Washington: Outraged over the conviction of a Pakistani doctor who helped CIA track Osama bin Laden, two US Senate panels have voted overwhelmingly to cut aid to Islamabad by USD 33 million - one million for every year of the physician`s 33-year sentence for high treason.
The Republicans and Democrats closed ranks to unanimously vote that the Senate Appropriations committee cuts USD one million per annum Dr Shakil Afridi spends time in jail, reflecting the growing Congressional anger towards Pakistan over its lack of cooperation in combating terrorism.
The punitive action by the lawmakers came close on the heels of deep cuts announced in the key Senate panels in assistance to Pakistan. The Appropriations Committee approved the amendment moved by Senator Lindsey Graham to cut the aid on a 30-0 vote yesterday.
The same day, another Senate Committee - Senate Armed Services Committee - limited the availability of the USD 1.75 billion Coalition Support Fund (CSF) unless the Defence Secretary certifies that Afridi has not been imprisoned.
In a statement after the markup of the National Defence Authorisation Act 2013, the committee said it authorises USD 1.75 billion in CSF to reimburse cooperating nations supporting the effort in Afghanistan, but limits the availability of such funds to reimburse Pakistan until the Secretary of Defence certifies that Islamabad meets certain criteria.
The criteria include not supporting or providing safe haven to insurgents attacking US, Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and not imprisoning Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped locate bin Laden.
"The Secretary of Defence may waive these certification requirements if in the US national security interest. The provision also makes clear that no Coalition Support Fund payments may be made to reimburse Pakistan for claims relating to the period when the lines of supply through Pakistan to Afghanistan remain closed," said the Committee.
The US has insisted that there is no basis to imprison Dr Shakil Afridi on treason charges, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denouncing it as "unjust and unwarranted”.
"We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence," Hillary said today. "We are raising it (his case) and we will continue to do so because we think that his treatment is unjust and unwarranted."
The latest decision by the key Senate panel 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.
During the markup, Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Graham called Pakistan a "schizophrenic" ally, which has suffered the worst losses at the hands of 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.
Influential Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein 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 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," Feinstein said. 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.
Afridi was accused of running a CIA-sponsored fake vaccine programme in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed last year on May 02 in a covert US operation. His programme was aimed at obtaining DNA samples from any of bin Laden`s family members residing in the compound.
Afridi was awarded jail term under the tribal laws, known as Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). The British-era FCR is still effective in Pakistan`s tribal regions.
"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 bin Laden," powerful Republican Senator John McCain, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters.
"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," he said, referring to the National Defence Authorisation Act passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"This legislation requires that before the government of Pakistan can be reimbursed using coalition support funds, that is our money that supports the armed forces of Pakistan, the secretary of defence is going to have to certify that Pakistan is open and maintaining lines of supply; is not supporting militant extremist groups such as the Haqqani network; and is not detaining or imprisoning citizens of Pakistan," he said.
Senator John Kerry, the author of the Kerry-Lugar-Burman bill that assured USD 7.5 billion US aid to Pakistan in five years, warned 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," said Kerry, known as one of the best friends of Pakistan in the Congress.