US cuts Pakistan aid over jailing of 'Bin Laden doctor'

image captionShakil Afridi could end up spending 33 years in prison

A US Senate panel has cut $33m (£21m) in aid to Pakistan in response to the jailing of a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama Bin Laden.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has said it will cut US aid by $1m for each year of Shakil Afridi's sentence.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said his term was "unjust and unwarranted".

Dr Afridi was tried for treason under a tribal justice system for running a fake vaccination programme to gather information for US intelligence.

Bin Laden was killed by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

The move from the Senate panel follows earlier cuts to the White House's budget request for Pakistan. The cuts would be part of a bill that would send $1bn in aid to Pakistan in the next financial year.

"We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don't need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama Bin Laden to an end," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, calling Pakistan "a schizophrenic ally".

Meanwhile Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said: "It's Alice in Wonderland at best. If this is co-operation, I'd hate like hell to see opposition."

media captionSecretary of State Hillary Clinton said: ''We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence''

Correspondents say the cuts reflect mounting frustration in Congress over Pakistan's role in fighting terrorism on its soil.

Absent from court

Meanwhile, Mrs Clinton spoke out against Dr Afridi's sentence.

"The United States does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr [Shakil] Afridi. We regret the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence," Mrs Clinton told reporters on Thursday.

She added that she would continue to pursue the issue with the authorities in Pakistan.

The killing triggered a rift between the US and Pakistan, whose government was seriously embarrassed as it emerged Bin Laden had been living in Pakistan.

Islamabad felt the covert US operation was a violation of its sovereignty.

Shortly after the raid on Bin Laden's house, Dr Afridi was arrested for conspiring against the state of Pakistan.

Pakistan has insisted that any country would have done the same if it found one of its citizens working for a foreign spy agency.

"I think as far as the case of Mr Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts, and we need to respect each other's legal processes," its foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Khan told reporters on Thursday.

Dr Afridi was found guilty in Khyber district, and sentenced to at least 30 years in jail as well as being fined $3,500. If he does not pay the fine his prison sentence will be extended by a further three years.

Dr Afridi, who is now being held in jail in Peshawar, was not present in court so was unable to give his side of the story.

In June, Pakistani army officials told the BBC that some suspects were arrested for helping the Americans refuel their helicopters during the raid. Others were detained because they were suspected of firing flares to guide the helicopters towards the compound.

It is not clear what DNA Dr Afridi managed to collect in the fake hepatitis B vaccination programme. The idea was to obtain a blood sample from one of the children living in the Abbottabad compound, so that DNA tests could determine whether or not they were relatives of Bin Laden.

It is also unclear if Dr Afridi even knew who the target of the investigation was when the CIA recruited him.

media captionBrig Shaukat Qadir said Shakil Afridi should have checked with the Pakistani authorities first

"Shakil actually didn't know he was looking for Bin Laden," Shaukat Qadir, a former Pakistani brigadier who investigated the Abbottabad raid and has been privy to details of Dr Afridi's interrogation, told the BBC.

But he said Dr Afridi should have notified the Pakistani authorities of his activities.

"Pakistan's help should have been sought and if they wanted to use somebody as an agent to assist the CIA, they should have gone to the ISI and said, 'we have this man in mind - would you mind if we use him for this purpose?' And I think that would have been fine," Brig Qadir said.

US officials have said they kept the raid secret from Pakistan because they could not trust their counterparts in the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader.

The issues of drone strikes and Pakistan's refusal to re-open Nato supply routes to Afghanistan have also recently severely strained the two allies' relationship.

Pakistan's parliament has called for an end to the use of drones, and says they are an attack on its sovereignty. Drone strikes in the past two days have killed 12 people in the North Waziristan tribal area, security officials said.

image captionUS special forces caught up with Bin Laden in a quiet Pakistani town last year

The two countries also failed to reach agreement at the Nato summit in Chicago over the supply routes that were closed after a US air strike in 2011 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Islamabad is demanding more than $5,000 (£3,200) per lorry in transit fees, up from its previous rate of $250, to let supplies flow again. US officials have said they will not pay that much.