WASHINGTON: The US Senate overwhelmingly defeated a bill that would have denied American aid to Pakistan till the release of the imprisoned Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA trace Osama bin Laden.
The bill (S3576) was defeated by 81 to 10 votes. Introduced by Senator Rand Paul, the bill also called for cutting all US aid to Libya and Egypt till those who were responsible for the attacks on American missions in the two countries were arrested and handed over to the US.
Dr Shakil Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in jail in Pakistan on May 24 under the system of tribal justice for treason over alleged ties to the Lashkar-e-Islam and not for working for the CIA, for which the court said it did not have the jurisdiction.
Following the defeat of his bill, which was opposed even by Senators from his own Republican party, Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky in a statement vowed to keep this important issue on the front and in the centre.
“When nearly 80 percent of Americans believe foreign aid should be reduced - especially to the countries that are not our allies - it is inconceivable why their views are ignored by so many in Congress,” he said.
“I am far from defeated on this; I will continue to fight for this issue when Congress returns, and I will continue to call attention to the billions of American dollars - borrowed from China, among other places - being sent to governments that are not willing to respect and protect our interests overseas,” Paul said.
Earlier, visiting Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Afridi should not be treated as a hero by the Americans.
“We feel Dr Shakil Afridi should be no hero to the Americans. He did not know the Herculean task that he was trying to do. He did not know that he was going after Osama bin Laden.
“He was a man who was up for hire by anybody who was willing to pay him, and that included Islamic and terrorist organisations, which were using him to move and work against your and our interests. So he was no hero,” Khar said responding to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
“What we have to do right now is to await the legal process to take its full course. And as people who believe in the rule of law, I think we should allow the process. He does have many appeal processes,” she said.
Meanwhile, the United States and Pakistan are planning a joint effort to draw the Taliban towards peace talks in Afghanistan, an initiative that could help reconcile some militants and give Pakistan a say in the political future of its larger neighbour, The Washington Post reported.
A joint commission, or “action group,” would help vet candidates for political rehabilitation, with a goal of helping Afghanistan frame a workable peace deal after US and foreign forces leave the country.
Officials familiar with the previously undisclosed plan described it on condition of anonymity because it is not final and because some aspects of the US outreach to the Taliban are classified.
The planned joint vetting was among the main focuses of a nearly five-hour meeting last week between three senior US officials and President Asif Ali Zardari, officials of both governments said. The session also covered plans to grant Taliban figures living in Pakistan “safe passage” to political talks.
“Whatever you call it, the roadmap will have many aspects to determine who is reconcilable and who is not, how to then move once you determine they are reconcilable, and what should be on the table and what should not be on the table,” a senior Pakistani official said. The US officials used similar language to describe the goal of the new partnership.
“It would look at who is reconcilable and who is not,” a US official said, with Pakistan using its historical intelligence ties to Taliban elements to advise the US and Afghanistan.
The US-Pakistan vetting operation would be part of larger cooperation taking place among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States despite crosscutting tensions among all the three nations.
Pakistan’s participation in the Taliban effort is recognition that some political deal to end the Taliban’s 11-year insurgency is likely, or at least possible, after the bulk of foreign forces would leave the country in 2014, officials said. Pakistan’s leaders acknowledge they have so far been on the margins of efforts to draw the Taliban into talks.
The vetting idea is still in the planning stages and it was not clear whether it would involve Pakistani outreach directly to Taliban leaders living in or near Quetta, and how the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate recently declared a terrorist group by the United States, would fit it. “This will have to be a joint determination,” the Pakistani official said.
An internal Afghan effort to reach out to mid-level Taliban leaders appears to be more promising now, several US and other officials said. The US-Pakistani vetting operation could dovetail with the Afghan effort, they added.
“Our prerequisite, in this, is to be visibly Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and that everybody else shares the responsibility” of helping to frame a viable political settlement, the Pakistani official said.
The US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, led last Friday’s lengthy meeting with Zardari. White House and Pentagon officials accompanied Grossman.
Any deal is likely to take years, far outlasting the current plans to end formal combat against the Taliban in 2014.