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US aid to Pakistan cut over jailing of doctor who helped CIA

Dr Shakil Afridi was convicted of conspiring against the state of Pakistan after he helped the CIA in their search for bin Laden.

Image: Carolyn Kaster/AP/Press Association Images

A US SENATE PANEL today expressed its anger over the conviction of a Pakistani doctor who had assisted the CIA in tracing Osama bin Laden by cutting financial aid to Pakistan.

Dr Shakil Afridi was convicted of conspiring against the state by a court in Pakistan and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

The doctor had run a vaccination programme with the intention of helping to confirm that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan ahead of the US raid which captured and killed him.

Today, the Appropriations Committee of the US Senate cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million — $1 million for every year of the physician’s 33-year sentence.

The punitive move came on top of deep reductions the Appropriations Committee already had made to President Barack Obama’s budget request for Pakistan, a reflection of the growing congressional anger over its cooperation in combatting terrorism.

The overall foreign aid budget for next year had slashed more than half of the proposed assistance and threatened further reductions if Islamabad failed to open overland supply routes to US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pushing aside any diplomatic talk, Republicans and Democrats criticised Pakistan a day after the conviction in Pakistan of Afridi. The US has called for his release, arguing that he was acting in the interest of both the US and Pakistan.

“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 Senator Lindsey Graham, who pushed for the additional cut in aid.

He called Pakistan “a schizophrenic ally,” helping the United States at one turn, but then aiding the Haqqani network which has claimed responsibility for several attacks on Americans. The group also has ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

“It’s Alice in Wonderland at best,” said Senator Patrick Leahy. “If this is cooperation, I’d hate like hell to see opposition.”

One of the most forceful statements came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who also serves that the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She pointed out that Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorists yet misconstrued what is treason in convicting Afridi. She also insisted that Afridi was not a spy.

“This conviction says to me that al-Qaida is viewed by the court to be Pakistan,” said Feinstein, who said it made her rethink U.S. assistance.

In crafting the overall legislation, the committee reduced Obama’s request to aid Pakistan by 58 per cent as resentment and doubts linger on Capitol Hill a year after bin Laden was killed deep inside Pakistan. Tensions between Washington and Islamabad have increased as Pakistan closed overland supply routes to Afghanistan after a US attack on the Pakistani side of the border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

The United States and Pakistan failed to resolve the issue at the recent NATO summit in Chicago.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee also complained about mafia-style extortion by Pakistan in seeking truck fees in exchange for opening the supply lines. The cost had been $250 per truck prior to the attack. Pakistan is now demanding $5,000 per truck. The United States has countered at $500.

The bill would provide just under $1 billion in aid to Pakistan, including $184 million for State Department operations and $800 million for foreign assistance. Counterinsurgency money for Pakistan would be limited to $50 million.

- Additional reporting by Susan Ryan

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