United States slashes Pakistani funding over ‘Bin Laden’ doctor row

Shakil Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign believed to have helped the American intelligence agency track down Osama bin Laden. (File photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday denounced the “unjust” treatment of a Pakistani doctor who was jailed for 33 years for helping in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while U.S. senators voted to slash aid to Pakistan.

A tribal court in Khyber, a lawless district and extremist hotbed, on Wednesday convicted Shakeel Afridi of treason after he agreed to collect DNA for U.S. intelligence to verify the presence of the most-wanted Al-Qaeda leader.

“We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence,” Clinton told a joint press conference with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

The chief U.S. diplomat said Afridi’s role “was instrumental in taking down one of the world’s most wanted murderers. That was clearly in Pakistan’s interest, as well as ours and the rest of the world’s.”

Afridi is believed to have set up a fake polio vaccination campaign to try and get the DNA samples and verify bin Laden’s presence in a compound in a Pakistani town, where he was killed by U.S. special forces last May.

U.S. slashes aid to Pakistan

Meanwhile, U.S. senators scandalized by Pakistan’s jailing of Afridi voted on Thursday to cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million − one million for each year in the doctor’s sentence.

“It’s arbitrary, but the hope is that Pakistan will realize we are serious,” said Senator Richard Durbin after the unanimous 30-0 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“It’s outrageous that they (the Pakistanis) would say a man who helped us find Osama bin Laden is a traitor,” said Durbin, the Senate’s number two Democrat.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s action docking Pakistan’s aid came after a subcommittee earlier in the week slashed assistance to Islamabad -- and warned it would withhold even more cash if Pakistan does not reopen supply routes for NATO soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been one of the leading recipients of U.S. foreign aid in recent years. Even after the cuts voted this week it still would receive about $1 billion in fiscal 2013, if the full Senate and House of Representatives approve.

The measure, an amendment to the $52 billion U.S. foreign aid budget, passed in a 30-0 vote in a sign of growing outrage here over Afridi’s conviction.

“We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don’t need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama bin Laden to an end,” said Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who pressed for the measure.

The reduction represents a 58 percent cut in the amount of aid President Barack Obama had requested for Pakistan.

The United States has given Pakistan more than $18 billion in assistance since the September 11, 2001 attacks, but US officials have persistent concerns that some elements of the establishment have maintained support for extremists.

The U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, just a few hours drive from the capital Islamabad, humiliated Pakistan’s powerful military, which described the move as a violation of sovereignty.

Intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan, vital for the fight against militancy, has subsequently been cut drastically.

Afridi’s prison term could complicate efforts to break a deadlock in talks over the re-opening of supply routes through Pakistan to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

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