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US Senator John Kerry (D-MA) speaks during a news conference in Islamabad on May 16, 2011. — File Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON: Senator John Kerry, President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, said during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that cutting US aid to Pakistan, would be a “dramatic, draconian and sledge-hammer” measure.

Senator Kerry also said that Pakistan’s role in leading the United States to Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad had not been sufficiently appreciated.

In his first appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his new role, Mr Kerry told the senators he foresaw a “more rapid” transition in Afghanistan, allowing an accelerated withdrawal of US troops before the 2014 deadline.

But the senator, who headed the committee before his nomination, assured the Afghans that America’s counter-terrorism mission in their country would continue beyond 2014.

It was Senator Rand Paul, a new Republican face in the committee, who suggested cutting US aid to Pakistan “if they do not release Dr Shakil Afridi” who, he said, was imprisoned for helping the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. The Al Qaeda leader was killed in a US military raid on his compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.

Mr Kerry informed the senator that he had discussed this issue directly with President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and like most Americans found it “incomprehensible if not repugnant, that somebody who helped us find Osama bin Laden is in jail in Pakistan”.

And “that bothers every American,” he added.

The senior US lawmaker, who stayed engaged with both Pakistan and Afghanistan as President Obama’s informal emissary during his first term, urged Senator Paul to also look at what the Pakistanis say.

“Pakistanis make the argument Dr Afridi did not know what he was doing, who he was specifically targeting … it was like a business for him,” he said, adding that this was no excuse for keeping the physician in jail.

But he said that he would stay engaged with Pakistan rather than resorting to “a pretty dramatic, draconian, sledge-hammer” approach of cutting US aid to the country Senator Paul had suggested.

Senator Kerry told the committee that the US had “a lot of interests” in this relationship, such as using Pakistani roads for sending critical supplies to US troops in Afghanistan.

The United States, he noted, was also receiving valuable on the ground intelligence cooperation from Pakistan, which also helped the Americans locate OBL.

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