Shakil Afridi is a Pakistani physician who helped the United States obtain DNA samples that confirmed the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. He currently is serving a 33-year sentence for treason, allegedly for ties to the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam but in fact for his role in the bin Laden raid. Some senators are seeking ways to bring pressure to bear on Islamabad to right this wrong.
In June, Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, along with five cosponsors, submitted S. 3269, a bill providing that no foreign aid would be sent to Pakistan until Dr. Afridi is freed from prison, the charges against him are dropped and he is allowed to leave the country if necessary for his safety. “President Obama sent [Pakistan] another billion dollars last week. We already send Pakistan $2 billion and they disrespect us, so what did we do? We send them another billion dollars,” Mr. Paul said on Tuesday. “People around this town are bemoaning there’s not enough money for our military yet we took a billion dollars out of the Defense Department and — an extra billion and sent it to Pakistan last week.”
Mr. Paul says he has enough signatures to bring the bill to a vote and pledged to do so pending the results of a July 19 appeals hearing in Pakistan on Dr. Afridi’s case. On Wednesday, however, the commissioner of the Frontier Constabulary, Tariq Jemeel, canceled the session because the relevant documents hadn’t been provided to the court. Authorities in Peshawar, where Dr. Afridi is being held, have warned the national government about threats to his life from the many Islamic militants incarcerated in the same jail. Islamabad isn’t interested in taking responsibility for Dr. Afridi from the Federally Administered Tribal Area where he was convicted, and no other province wants to accept a prisoner transfer.
There is dire need to pressure Pakistan to focus on this case and stop the miscarriage of justice. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said he should be freed but the State Department has been unwilling to discuss using foreign aid or other forms of leverage to secure his release. The fragility of the relationship is illustrated by a U.S. apology earlier this month for the Nov. 26 border incident in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed in a U.S. air strike. After that exercise in diplomatic fence-mending, there is no political will to play hardball with Islamabad, especially not over the fate of one heroic man.
Mr. Paul is giving senators the opportunity they need to stand up and be counted. The message of S. 3269 is that foreign countries shouldn’t view aid from the United States as a given. Human-rights matters as grave as Dr. Afridi’s unjust imprisonment should bear heavily on the decision to continue to send billions of borrowed dollars to Pakistan, particularly in times of economic distress at home. Americans should know which of their senators would choose to cut these payments and who would continue them. As Mr. Paul explained, “It is the least the taxpayers deserve.” Not to mention Dr. Afridi.
Should Pakistan be rewarded for imprisoning a hero who helped bring down Osama bin Laden? Sen. Rand Paul says no.
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