WASHINGTON, June 24: The US Senate is also set for an up-or-down vote on stopping all aid to Pakistan for the next two years for keeping Shakil Afridi in prison, says a senator who called the vote.
In a statement to the US media, Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said he had already secured the right for an up-or-down vote, which is a direct vote on an amendment or bill.
Lawmakers are required to vote yes or no on the matter rather than voting on a related procedural manoeuvre. It can pass with a simple majority.
The senator said the move was a protest against Dr Afridi’s prison sentence for helping the CIA track down Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.
Senator Paul’s bill would cut off aid to Islamabad for the rest of the year, as well as next year.
The US Congress had appropriated $2 billion for the current fiscal year, but much of that money remains unspent. Lawmakers are also considering proposals of around $1 billion in aid for Pakistan next year.
Senator Paul plans to bring the measure to the Senate floor on July 20, a day after a court in Pakistan is to rule on Dr Afridi’s appeal.
He said he hoped his legislation could provide the stick needed to change Pakistan’s recent attitude towards the US.
“Most people up here know I am not a big fan of foreign aid and I am willing to pull the trigger on this,” Senator Paul said.
“Pakistan needs to fully consider that all billion dollars, what is left for this year and next year will not occur. Not one penny.”
Dr Afridi, who used the cover of his vaccination programme to identify Osama bin Laden, was sentenced to 33 years in jail in May.
Congress is already considering legislation to strip $33 million in aid to Pakistan, in protest against the sentence. But Senator Paul said those efforts were not enough to persuade Islamabad to release the physician.
Pakistani diplomats in Washington fear that pressures on Pakistan will increase as Americans go to presidential and congressional elections.
Although the elections are scheduled in November, Congress tries to dispose of all pending matters in its last session before the elections, which start in early July.
“The House and the Senate both have plenty of anti-Pakistan measures before them and not all of these can be defeated,” warned a congressional aide while talking to Dawn.
He noted that there were “a lot of anti-Pakistan sentiments in America now” and it would be difficult for the lawmakers to vote in Pakistan’s favour in this situation.
During the first half of the current year, angry lawmakers introduced about half a dozen bills targeting Pakistan. These including a bill asking for the right to self-determination for Balochistan, US citizenship for Dr Afridi, blocking all US assistance to
Pakistan, and attaching more conditions to military aid.
But there were some positive moves too.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman and her team succeeded in persuading Congressman David Dreier, Chairman of the
House Rules Committee, to drop an amendment that could have seriously damaged US-Pakistan ties.
Moved by Congressman Ted Poe, the amendment sought a blanket ban on all financial assistance to Pakistan from the funds earmarked for the next fiscal year.
But the most surprising move came from Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee and is usually very critical of Pakistan and its policies.But during a recent congressional hearing she urged Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to consider apologising to Pakistan if it helps improve bilateral relations.