It seems that Dr Shakil Afridi’s name will be heard every time the US Congress sits to deliberate on the budget. Just like last time, this year too, Congressmen have criticised the Obama administration for extending aid to Pakistan as Dr Afridi, who is considered a hero in the US for his role in hunting Osama Bin Laden, remains incarcerated under terrorism charges. The US State Department has recommended $900 million for aid to Pakistan, out of which $500 million is for counter-terrorism spending. Some congressmen seem to be offended by Pakistan’s treatment of Dr Afridi; a man who they believe ought to be rewarded for his service. Congress’s approval is necessary for the proposed budget to be passed. California lawmaker Dana Rohrabache said during a session in the presence of US Secretary of State John Kerry, “Despite this the administration wants to give this country $500 million, who has slapped us in the face by keeping Afridi in jail.” The budget cannot be passed without the approval from Congress.

Whether all this hullabaloo is inconsequential or if it will actually develop into a consensus between Congressmen on the question of blocking aid albeit partially to pressure Pakistan into releasing Dr Afridi will become clear in the days ahead. The latter is unlikely. Secretary of State John Kerry responded by suggesting reliance on “repeated talks and diplomacy” to solve the issue. Pakistan’s role has only become more important in recent days amidst reports of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The atmosphere has been positive lately, which is rare considering the volatile nature of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. As the US gears up to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, leaving behind a weak and vulnerable Afghan government, Pakistan will be expected to play a key role in assisting President Ashraf Ghani, and exercising its influence to keep the Afghan Taliban engaged in negotiations. The US would not want to destroy all this goodwill by blocking aid.

Dr Shakil Afridi did violate Pakistan’s laws, by taking instructions from a foreign intelligence agency and carrying out fake vaccination campaigns to find OBL. But he has not been tried under a treason charge. He is in jail for maintaining links with militants, who also want to kill him. Whether the fact that the target was the top global terrorist, who the state was supposedly hunting for too, should have any bearing on Dr Afridi’s case can only be decided by a court of law.