By Huma Imtiaz
Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi talks with people outside a building at an unknown location in Pakistan in this still image taken from file footage released on May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Geo News via Reuters TV
WASHINGTON: US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, offering US reaction to the sentencing of Dr Shakil Afridi on Wednesday, said that they see no basis for Dr Afridi to be held.
In a press briefing, Nuland said that the Secretary of State and Defense have addressed this issue in the past. She said said that they have regularly taken up the issue of Dr Shakil Afridi with Pakistan, and will continue to do so.
In response to a question, Nuland refused to comment on his sentencing.
Afridi verdict shocking
Meanwhile, US Senators John McCain and Carl Levin termed the sentencing of Dr Afridi as â€˜shockingâ€™ in a joint statement.
â€œIt is shocking and outrageous that Dr Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States in the search for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for the crime of treason,â€ the statement read.
â€œWhat Dr Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason. It was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world â€“ a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands,â€ it defended Dr Afridi.
â€œDr Afridiâ€™s actions were completely consistent with the multiple, legally-binding resolutions passed over many years by the United Nations Security Council, which required member-states to assist in bringing Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to justice. Dr Afridi set an example that we wish others in Pakistan had followed long ago. He should be praised and rewarded for his actions, not punished and slandered,â€ it said.
They then demanded that Dr Afridi be released. â€œWe call upon the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr Afridi immediately.â€
â€œAt a time when the United States and Pakistan need more than ever to work constructively together, Dr Afridiâ€™s continuing imprisonment and treatment as a criminal will only do further harm to US-Pakistani relations, including diminishing Congressâ€™s willingness to provide financial assistance to Pakistan,â€ it warned.
Pakistan at war with US?
US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said that Dr Shakil Afridiâ€™s prison sentence is â€œdecisive proof that Pakistan sees itself as being at warâ€ with the US.
In a press statement, Republican Rep. Rohrbacher said, â€œthere is no shared interest against Islamic terrorism. On 9/11, Pakistan was coordinating the efforts of the Taliban who were in league with Osama bin Laden. In 2012, Pakistan is still working very closely with the Taliban, whose leader Mullah Omar was plotting with Bin Laden right up until he was killed, according to documents taken from Bin Ladenâ€™s Pakistan home. Pakistan was and remains a terrorist state.â€
Rep. Rohrabacher, who is also the chairman for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, had earlier this year introduced two bills calling for Afridi to be given US citizenship, and that he be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The press release said that the US congressman was â€œdismayedâ€ that the bill had not been brought to the House floor for a vote. â€œDr Afridi came through for the American people, now it is our time to come through for him.â€
â€œAdvocates of aid argue we should draw a distinction between the civilian government and the military-intelligence cabal who are supporting terrorist groups that murder Americans, but President [Asif Ali] Zardariâ€™s behavior at the Nato summit in Chicago indicates that he is either in league with the military or under their domination. Any money that goes to Islamabad will continue to end up in the pockets of people actively and deadly hostile to America.
â€œSecretary Clinton will have to do more than voice protests over the Afridi case. Both the Departments of State and Defense need to take punitive actions against Pakistan. Carrots are not enough when dealing with an adversary. Sticks are needed to prove we are serious. Cutting off aid to the regime while providing support to groups like the Balochi people who are oppressed by Islamabad will send a message that it doesnâ€™t pay to confront America,â€ said Rep. Rohrabacher.
â€œPakistan was invited to the Nato summit to foster cooperation, but no cooperation was evident. Pakistan is still keeping supply lines to Nato forces in Afghanistan blocked. As Nato withdraws, Pakistan sees its chance to increase its use of terrorist groups as its vanguard for taking over Afghanistan and spreading radical Islam throughout the region. We need to enlist Russia and India to support anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan such as the Northern Alliance. The Taliban is only the tip of the spear, the real enemy is Pakistan,â€ he added.
Rep. Rohrabacherâ€™s amendment to the NDAA proposing all aid be cut off to Pakistan was defeated last week in a vote on the House floor.