|Doctor, all's not well in
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - As widely expected, the strong showing
by an alliance of Muslim religious parties at Pakistan's
national elections two weeks ago has already had an
impact on the country, even though the new parliament
has yet to be formed.
This is illustrated by the
furor surrounding the detention in Lahore of renowned Dr
Amir Aziz on Monday by Pakistani and Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) officials. Amir is said to be wanted
by the US in connection with allegations that he
supplied anthrax spores and biochemical weapons formulae
to Islamist terrorists. He has also openly admitted to
treating Osama bin Laden, as well as wounded Taliban,
al-Qaeda and militant fighters in Kashmir.
the past few days since Amir's arrest, the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the alliance, has been at the
forefront of a campaign to have Amir released, and to
block moves to transfer him to the US. The MMA's nominee
for the slot of Speaker in the national assembly (which
has yet to be constituted), Liaquat Baloch, warned in a
statement that if Amir was not released in a short
period of time, the government "would have to face
serious consequences". The MMA is fiercely opposed to
the presence of US troops on Pakistan's soil, and has
called for their withdrawal.
voices, including that of cricketer-turned-politician
and newly elected member of the national assembly Imran
Khan, have demanded the release of Amir and warned the
government of trouble otherwise. Khan said that he would
raise the surgeon's arrest with the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan. "If there are charges, he should
be brought before our own courts of law," Khan said.
The detention of Amir has also irked top army
officials, who have independently contacted President
General Pervez Musharraf to convey their displeasure and
strongly call for his release.
contrasts with the situation at the end of last year
when Sultan Bashir, a prominent Pakistani atomic
scientist, was picked up by Pakistani intelligence
agencies and handed over to the FBI for interrogation.
This happened as the Taliban were in the process of
being routed, and at a time when the religious elements
were so much on the back foot that they hardly raised a
protest. Similarly, even hardliners in the army dared
But in the face of the current
pressure, the interior ministry has been moved to say
that Amir will not be shifted to the US, and that he
will be released if there is no case against him. There
have also been illegal protests in Lahore, where medical
staff went on strike on Friday.
Amir is a
prominent name in Pakistan's medical profession and one
of its foremost orthopedic surgeons and consultants. He
has for many years been associated with the medical side
of the Pakistan Cricket Board, and he has been chief
executive of Lahore’s most prominent public sector
health organization, Jinnah Hospital. While Amir has
made his fortune from the medical profession, he has
translated this wealth into helping the poor and
disadvantaged. He established mobile clinics for remote
areas, where he offers his services free of charge.
These included ventures in Peshawar and
Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where his patients were
mostly Afghan and Kashmiri refugees fleeing fighting in
those regions. It was at these clinics that the doctor
met many militants seeking treatment, and they were
accommodated just like any other injured people.
However, the interaction with the militants
brought about a change in the thinking of Amir, and his
medical profession increasingly began to take on a
cause, with special focus on injured jihadis. In time he
was invited by the Taliban to Afghanistan, where he
operated his mobile units and interacted with bin Laden,
to whom he soon became personal physician and friend.
This resulted in Amir becoming more deeply
religious, and he began to advocate the cause of jihad
among his friends and associates in Lahore and other
places. He also helped the Taliban in the reopening of
the Kabul Medical College, and in the introduction of
new medical services in Afghanistan.
result, Amir became a frequent visitor to Afghanistan,
but always with valid documents and necessary
permissions, and his relations with militants were a
well-known fact. During the early tenure of Musharraf,
the government of Punjab was seeking a new provincial
minister of health, and they approached Amir. The
governor, however, said that he must sever all relations
with militants, which the doctor refused to do.
After September 11, Amir ran afoul of the
country's intelligence agencies on several occasions. He
was interrogated over his relations with bin Laden, but
all along he claimed that the al-Qaeda leader was simply
his patient, and he maintained that as a doctor he would
go anywhere to treat anybody, whether a common Afghan or
an Osama bin Laden. Each time, Amir was released as
there were no substantiated grounds for his detention.
However, on Monday he was taken again, and told
to take his passport with him, and he remains in
detention. For how long could well depend on just how
strongly the MMA can flex its new-found muscles.
Already, in North West Frontier Province, where
the MMA gained control of the provincial assembly in the
recent elections, the MMA has put its foot down to any
FBI action in tracking down Taliban or al-Qaeda
elements. It has also warned that even a crackdown by
Pakistani intelligence forces could set off serious
unrest, with the result that all such operations have
effectively, for the time being at least, been halted.
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