In a rare show of bi-partisan unity, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 30-0 to withhold $33 million in military aid to Pakistan as a result of Islamabad’s conviction of the doctor who assisted the CIA in finding Osama bin Laden. The panel cut $1 million for each year that Dr. Shakil Afridi was sentenced for treason and stipulated that the money would not be released until Afridi was pardoned.
Republicans and some former intelligence professionals expressed anger at the administration for failing to protect Dr. Afridi. Representative Peter King (R-NY) suggested that the White House “put him [Afridi] out there,” but the administration immediately denied the charge, suggesting that it was Pakistan that leaked Afridi’s name.
While the cut may be small, it comes on the heels of a re-examination of aid to Pakistan by Congress. In light of the closing by Pakistan of the primary truck route into Afghanistan last November following a friendly fire incident, the subcommittee on foreign aid voted recently to cut military assistance to Pakistan by 58%. And the anger expressed by senators over the treatment of Dr. Afridi suggests that a sea change may have occurred in congressional opinion regarding support for Pakistan, as members appear tired and frustrated with Islamabad’s double game of supporting terrorists while reluctantly assisting US intelligence in tracking down members of al-Qaeda.
Who is Dr. Shakil Afridi and what was his role in the bin Laden raid? The top medic in the Kyber tribal region, Afridi was recruited by the CIA to run a fake Hepatitis-B vaccination program in Abbottabad in order to acquire a DNA sample from one of bin Laden’s children in the compound where he was hiding. An investigation by the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, concluded that Afridi probably didn’t know he was helping the CIA find bin Laden specifically. Brig. General Shaukat Qadir, who conducted the investigation, wrote in a report obtained by the BBC that, “He was merely paid to follow instructions.”
The mystery is why Afridi, who was arrested less than 3 weeks after bin Laden was killed, stuck around after the raid. It may be that Afridi believed his assistance to the CIA in killing bin Laden would please the Pakistani government. It is even possible that Afridi didn’t know he was working for the CIA. Regardless, the Obama administration apparently did little to persuade the doctor to leave Pakistan.
Former intelligence analyst Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation told Fox News, “You probably wouldn’t want to have tipped him off ahead of time, but maybe the day right afterward you would have wanted to have helped him leave Pakistan — and the same with anybody else who was working with us.”
But former military intelligence officer Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer told Fox News, “From what I’m hearing, we did pretty much nothing,” he said. “We did nothing diplomatically at all, didn’t raise a finger. … From what my sources tell me, we did nothing to try and help this guy.”
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland disputes that, saying the administration had “regularly taken up” the issue of Dr. Afridi with the Pakistani government. Shaffer suggests that if they did, they did not press the issue due to the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations over re-opening the truck route into Afghanistan.
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