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Sharif agreed to review Afridi case: report

Updated October 28, 2013

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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif smiles as he stands with US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (L) before their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct 22, 2013. — Photo by  Reuters
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif smiles as he stands with US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (L) before their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct 22, 2013. — Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has assured US lawmakers that he will reconsider the case of Dr Shakil Afridi, the jailed Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, a US news channel reported on Sunday.

Fox News reported that Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Representative Ed Royce together with Robert Lorsch of the Free Afridi Campaign “heavily pressured” the Pakistani leadership about releasing the doctor and allowing him a life in the US, it said.

The report claimed what some Pakistani journalists witnessed on Oct 22, when the prime minister briefed the committee’s members on this and other issues at the Rayburn office building on the Hill.

Mr Sharif more or less repeated the speech he delivered at the US Institute of Peace earlier in the day, making a passionate appeal to US lawmakers to reengage with Pakistan. Perhaps to appease the lawmakers, the prime minister omitted the appeal that he made at the institute to end the drone strikes.

The omission, however, had little impact on the lawmakers who had not come to the meeting to humour the Pakistani prime minister. As soon as Mr Sharif ended his speech, the lawmakers unleashed a barrage of critical comments and questions and they did so in such a harsh and unfriendly tone that surprised the Pakistani delegation.

They blamed Pakistan for allegedly sending its “troops, not just the Taliban” for attacking US soldiers in Afghanistan. They accused Pakistan of “patronising” cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan and for “sending terrorists” into India to “kill Indian civilians”.

Pakistan was also blamed for nurturing Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa and for “allowing” Hafiz Saeed to “operate freely” and launch cross-border attacks into India.

Some lawmakers blamed Pakistan for killing Baloch civilians and for suppressing Baloch and Sindhi languages and cultures too.

Others mentioned Pakistan’s failure to try the Mumbai terror suspects and urged Mr Sharif to start the trial as soon as possible.

“The attack was so severe and was delivered with so much ferocity that it surprised the prime minister and he often had to be helped by his aides,” said a witness.

What Mr Lorsch, a Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist, said in his interview to Fox News confirmed these eyewitness accounts. Mr Lorsch attended “a carefully stage-managed” private meeting between Mr Sharif and senior US lawmakers in Washington last week and participated in this supposedly “friendly exchange of views” between the prime minister and US lawmakers.

Mr Lorsch and the lawmakers had brought so much pressure on Mr Sharif that he pledged a legal review of the Shakil Afridi case, Fox News reported.

“My message to them was: ‘What they do with Dr Afridi is how Pakistan will be judged as a democracy by the rest of the world’,” Mr Lorsch said.

The tight-knit gathering, which included Pakistan’s national security adviser Sartaj Aziz and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, had not been previously announced to the somewhat surprised Pakistani delegation, the report said.

The meeting lasted around 25 minutes in a side-room immediately prior to the dinner hosted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it said.

“This was first time that the leadership in Pakistan realised the importance of Dr Afridi not as a political bargaining tool but as a symbol of how freedom-loving American people regard Pakistan,” Mr Lorsch said.