A fresh maelstrom struck Pakistan’s already turbulent relationship with the United States on Thursday when a US Senate panel voted to cut aid to Islamabad by a symbolic $33 million —- $1 million for each year of jail time handed to a physician on charges of helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden.
Hours before, the Foreign Office had called on Washington to respect its court’s decision to imprison Dr Shakil Afridi on charges of high treason.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment to the $52 billion US foreign aid budget in a 30 to zero vote in a sign of growing outrage here over Afridi’s conviction.
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. It also includes a provision calling for a 58 percent cut in aid for Pakistan if Islamabad does not reopen supply routes frozen since US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
“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.
Foreign Office briefing
Earlier, the foreign ministry reacted to US condemnation of Afridi’s sentence. “I think as far as the case of Mr Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts, and we need to respect each other’s legal processes,” Moazzam Ali Khan told reporters.
Afridi was found guilty of treason, sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined 320,000 rupees ($3,500) under an archaic tribal justice system that governs Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt since British rule.
The foreign ministry spokesperson also sought to play down hype over Pakistan’s participation in the recently held Nato summit in Chicago.
“We did not go with any expectation. We went there because we were invited by Nato because Nato feels that Pakistan has an important role to play in ensuring enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said.
Pakistan was invited to summit at the last movement with a hope that it would formally announce the lifting of six-month old ban on Nato supplies passing through the country. However, talks appear to have stalled on issue of a US apology and an additional transit fee Islamabad is seeking to impose on the Nato trucks.
Afridi ‘weak and depressed’
Shakeel Afridi is in poor health and under medical watch, officials told AFP on Thursday.
Afridi is being held at the central prison in Peshawar and was twice examined on Thursday by doctors who found him “weak, depressed and complaining of a bad stomach”, a senior health official said.
“Afridi was first examined by a team of local doctors, then another team of senior doctors visited him in jail,” the official told AFP, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media.
“Doctors prescribed some medicine, which was immediately provided. He will remain under medical observation inside the jail.”
A jail official said Afridi was being held in a private cell with extra security, with paramilitary and commandos deployed outside.
Earlier on Thursday, jail official Samad Khan said Afridi was in poor health and being kept away from other prisoners to avert any danger to his life. (With additional input by our correspondent in islamabad and AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.