WASHINGTON, July 25: Seven key US senators received an unprecedented security briefing from the Pakistani mission, focusing on issues that continue to strain relations between the two allies.
Both Republicans and Democratic senators attended the two-hour long briefing at the residence of the Pakistani ambassador. Sources on Capitol Hill told Dawn that all seven senators associated with the Senate’s defence and intelligence committees that play a key role in shaping up US policies on the war against terrorism.
The briefing precedes an important meeting between the US and Pakistani intelligence chiefs in Washington next week.
The Pakistanis provided the US lawmakers with a list of Taliban groups and leaders who are carrying out terrorist attacks inside the Pakistani territory from their bases in Afghanistan.
“The fact that they went to the residence of the Pakistani ambassador for this briefing shows our concern on the situation in that region,” said a congressional source. “We usually invite envoys to brief us.”
The senators underlined their concerns on the situation in Afghanistan, the activities of the Haqqani network and the continued detention in Pakistan of a physician who helped the CIA catch Osama bin Laden, the sources said.
Another congressional source said the Pakistanis failed to understand the depth of US interest in the Shakil Afridi case. “For us, Dr Afridi is a hero, not a villain. He should be here, not languishing in a jail in Pakistan.”
Some US lawmakers are already seeking to grant US citizenship to Dr Afridi and to give him a congressional medal for helping the CIA catch America’s number one enemy.
One lawmaker is also seeking a direct vote for stopping all US aid to Pakistan if it refuses to release Dr Afridi.
During a closed-door hearing on Tuesday, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee approved a draft to authorise classified funding for intelligence activities for fiscal 2013. The measure also would authorise covert action programmes for counter- terrorism missions.
The senators went to the residence of the Pakistani ambassador right after the hearing.
One US senator, associated with the Intelligence Committee, complained that Islamabad was not doing enough to prevent Afghan Taliban from acquiring IED materials from Pakistan.
He pointed out that the IEDs were killing American soldiers and no US administration can afford to ignore this issue.
While appreciating their concerns, Ambassador Sherry Rehman and her team urged the US lawmakers also to appreciate their worries about the activities of Afghanistan-based Pakistani Taliban groups.
They said that the groups had established bases in Afghanistan and were using them to attack targets inside Pakistan. Afghan security forces, the Pakistanis claimed, were not doing anything to curb these activities.
The Pakistanis also said that the country could not continue the “nod and wink” policy of the Musharraf regime on US drone strikes as the drones were killing innocent civilians as well.
The United States, they said, should think of working with Pakistan to eliminate militancy from Fata, instead of depending entirely on drone strikes.
Senators Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Saxby Chamblis, Dan Coats, Johnny Isakson, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal attended the briefing.