WASHINGTON - A Senate panel expressed its outrage Thursday over Pakistan’s conviction of a doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, cutting aid to Islamabad by $33 million - $1 million for every year of the physician’s 33-year sentence for high treason.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s punitive move came on top of deep reductions the Appropriations Committee had made to President Obama’s budget request for Pakistan, a reflection of the growing congressional anger over its spotty cooperation in fighting terrorism. The overall foreign aid budget for next year had slashed more than half of the proposed assistance and threatened further reductions if Islamabad fails to open supply routes to US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pushing aside any diplomatic talk, Republicans and Democrats criticized Pakistan a day after the conviction in Pakistan of Shakil Afridi. The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden’s presence at the compound in Abbottabad, where US commandos found and killed the Al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
The United States has called for Afridi’s release, arguing that he was acting in the interest of the United States and Pakistan.
“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 Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who pushed for the additional cut in aid.
He called Pakistan “a schizophrenic ally,’’ helping the United States at one turn, but then aiding the Haqqani network, which has claimed responsibility for several attacks on Americans. The group also has ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
One of the most forceful statements came from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who also serves that the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee. She 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.
The committee approved Graham’s amendment to cut the assistance by $33 million on a 30-to-0 vote.
In drafting the overall legislation, the committee reduced Obama’s request to aid Pakistan by 58 percent, to just under $1 billion. That would include $184 million for State Department operations and $800 million for foreign assistance. Counterinsurgency money for Pakistan would be limited to $50 million.
Tensions between Washington and Islamabad have increased as Pakistan closed overland supply routes to Afghanistan after a US attack on the Pakistani side of the border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
The legislation also makes the counterinsurgency aid conditional on Pakistan reopening the supply routes.
The congressional anger over the conviction and the supply routes extended to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which completed a $631.4 billion defense budget Thursday that restricts military assistance to Pakistan unless the supply routes are opened.