A U.S. Senate panel on Thursday slashed Washington's aid to Pakistan by $33 million in retaliation to the jailing of a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA to track down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The Senate Appropriations Committee said U.S. aid to Pakistan would be cut by $1 million for each year Dr. Shakil Afridi spends in prison. The move came a day after a tribal court in Pakistan's Khyber Agency sentenced Dr. Afridi to 33 years in prison on treason charges.
The development follows earlier cuts to the White House's budget request for Pakistan. The latest cut by the Senate Panel will be part of a bill that would give Pakistan $1 billion in U.S. aid in the next financial year.
"We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don't need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama bin Laden to an end," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Thursday, describing Pakistan "a schizophrenic ally" of the United States.
Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced Dr. Afridi's sentencing, saying: "The United States does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr. Afridi. We regret the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence."
Speaking to reporters shortly after Dr. Afridi was sentenced on Wednesday, Clinton stressed that the U.S. administration would continue to pursue the issue with the authorities in Pakistan and attempt to have him released at the earliest.
Pak media reports citing unnamed officials said Dr. Afridi was charged with "conspiracy against the State of Pakistan and high treason" for spying on bin Laden without bringing it to the notice of the government of Pakistan."
Dr. Afridi was accused of running a fake CIA-sponsored vaccination program in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed in a covert operation carried out by U.S. special forces in May 2011, to obtain a DNA sample from the terror mastermind.
The doctor, who was working at Abbotabad hospital, was arrested by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency shortly after the U.S. operation that killed the al-Qaeda chief. Islamabad insisted later that any country would have taken such an action if one of its citizens was found to have worked for a foreign spy agency.
Dr. Afridi was convicted under the tribal justice system in which the administrative head of the tribal district assumes the role of the judge. Under such a system, the verdicts are generally swift and often without regular judicial procedures. Notably, Dr. Afridi, who is currently held in a prison in Peshewar, was not present at the court when he was sentenced.
The latest developments come amid strained relations between Washington and Islamabad over the death of 24 Pakistani troops in a cross-border air strike carried out by American forces stationed in neighboring Afghanistan in November, 2011.
Pakistan responded to the deadly air raid by shutting down NATO supply routes passing through its territory. Islamabad also called for an immediate end to U.S. drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan, insisting that such attacks were counter-productive as they end up killing civilians along with the targeted militants. Currently, The U.S. and NATO are making serious attempts to persuade Pakistan to lift its blockade.
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: email@example.com