WASHINGTON – A Senate panel voted to cut aid to Pakistan by a symbolic $33 million on Thursday, $1 million for each year of jail time handed to a Pakistani doctor convicted of treason for helping the United States track down Osama bin Laden.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment to the $52 billion US foreign aid budget in a 30-0 vote in a sign of growing outrage here over Pakistan’s conviction of Shakeel Afridi.
“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,” said Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who pressed for the measure.
Afridi was found guilty of treason, sentenced Wednesday to 33 years in prison and fined 320,000 rupees ($3,500) under an archaic tribal justice system that has governed Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt since British rule.
His sentencing was announced two days after US President Barack Obama appeared to snub Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at a NATO summit in Chicago over Islamabad’s refusal to lift a six-month blockade on transit routes into Afghanistan.
Afridi ran a fake vaccination program designed to collect bin Laden family DNA from the compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad, near Islamabad, where the Al-Qaeda leader was shot dead in a US commando raid in May 2011.
The US government says Pakistan has no basis to hold Afridi, whom an official at Peshawar central jail said was in poor health and being kept away from other prisoners to avoid any danger to his life.
“He is not a spy, I can tell you,” said Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “He should be praised and rewarded.”
“If this is how Pakistan is going to treat a friend and hero, I don’t know about these funds,” Feinstein said.
The mammoth appropriations bill, which includes a total of $1 billion in assistance for Pakistan, will go now to the Senate floor after passing out of committee on Thursday.
That represents a 58 percent cut in the amount of aid Obama had requested for Pakistan — an expression of the anger in Congress at Islamabad for not reopening supply routes frozen since US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
The United States has given Pakistan more than $18 billion in assistance since the September 11, 2001 attacks, but US officials have persistent concerns that some elements of the establishment have maintained support for extremists.