s petition to Oct 22.

Advocates Abdul Lateef Afridi and Qamar Nadeem appeared for Dr Afridi while Advocate General Shumail Ahmad Butt represented the government.

When the bench took up the petitions for hearing, Shumail Ahmad Butt sought an adjournment of a few days as he needed to address important legal questions.

He pointed out that Dr Afridi was convicted by the trial court in the light of recommendations of a Jirga constituted under the now repealed FCR and the petition now at issue was also filed before the Fata Tribunal under the same regulations.

He contended that while the high court had decided a reference related to cases pending in erstwhile Fata, it had yet to be decided what mechanism the court had to adopt for appeals originating out of those judgements.

Dr Afridi was taken into custody in May 2011 by intelligence agencies on the suspicion of arranging a fake vaccination campaign at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency in Abbottabad for tracking down Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

However, he was not convicted by the trial court on that charge.

The assistant political agent, who was also the additional district magistrate of Bara tehsil in Khyber agency (now tribal district), convicted him on May 23, 2012, for involvement in anti-state activities as he had been supporting a Bara-based banned outfit, Lashkar-i-Islam. Shakil Afridi was sentenced on different counts to a total of 33 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs320,000.

The court convicted him on four counts — sedition, waging war against the state, concealing a design to wage war against the state and for questioning the creation of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2019