The US State Department has vowed to explore innovative approaches to secure the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi from prison in Pakistan after a US lawmaker proposed a potential exchange for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.
Dr. Shakil Afridi faced accusations of assisting the US in locating Osama bin Laden in 2011 and was subsequently sentenced to 33 years in prison the following year.
On the other hand, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is currently serving her sentence after a 2010 verdict in a Manhattan court found her guilty of opening fire at US soldiers while in Afghanistan’s custody.
The suggestion of a swap between the two prisoners emerged during a recent hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the 2024 budget for the South and Central Asian region.
US Congressman Brad Sherman confronted Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Horst, inquiring whether she or someone from the department would participate in an upcoming hearing on democracy and human rights in Pakistan, scheduled for July 26.
During the discussion, Congressman Sherman stressed the significance of the operation that led to the elimination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011.
He highlighted Dr. Afridi’s pivotal role in locating the terrorist leader, referring to him as the “24th member” of the 23-person US team involved in the operation.
Concerned about Dr. Afridi’s imprisonment, Congressman Sherman questioned if the State Department was prepared to take unconventional measures to secure his release, even proposing a potential exchange with Dr. Siddiqui.
While Horst expressed the department’s concern for Dr. Afridi and their desire to secure his release, she hesitated to endorse a trade without considering the legal implications.
Apart from the Afridi-Siddiqui exchange, the committee discussed Pakistan’s ongoing political and economic challenges. Horst outlined the US’s efforts to support Pakistan’s democracy, civil society, and various areas of collaboration such as counterterrorism, healthcare, and climate crisis mitigation.