Senate takes double hit at Pakistan aid

The Senate took a double whack at military aid for Pakistan on Thursday after a tribal court sentenced the doctor who helped find Osama bin Laden to 33 years in prison for treason.

Senate appropriators voted 30-0 to cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million – $1 million for each year of Shakil Afridi's sentence. And the Senate Armed Services Committee fenced in $250 million in military aid until Pakistan reopens supply routes to Afghanistan to NATO traffic, ceases its support for Islamic militants and stops detaining citizens — a veiled reference to Afridi.

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“That has frankly outraged all of us,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the committee. “It is our goal to make that sure this doctor is not sentenced to death — which is basically what he got — for helping us apprehend Osama bin Laden.”

Afridi used a vaccination drive to try to get DNA samples from people inside the compound where bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan. While he was unsuccessful, U.S. officials say he helped an intelligence program that led to the killing of bin Laden.

Thursday's cut represents about 4 percent of the $800 million set aside for Pakistan next fiscal year, including $250 million in foreign military aid and another $50 million for Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts. The original $800 million was already far below the $2.3 billion the Obama administration is requesting for Pakistan.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) suggested that Congress and the administration are actually on the same page in sending Pakistan a message.

“I think the Obama administration is very frustrated with Pakistan, and what we're doing I think is reflective of a common frustration,” Levin said. “They have not spent the money that we've appropriated … They've tried to send some signals to Pakistan as well. So I don't think thing that gap is as big as the numbers might suggest.”

He added that the Armed Services bill, which passed unanimously, contains a waiver process that gives the administration the flexibility to release military aid if it's in the nation's national security interests.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tensions between the United States and Pakistan were already high following the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last year and the subsequent closing of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. Lawmakers of both parties said Pakistan has been trying to “extort” money out of NATO and the U.S. by proposing a $5,000 per truck levy on NATO supply convoys to Afghanistan, up from $200 per truck before November's deadly attack.

“I'm not worried about it being vetoed,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who sits on both the Appropriations and the Armed Services panels. “I think it's time to set Pakistan straight that we don't have part-time friends.”

Pakistan for its part is outraged that the U.S. has thus far failed to apologize for killing 24 soldiers of a country that, at least on paper, is an ally in the war on terror.

“I think that an immediate apology was the humane, appropriate thing to do,” President Asif Ali Zardari's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, told MSNBC on Thursday. “I'd like the American public to consider what their reaction would have been had 24 American soldiers been killed in such a way on the border with Mexico. I think an apology would have been appropriate."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Pakistan a “schizophrenic” ally, which has suffered the worst losses at the hands of Islamic militants while at the same time harboring the Haqqani network and other groups.