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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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May 25, 2014

US aid to Pakistan again linked to Dr Afridi’s release 

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The US Congress has once again attached the release of Shakeel Afridi to the provision of military aid to Pakistan. In an amendment introduced to the defense spending bill, passed on May 22, the House members overwhelmingly called for the release of Dr Shakeel Afridi who had helped the CIA by running a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad a month before the US forces raid on Osama bin Laden compound in 2011.

The then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed Afridi had worked for US intelligence by collecting DNA to verify bin Laden's presence. Dr Afridi was arrested shortly after US troops attacked Abbottabad compound on May 2, 2011 and in October a Pakistani commission recommended that he be tried for treason.

The amendment the defense spending bill 2014, ntroduced by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, reads that “the government of Pakistan’s imprisonment of Dr Afridi presents a serious and growing impediment to the United States’ bilateral relations with Pakistan.”

The voting on the amendment took place exactly three years to the day, May 22, 2011, that Dr Afridi was jailed.

He was sentenced to 33 years in prison—a sentence that has since been slightly reduced. 

The congressman’s office said that “between 2002 and 2014, Pakistan has received more than 28 billion dollars from US taxpayers, most of it marked for military and security purposes. Rep Rohrabacher has been critical of aid to Pakistan.

The amendment further says: “It is the sense of Congress that Dr Afridi is an international hero and that the government of Pakistan should release him immediately from prison.” 

In January 2014, President Barack Obama signed a bill which proposed to withhold 33 million dollars from assistance to Pakistan on account of Dr Afridi's detention.

The bill's provision relating to Dr. Afridi specifically notes, "Of the funds" made available for assistance for Pakistan, $33 million shall be withheld from obligation until the Secretary of State reports to the Committees on Appropriations that Dr. Shakil Afridi has been released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the U.S. in locating Osama bin Laden." 

Congressional Gold Medal for Dr. Afridi

In June 2012, US Senator Rand Paul introduced a legislation in the Senate which seeks to eliminate aid to Pakistan until the conviction of Dr. Shakil Afridi is overturned and he is released.

Paul has submitted another bill which seeks to grant Afridi US citizenship for his efforts in leading the United States to Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.

Sentor Paul also wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, urging a delay in the release of foreign military financing to the government of Pakistan, and to hold all aid until Dr. Afridi is released.

In 2012 also, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced legislation in US Congress to award Dr. Afridi the Congressional Gold Medal "befitting his status as a genuine hero."

In October 2013, President Obama and Chairman of the US Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, during their meetings with the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif   demanded the release Dr Shakeel Afridi.

At one time it was also suggested in Pakistani media that Dr. Afridi may be swapped with Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani   who was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a US court on charges of trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's polio outbreak and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden

Efforts to eradicate Polio in Pakistan have been seriously hampered by the repeated targeting of vaccination teams in recent years. Many teams only travel with police protection. Last year there were more than 30 attacks on polio teams.

Julie Hollar of  FAIR organization writes that media has avoided the CIA connection in reporting the most recent story about  the spread of polio in Pakistan.

Polio had been battled to near-extinction after decades of effort, but this year the WHO confirmed 68 new cases and declared it an international public health emergency. Nearly 80 percent of those cases are in Pakistan.

Hollar said the PBS News Hour was one of the only outlets that mentioned the CIA issue on May 6, in a report by correspondent Jeffrey Brown:

BROWN: Dr. Anita Zaidi, a pediatrician, cited a fake vaccination campaign that the CIA used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

 ZAIDI: Which has hugely damaged public health programs, not only in Pakistan, but in many, many countries, because people ask all kinds of questions. They now think that they might—the vaccine programs might be actually spy operations.

"You don't pretend to be an aid worker to advance a security objective. We were appalled." Joel Charny, Vice President for Humanitarian Policy and Practice at InterAction.

In a letter to CIA director General David Petraeus in February 2012, InterAction, which represents nearly 200 U.S.- based non-government organizations, expressed "deep concern" about the fake campaign. "Among other factors, international public health officials point to the distrust of vaccines and immunization campaigns as contributing to the lack of progress in eradicating the disease in Pakistan," it said. "This distrust is only increasing in light of reports about the CIA campaign," it added.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.