US Mulls Dr Shakil Afridi, Dr Aafia Siddiqui Swap Deal

US Mulls Dr Shakil Afridi, Dr Aafia Siddiqui Swap Deal
After a US legislator suggested swapping Dr. Shakil Afridi for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the US State Department promised to come up with innovative ways to free him from prison in Pakistan.

Indicted in 2011 for aiding US efforts to find Osama bin Laden, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison in 2012. Meanwhile, Siddiqui is completing her sentence after a Manhattan court decided in 2010 that she had fired at US forces when they were holding her captive in Afghanistan.

A State Department representative was put on the spot by US Congressman Brad Sherman during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this week on the budget for the South and Central Asian areas in 2024.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Horst was the first person Sherman spoke to about the hearing she would be convening on democracy and human rights in Pakistan on July 26.

We would be more than happy to discuss what we are doing in Pakistan, she answered.

Sherman continued by describing how, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, a group of US commandos killed the Al Qaeda leader.

"We overlook how crucial it was to capture Osama bin Laden. On American soil, this guy slaughtered hundreds of people. What would our reputation be if we hadn't managed to get him?" he said. How many acts of terrorism would he have instigated? What would he genuinely have planned?

Sherman then remembered Dr. Afridi, "the 24th member" of the 23-person US team that killed Bin Laden, who supposedly discovered OBL in his hideout in Abbottabad.

"When you know there was a 24th guy, Dr. Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who risked his life to assist in the capture of the worst terrorist in the world, you comprehend that no man was left behind."

"He is still detained. He said that he had no American relatives or supporters who might compel the State Department to free him."

He posed the question, "Are we willing to make sure Afridi gets out, and are we willing to take steps that are unpleasant in order to get him out?"

"Naturally, as you are aware, we are really concerned about Dr. Afridi. We want to free him because we believe he is innocent," Horst said.

"Would we trade Siddiqui for Afridi?" the legislator then posed.

"I am unable to respond to that topic at this time, but I can pledge to look into it and see what innovative ideas we may use to bring Afridi."

"Do you object to Siddiqui being exchanged for Afridi? Before the representative of the US State Department could respond," Sherman questioned.

Horst said, "I would have to look at the legal repercussions of that."

Sherman remarked that "the president can let out anybody he wants."

We need to fight to free Dr. Afridi; I agree with you, but I'd like to speak with my Department of Justice colleagues first, Horst added.

Sherman contended that trading him for Dr. Siddiqui was the only choice because Washington had already tried various strategies and nothing had succeeded.

Nearly every congressman raised Pakistan's political and economic issues throughout the session, and they questioned Horst and another witness, USAID's Dr. Michael Schiffer, about what the Biden administration was doing to help diffuse these problems.

"I am aware that individuals on this committee are deeply concerned about the integrity of Pakistan's democracy. We are adamant that US interests depend on Pakistan being affluent, democratic, and human rights-abiding," Horst added.

"We use our foreign assistance to support Pakistan's independent civil society, strengthening their advocacy for reforms, oversight, and accountability," she added.

According to a representative of the State Department, US aid to Pakistan focused on areas where "we can productively collaborate with Pakistan, including on countering terrorism, providing health care, and addressing the climate crisis."