Pak hints readiness to ‘bridge gap’ with US on Dr. Afridi

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Washington: Ahead of his crucial meetings with top Trump administration officials, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has indicated that Islamabad may be willing to discuss the fate of Dr Shakil Afridi, one of the key issues which has hurt ties with the US.

While Afridi is hailed as a “hero” by the US security establishment for his role in the raid by US special forces in May 2011 that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, he is viewed as a “traitor” in Pakistan.

The 56-year-old physician helped the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) run a fake hepatitis vaccine programme in Abbottabad to confirm bin Laden’s presence in the garrison city by obtaining his DNA samples.

In May, 2012, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment for treason.

“Openings are always there,” Qureshi said in an interview with Fox News, a channel that is known for backing President Trump and his policies.

“He is viewed in a particular light in Pakistan, he is viewed as a traitor in Pakistan. But he is viewed as a friend in the US. So we have to bridge this gap,” Qureshi said when asked about the fate of Dr. Afridi.

He said that the future of Afridi lies with the courts and not with politics. He added that the now-imprisoned CIA asset went through the due legal process and was given a fair trial and a chance to plead his case.

“He was sentenced, he was convicted and is serving a sentence. We expect you to respect our legal process, as we respect yours,” said Qureshi while alluding to interference by the US in the country’s internal affairs.

Qureshi acknowledged that bilateral relations between the once-close allies have “soured” since President Trump took office last year.

The US Congress also passed a bill to slash Pakistan’s defence aid to USD 150 million, significantly below the historic level of more than USD one billion per year.

The foreign minister reiterated that Pakistan was unjustly blamed for the deteriorating security situation in war-torn Afghanistan.

“Pakistan is there to help and facilitate, we recognise that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our interest,”

Qureshi said ahead of his planned meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

During his meeting with Bolton on Tuesday, Qureshi is expected to discuss ways on untangling Pakistan’s ruffled relations with the US, the Dawn reported.

Qureshi will meet Secretary of State Pompeo on October 2 in an attempt to reset ties between the two countries, it said.

Qureshi, during the interview, also said that he was not in the US to seek aid for Pakistan.

“I am not here to talk dollars and cents, I am not here seeking aid,” Qureshi said.

“I am here to fix a relationship that went sour a relationship that has mutually-benefited both sides. We have been allies for a long time, it is time to rebuild that powerful relationship,” he added. PTI