ISLAMABAD: The State Department has expressed its commitment to finding “creative” solutions to secure the release of Shakil Afridi, a jailed doctor believed to have helped the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hunt down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, from prison in Pakistan.
This pledge comes after a US lawmaker proposed the idea of trading Afridi for Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence in a prison medical centre in Texas.
During a hearing of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee on the 2024 budget, Congressman Brad Sherman raised the possibility of trading Siddiqui for Afridi. In response, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Horst acknowledged the concern about Afridi and expressed Washington’s desire to secure his release.
However, when asked about the possibility of a trade, Horst emphasised the need to assess the legal ramifications before providing a definitive answer. Sherman pointed out the president, Joe Biden, has the authority to grant clemency.
The hearing also addressed Pakistan’s political and economic challenges, with committee members inquiring about the Biden administration’s efforts to address these issues.
Horst highlighted the US commitment to supporting Pakistan’s democracy and emphasised areas of collaboration, such as countering terrorism, providing healthcare, and addressing climate-related concerns.
Congressman Dean Philips expressed concerns over the multiple crises Pakistan is facing, including natural disasters, economic challenges, and security threats. The committee stressed the importance of ensuring democracy and stability in Pakistan, considering it a long-term partner of the US.
Furthermore, Congresswoman Young Kim raised concerns about China’s influence through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), asserting that it undermines the rules-based international order.
Representative Ami Bera called for countering China’s economic coercion in South Asia and proposed alternative funding initiatives to counter China’s Belt and Road project.
In response to questions about China’s investments in Pakistan, Horst acknowledged the American caution regarding CPEC and highlighted the importance of Pakistan making independent decisions regarding its investments.