A U.S. Senate committee preparing next year's aid budget to Pakistan has cut its recommendation by $33 million to protest the jailing of a doctor who reportedly helped the CIA find Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's hiding place in Pakistan.
The recommended reduction represents $1 million for every year of Shakil Afridi’s sentence.
The full Senate must still vote on the overall foreign aid budget, possibly this summer, for the cuts to come into effect.
Afridi ran a fake vaccination program in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad that was aimed at helping the CIA verify bin Laden’s presence at a compound there. U.S. special forces killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a night raid on May 1-2, 2011.
Objections In Washington
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington "does not believe there is any basis" for Afridi's imprisonment.
"As I have said before, the United States does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr. Afridi," she said. "We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence."
"We are raising it and we will continue to do so because we think that his treatment is unjust and unwarranted," Clinton said in Washington on May 24.
Pakistan earlier in the day had rejected any U.S. criticism of Afridi's sentence, saying the doctor had received a fair trial.
"I think as far as the case of Mr. Afridi is concerned, it would be decided in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts," Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Muazzam Khan said, "and I think we need to respect each other's judicial system and processes."
Afridi, charged with treason, was found guilty under the justice system in Khyber district, part of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal belt.
Fuel On The Fire
Relations between the United States and Pakistan have plummeted in the past year, in part because of the bin Laden raid and suggestions that Pakistani officials may have helped him evade U.S. capture, but also over Washington’s refusal to apologize for a NATO air strike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
In retaliation for the troop deaths, Pakistan blocked NATO's access to ground routes to bring supplies to troops in neighboring Afghanistan, and the sides have not yet reached a deal to reopen the routes.
Based on reporting by AP and Politico