WASHINGTON - A group of top US Congressmen on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to release Dr Shakil Afridi who allegedly helped the US track down al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

“I specifically pressed the prime minister to release Dr Shakil Afridi and encouraged him to ensure that his nation is, in fact, a responsible and effective partner in countering terrorism, proliferation and extremism in the region,” Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

Afridi who was arrested immediately after the May 2 operation by US commandos that killed Osama was convicted for treason over his alleged ties with a militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam.

Shakil Afridi has sought a fresh probe into his conviction in the treason case and a tribunal in the federally administered tribal areas (Fata) will hear arguments from his counsel on October 30 to determine whether the case merits fresh probe.

Royce and Congressman Elliot Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with 15 members of this powerful congressional committee met Sharif at the Rayburn House building at the US Capitol. “The House Foreign Affairs Committee used this visit of the prime minister to engage in a frank and full discussion about a variety of issues critical to the US national security,” Royce said.

“We discussed promoting regional trade and greater trade with the United States. I also discussed the importance of education reforms,” the Republican Congressman from California said in a statement after the meeting. Royce in the past has been a vocal critic of Pakistan.

Reacting to the demand of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani on Wednesday said Pakistan had told the US that Shakil Afridi had been involved in criminal activities and had violated law of the land.

Speaking at a press briefing on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ongoing US visit, he said Afridi was not a hero and was facing cases in courts.

While responding to questions regarding release of Afridi, he said the courts would decide his fate. Jilani said Pakistan had banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and any action against Hafiz Saeed could be taken only after availability of evidences.

He said crucial issues, including drone attacks, regional stability and trade, were being discussed during the visit. The foreign secretary said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had given satisfactory answers to the questions asked by the US delegations during the meetings.

He said the government’s policies on terrorism, extremism and economy had received positive response. Pakistan would hold talks with the United States for civil nuclear technology while PM Sharif would raise the issue of bilateral cooperation in energy and other sectors during his meeting with President Obama, Jilani said. He said the objective of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to the United States was to promote bilateral relations and cooperation between the two countries in the fields of trade and economy.

To a question about US missile strikes in Pakistani tribal areas, Jilani said Islamabad considered the drone strikes as violation of international laws, so the issue would be on the agenda of the forthcoming meeting between Obama and Nawaz Sharif.

He said the two leaders would also discuss economy, trade, regional security and ways to further strengthen bilateral cooperation. He said the US trade delegations would soon visit Pakistan.