Dr Shakil Afridi’s sentencing is likely to further strain relations between Pakistan and the United States – the two counter-terrorism allies who are already embroiled in a dispute over the blockade of Nato supply routes by Islamabad.
On Wednesday, the US State Department refused to offer official comment on Dr Afridi’s sentencing – but the move has incensed American lawmakers.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated America’s official stance on the matter: There is no basis for Dr Afridi to be held. However, she refused to comment specifically on his sentence.
Nuland said US secretary of state and defence secretary have addressed this issue in the past. She added that US officials have regularly taken up the matter with Pakistan and will continue to do so.
In January, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that Dr Afridi and his team had been key in finding Bin Laden, describing him as helpful and insisting the doctor had not committed treason or harmed Pakistan.
Unlike the State Department, US lawmakers criticised Dr Afridi’s sentence as ‘shocking and outrageous.’
“What Dr Afridi did … was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most-wanted terrorist in the world – a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands,” Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, the chair and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a joint statement.
They called upon the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr Afridi immediately, or else face further aid cuts.
“Dr Afridi’s continuing imprisonment and treatment as a criminal will only do further harm to US-Pakistani relations, including diminishing Congress’s willingness to provide financial assistance to Pakistan.”
Another US Republican Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher went a step ahead in his criticism of Dr Afridi’s sentencing, calling it a “decisive proof that Pakistan sees itself as being at war” with the US.
In a press statement, Rohrabacher said, “There is no shared interest against Islamic terrorism. On 9/11, Pakistan was coordinating the efforts of the Taliban who were in league with Osama Bin Laden. In 2012, Pakistan is still working very closely with the Taliban, whose leader Mullah Omar was plotting with Bin Laden right up until he was killed. Pakistan was and remains a terrorist state.”
Rohrabacher, who is also the Chairman for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, had earlier this year introduced two bills calling for Dr Shakil Afridi to be given US citizenship, and subsequently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2012.