Pakistan’s problematic relationship with the United States sailed into fresh controversy Thursday as US lawmakers warned of aid cuts after the jailing of a surgeon who helped the CIA hunt down Osama bin Laden.
Shakeel Afridi was found guilty of treason, sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined 320,000 rupees ($3,500) under an archaic tribal justice system that has governed Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt since British rule.Afridi was not entitled to a lawyer but was given a chance to defend himself and has a right to appeal the verdict.
Critics said he should not have been tried under tribal law for an alleged crime that took place outside the tribal belt, in the town of Abbottabad where he ran a fake vaccination programme designed to collect bin Laden family DNA.
The US government said Pakistan had no basis to hold Afridi, whom an official at Peshawar central jail said was in poor health and being kept away from other prisoners to avoid any danger to his life.
“Anyone who supported the US in finding bin Laden was not working against Pakistan. They were working against al Qaeda,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, from the two major parties on the Senate Armed Services Committee, demanded Afridi be pardoned and freed “immediately”, saying the decision could put US financial assistance at risk.
On Tuesday, a key US Senate panel had voted to slash American assistance to Islamabad by more than half, approving only $1 billion in aid for fiscal 2013.