Lawmakers are attaching some strings to $33 million in aid to Pakistan, making the funds contingent on freeing the doctor who helped the CIA find Usama bin Laden.
The GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee inserted language that appears to withhold the foreign aid unless the State Department certifies Dr. Shakil Afridi is released from prison, where he’s serving a 33-year sentence on a dubious conspiracy conviction. The condition left Pakistani officials fuming.
“Any linkage of US assistance to this case is not in keeping with the spirit of cooperation between the two countries,” said Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam.
President Obama signed the bill on Jan. 17. As so-called omnibus legislation, it includes appropriations for all federal agencies, including the State Department. While the overall foreign aid appropriation would be left to the State Department to dole out, the Pakistan portion can be made conditional on a determination by Secretary of State John Kerry that Afridi has been released and cleared of all charges.
The State Department has repeatedly decried Pakistan’s treatment of Afridi, but officials did not say if Kerry is prepared to withhold the funding.
“We have seen the language in the bill; we are reviewing it, and will comply with the law,” said State Department spokesperson Peter Velasco.
“Our overall position on Dr. Afridi has long been clear,” Velasco added. “We believe his treatment is both unjust and unwarranted. We regret that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence. The prosecution and conviction of Dr. Afridi sends exactly the wrong message about the importance of our shared interest in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice.”
Aslam insisted that Afridi, a Pakistani citizen who has said he helped the U.S. in the hunt for Bin Laden out of love for America, is a criminal. Pakistan, which was deeply embarrassed when a May, 2011, Navy SEAL raid showed the Al Qaeda leader had been living in a compound in Abbottabad, claims Afridi’s immunization ruse to try to obtain the terrorist’s DNA discouraged people from getting immunized for polio.
“How can anyone support Dr. Shakil Afridi when he has done something so terrible as to give a bad name to the polio campaigns and mislead millions of Pakistani citizens?” Aslam told FoxNews.com.
After the raid, Afridi was charged with “conspiring against the state” and imprisoned for 33 years without bail. Even though that sentence was overturned by a tribal court last year, he is still being held and barred from visits from family and attorneys.
Afridi’s lawyer, Qamar Nadeem Afridi, has been concerned that the safety of his client in the Peshawar Central Jail, where Afridi is in solitary confinement. Nadeem fears Taliban fighters could break into the jail to free their brethren – and exact revenge on Afridi for helping the U.S. He said the foreign aid squeeze from Washington could be a positive development.
“I think this certainly has put immense pressure on the government to seriously look at his case which they were ignoring for years,” said Nadeem.