ISLAMABAD - The federal cabinet, meeting today, would take up an important agenda item to give a go-ahead for signing the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons as part of the government’s efforts for repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqi to Pakistan.

It is likely that the federal cabinet would also give approval to send a request to the US government for the repatriation of Dr Aafia on attaining accession to this convention.

Meanwhile, senior officials of the Ministry of Interior while giving a briefing to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control on Tuesday informed that the ministry in consultation with the foreign as well as law had proposed two international conventions on exchange of prisoners to the Cabinet Division to get its approval.

They said that after Dr Aafia, a Pakistani neuroscientist imprisoned in the US, could be repatriated to Pakistan after Pakistan would become signatory to any one of these conventions. The committee was informed that a former US Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Patterson in a letter had also proposed these two conventions to the government of Pakistan for the repatriation of Dr Aafia.

Tariq Hayat, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Interior said that the two proposed conventions include Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and the Inter-American Convention on Transfer of Criminals Abroad. The first one has 64 signatories and the second one has 17 signatories, he said.

Meanwhile, senior officers of the Foreign Office said that it was ready to lobby to make Pakistan a member of any convention after approval from the cabinet. A senior officer said that FO would pressurize the US diplomatically for repatriation of Dr Aafia after becoming signatory of any convention. However, the officer said that the Council of Europe Convention would be most suitable for Pakistan and serve the purpose.

The committee Chairman Senator Talha Mahmood showed his concern that the Ministry of Interior took three years, from 2010 when Dr Aafia was convicted, to get approval from the cabinet to become signatory to a convention and God knows how much time it would take to bring her back into Pakistan. The committee also censured a senior officer of the interior ministry for passing the buck on the previous government for the delay in repatriation of Dr Aafia and observed that the responsibility lied on the incumbent government.

The Foreign Office informed the committee that it would write to the secretary general of the Council of Europe Convention to become member after the approval of the cabinet and then the committee of the ministers of the signatory countries would give approval followed by these countries. Additional secretary of FO clarified that US could not demand any wanted prisoner from Pakistan who was not a US citizen after Pakistan would become signatory of any convention.

The Foreign Office also informed the committee that 7912 Pakistani prisoners were languishing in the jails of different foreign countries including 206 were in China and among them 170 had been convicted and 36 were under trial prisoners.

Senior Joint Secretary of Interior Umer Hamid Khan said that execution of death sentences of 468 prisoners had been halted on the directions of the Prime Minister, however, the death row prisoners convicted under terrorism, sedition, military and Islamic laws did not include these. He said that the executions had been halted till a complete conformity between the Prime Minister and the President on the issue. He said that the government was facing pressure of international community as well as international human rights organizations not to implement death sentences and also from the European Union. EU has set the condition of abolishment of death penalty to give the exports of Pakistan as most preferred statues, he added.

An observation came form Senator Tahir Mushhadi, a member of the committee that the executive order of Prime Minister to halt death executions was unconstitutional as under Article 45, President had the powers to remit or abolish the sentence of any prisoner. “Even the President could not halt the execution of all death sentences,” he added. He said that the government should introduce a legislation if it wanted to abolish the death penalty and that was the only legal way.

The committee has sought details from the interior ministry that how many foreigners had applied for the extension in their visas, how many were given extension and how many were rejected and the criteria of rejection. The committee observed that the visa section of the ministry was allegedly getting huge amount of money as bribe to extend visas of foreigners.