WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman told three Republican senators seeking Shakil Afridi’s release and reopening of the supply routes that her government could not interfere in the judicial process involving the Pakistani doctor and that an apology was required for the traffic to resume on the crossings.

The envoy met Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, and Senator Rand Paul on Capitol Hill. She also met separately with Senator James Rische.

A press release issued by the Pakistan Embassy said both sides agreed on the importance of overcoming the current stalemate in the bilateral relationship urgently and to work for robust and even keeled relationship based on mutual respect.

Senators McConnell and Paul in addition to conveying their concerns over the conviction and continued detention of Dr Shakeel Afridi, who helped CIA located Osama bin Laden, urged Pakistan to open the supply routes to facilitate supplies to US/ISAF and to take action against Haqqani Network involved in attacking US troops from their sanctuaries on Pakistani territory. Senator Rische raised the same concerns.

The Pakistani envoy briefed the Senators that Dr Afridi was charged and convicted by Political Administration in Khyber Agency for supporting and working with Lashkar-e-Islam, a terrorist organisation responsible for killing innocent civilians and law enforcement personnel. She said an appeals process exists and Dr Afridi’s lawyers are reportedly appealing against the conviction. She stressed that Pakistan has an independent judiciary which functions pursuant to the Constitution and in accordance with the laws of Pakistan. The government was, therefore, not in a position to interfere in the judicial process.

In response to the Senators assertion that Afridi helped nab bin Laden, Ambassador Rehman stressed that he did not even know if the job he was contracted for by CIA was meant to nab the Al-Qaeda leader. Dr Afridi’s actions have seriously jeopardised Pakistan’s efforts to fight disease and polio, particularly among children. She emphasised that Dr Afridi’s case needs to be handled in a prudent fashion.

On supply routes, the ambassador expressed the hope that two sides will be able to reach a common understanding at the earliest. An apology for Salala, she stressed, would help reach an early closure on this important issue.

On sanctuaries in Pakistan, Ambassador Rehman stressed that Pakistan had no tolerance for militant groups and our actions in Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand Agency and South Waziristan proved it. Unfortunately, militants forced out of Pakistani territory often found safe havens in Afghanistan. She recalled that over the last one month, three major attacks were launched from these sanctuaries on Afghanistan side resulting in the martyrdom of 18 of our soldiers. The continued presence of these sanctuaries in Afghanistan in the face of US, NATO and Afghanistan’s combined military might is beyond explanation, she stressed.

Senator Paul sponsored an amendment earlier this month to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act to withhold US foreign aid to Pakistan until Afridi’s prison sentence is overturned and he’s allowed to leave Pakistan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, initially blocked a vote on the proposal. But Paul told reporters earlier this week that he now has enough backing from fellow senators to force a vote, which he said he intends to do in July unless Afridi is released. The first hearing in Afridi’s appeal is set for July 19. Paul said he intends to force a vote on aid to Pakistan on July 20.

“Unless we get some satisfaction, unless this political prisoner is released.”

Amid difficult situation for Pakistan in the US Congress, Ambassador Rehman is working hard to prevent a vote.

“What they’ve accused him of is being associated with a splinter terrorist group up in the tribal area of Pakistan, and the reason they’re saying he’s associated with them is he gave them money,” Paul said.