Washington: The 33-year jail term to a Pakistani doctor who helped CIA in finding Osama bin Laden has created outrage in the US with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it "unjust and unwarranted" and a Senate panel voting to cut aid to Islamabad.
"We are raising it and we will continue to do so because we think that his treatment is unjust and unwarranted," Hillary told reporters during a joint press conference with the visiting New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
"We are in the midst of a series of discussions with the Pakistani Government on a range of issues that are important to the US and the international community. We certainly consider the treatment of Dr Afridi to be among those important issues," she said.
Hillary said the US does not believe there was any basis for holding Afridi guilty.
"We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence. His help, after all, was instrumental in taking down one of the world`s most notorious murderers," she said.
"That was clearly in Pakistan`s interests as well as ours and the rest of the world. This action by Dr Afridi to help bring about the end of the reign of terror designed and executed by bin Laden was not in any way a betrayal of Pakistan And we have made that very well-known and we will continue to press it with the Government of Pakistan," she said.
Hillary`s remark came as top US lawmakers expressed their outrage over Afridi`s prosecution, with Senator John Kerry, known as one of the best friends of Pakistan in the Congress, warning Islamabad that such moves would make things difficult for them in the US.
"I believe in the importance of the US-Pakistan strategic relationship, but realities like these make that effort more difficult," Kerry said in a statement.
Kerry is the author of the Kerry-Lugar-Burman bill that assured USD 7.5 billion US aid to Pakistan in five years.
"Americans will have great difficulty knowing that one year after the US found and killed the most notorious terrorist in modern history hiding on Pakistani soil, the most visible action being taken to find out how he came to be in Pakistan is the conviction in a Pakistani court of physician who helped the US identify Osama bin Laden," he said.
"The irony is, the only person being punished is the person who helped the US achieve justice for the murder of thousands of Americans," Kerry said as a key Senate committee yesterday voted unanimously to cut aid to Pakistan by USD 33 million, which in effect means USD 1 million per annum the Pakistani national spends his time in jail.
"This conviction says to me that al Qaeda is viewed by the court to be Pakistan. I don`t know which side of the war Pakistan is on. This makes me seriously question our financial support to Pakistan," powerful Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said during the markup.
"All of us are outraged at the imprisonment and sentence of some 33 years, virtually a death sentence, to the doctor in Pakistan who was instrumental and completely innocent of any wrongdoing, was instrumental in the removal of Osama bin Laden," said powerful Republican Senator John McCain, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"That has, frankly, outraged all of us. I think that`s an important provision, and I hope that we can have further discussion of this issue of our entire relations with Pakistan," McCain said referring to the National Defence Authorisation Act passed by Senate Armed Services Committee.
"This legislation requires that before the government of Pakistan can be reimbursed using coalition support funds, the secretary of defence will have to certify that it is open and maintaining lines of supply; is not supporting militant extremist groups such as Haqqani network; and is not detaining or imprisoning citizens of Pakistan," McCain said.
McCain termed as extortion by Pakistan the negotiations with it on reopening of the closed supply routes to support US military effort in Afghanistan.
"This is an issue that I think will be the subject of much discussion and action by the Congress," the Senator said.
Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Lindsey Graham termed Pakistan a "schizophrenic" ally, which has suffered the worst losses at the hands of Islamic militants while at the same time harbouring the Haqqani network and other groups.
"If this is cooperation, I would hate like heck to see opposition," Leahy said.
The latest decision by the key Senate represents about four percent of the USD 800 million set aside for Pakistan for the year 2013.This includes USD 250 million in foreign military aid and another USD 50 million for Pakistan`s counterinsurgency efforts. In fact, this amount of USD 800 million is far below the USD 2.3 billion the Obama administration is requesting for Pakistan.
Another House committee had made similar recommendations early this week.
The substantial reduction in House and Senate committees comes despite warning from the White House that such a move could be counter-productive in getting Pakistan`s cooperation in war against terrorism.
"I think it`s an important point that any assistance provided by anyone in the effort to bring Osama bin Laden to justice was assistance not against Pakistan, but against al Qaeda and against Osama bin Laden. We have raised the issue with the Pakistani government. We will continue to have conversations with them about it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.