Pakistan on Thursday rejected U.S. criticism of the jailing of a Pakistani doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, as a U.S. congressional panel agreed to cut aid to Pakistan to protest his imprisonment.
A court in the northwestern Khyber tribal region sentenced Shakil Afridi to 33 years in prison for treason Wednesday. Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign designed to help the CIA collect bin Laden’s family DNA from a compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad, where the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces during a covert raid on the compound in May 2011.
A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, Moazzam Ahmad Khan, told reporters Thursday the Afridi case “will be decided in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts.” He said that the U.S. and Pakistan need to “respect each other’s legal processes and the judgements by the courts.”
Under Pakistan’s tribal system, Afridi did not have access to a lawyer.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced Afridi’s treatment, calling it “unjust and unwarranted.” She told a news conference Thursday that the United States regrets “both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence.” She vowed to continue to press the case with Islamabad.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States continues to see “no basis” for Dr. Afridi to be held, adding that it is 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-Qaida and against Osama bin Laden.”
Also Thursday, a U.S. Senate subcommittee ((the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs)) voted to cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million – $1 million for every year of Afridi’s 33-year prison sentence.
Senators Carl Levin ((a Democrat from Michigan)) and John McCain ((a Republican from Arizona)) called for an immediate pardon for Afridi, saying in a joint statement that his sentence was “shocking and outrageous” while his help in tracking down bin Laden was “a courageous, heroic and patriotic act.”
Afridi’s conviction comes amid deteriorating relations between the United States and Pakistan, which are in talks to reopen NATO supply lines to troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the routes last November after U.S. air strikes mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.
Pakistan has demanded an apology for the cross-border attack and an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, the Senate subcommittee voted to cut aid to Pakistan in President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for next year by more than half, and threatened to withhold even more money unless the NATO supply routes are reopened.