WASHINGTON: A conservative senator called Tuesday for the United States to suspend all aid to Pakistan and grant citizenship to a doctor who was jailed for helping hunt down Osama bin Laden.
American lawmakers have already sought to cut or freeze some assistance to Pakistan, the third largest recipient of US aid, after a tribal court last week sentenced CIA recruit Shakeel Afridi to 33 years in prison on treason charges.
Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and leader of the Tea Party movement, proposed going further by ending all aid to Pakistan until Afridi’s sentence is overturned and also granting the doctor US citizenship.
“Pakistan must understand that they are choosing the wrong side,” said Paul, who pledged to introduce the bill when the Senate returns to session next week.
“They accuse Dr Afridi of working against Pakistan, but he was simply helping the US capture the head of al Qaeda. Surely Pakistan is not linking their interests with those of an international terrorist organisation,” Paul said in a statement.
The US Constitution under Article 1 gives Congress the right to set a “uniform rule of naturalisation,” but it is unusual in modern times for lawmakers to consider citizenship for individuals other than honorary titles.
The United States claims to have provided more than $18 billion to Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks when Islamabad agreed to turn against Afghanistan’s Taliban and back the US war effort. Most of that has been in as part of the Coalition Support Fund which aims to boost Pakistani capabilities to combat militants on its own soil.
But US officials fear that some elements of Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services still support extremists – some quarters believe that these elements had aided Osama bin Laden hide in Abbottabad. Pakistan denies officials in commanding positions in both, the civilian government or the military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts till the raid.
Leading members of both major US parties supported a 2009 bill that authorised $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan to promote civilian infrastructure and democratic institutions in the nuclear-armed nation.
US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has also voiced impatience with Pakistan. He refused to hold substantive talks with President Asif Ali Zardari at a recent NATO summit in Chicago as Pakistan has not reopened its border with neighboring Afghanistan, stopping supplies from reaching international troops.
Pakistan had shut its borders after a Nato raid on a border checkpost left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, and another 26 injured in November last year. This year, after a parliamentary review, Pakistan subjected the reopening of the supply lines to a high level unconditional apology from the US, and cease drone strikes within its territories. Negotiations between US and Pakistan have also been stuck over the narrow point of new tariffs Pakistan wants to impose on Nato cargo utilising its ports and highways.