(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s “quiet diplomacy” aimed at securing the release of a Pakistan doctor who helped the U.S. track down Osama bin Laden is not working and should be replaced by tough steps against Islamabad, a Republican lawmaker said Monday.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) reiterated calls for Congress to pass legislation to withhold U.S. aid unless Pakistan releases Shakil Afridi, who was sentenced last summer to 33 years’ imprisonment after being convicted on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges of colluding with terrorists.
Rohrabacher said he was responding to recent reports saying Afridi has begun a hunger strike to protest his harsh treatment in prison and inability to see family or legal counsel while awaiting his next appeal hearing.
“We should take this opportunity to initiate a forceful strategy to save this hero rather than the quiet diplomacy the U.S. State Department has been insisting on and the Republican leadership of the House has acquiesced to,” he said.
“The U.S. ambassador should be recalled and legislation should be passed to withhold foreign aid to Pakistan as long as they are doing the bidding of terrorists and persecuting the likes of Dr. Afridi.”
“Dr. Afridi is showing us, in a courageous way, that quiet diplomacy isn’t working,” Rohrabacher continued. “ He was bold enough to help the U.S. bring justice to the mass murderer Osama bin Laden but unfortunately the actions of the American government have been cowardly in comparison.”
Rohrabacher last February introduced a resolution expressing the sense of Congress “that Dr. Shakil Afridi is an American hero and that he should be immediately released from custody by Pakistan.”
In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been pushing for almost a year for legislation to cut aid to Pakistan until its government frees the incarcerated physician.
A bill he introduced last January would prohibit the U.S. from providing financial assistance to Pakistan until the president certifies to Congress that Afridi has been released; that any criminal charges brought against him have been dropped; and that he has been allowed to leave Pakistan, “if such departure is necessary to ensure his freedom.”
In a separate, private bill introduced the same day, Paul called for Afridi to be deemed a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In its fiscal year 2014 State Department budget proposal, the Obama administration is requesting $1.4 billion for Pakistan.
When Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 17 to testify on the FY2014 budget request, Rohrabacher asked him about cutting aid to Pakistan over the Afridi affair.
“Well, you know the old saying, Dan, about cutting off your nose to spite your face,” Kerry replied. “Cutting off aid to Pakistan would not be a good move, certainly at this point in time, for a lot of different reasons.”
Kerry began citing cooperation with Pakistan on non-proliferation and Afghanistan supply routes, and pointing to Pakistani fatalities at the hands of terrorists, but Rohrabacher interjected, “They are the terrorists’ friends!”
“And here we are going to give them millions of dollars, and they have ended up giving some of our aid to terrorists who are killing us. And the guy who tried to save us is languishing away in a dungeon. Shame on us – not you, Mr. Secretary – shame on us if we ignore Dr. Afridi languishing away in a dungeon.”
“We’re not ignoring Dr. Afridi at all,” Kerry said. “Believe me, this discussion, we have and it goes on. But it’s just not as simple – it’s not as simple as holding everything accountable to one thing, where they assert that there were certain laws that were broken, and you know the arguments. Now that complicates it.”
Afridi was arrested several weeks after U.S. Navy SEALS on May 2, 2011 raided a compound in Abbottabad, 70 miles north of Islamabad, where bin Laden was living.
American officials later confirmed that Afridi had helped the hunt for the fugitive al-Qaeda leader by carrying out a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad aimed at obtaining DNA evidence from the compound to substantiate suspicions that the terrorist was hiding there.
After being held for months without charge by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Afridi was accused by a government-appointed commission investigating the Abbottabad raid of being a “national criminal.” The commission, headed by a former Supreme Court judge, recommended that he be tried for “conspiracy against the State of Pakistan and high treason,” charges that carry the death penalty.
After a court in the Khyber tribal area near the Pakistan-Afghan border sentenced him in May 2012 to 33 years in prison, court documents purported to show that Afridi’s conviction was for providing assistance to a lesser-known militant group in the area called Lashkar-e-Islam. (The group itself has denied having any links to Afridi, with a spokesman telling media it would kill him if it had the opportunity.)
Afridi is appealing his conviction. His next court hearing is scheduled for June 13, but previous ones have been repeatedly adjourned.