A key US Senate panel has voted to impose pointed and punitive cut in aid dollars to Pakistan for its continued support to state-engineered extremism, although the country described bluntly by one lawmaker as a "terrorist state" will still get at least $ 1 billion in American taxpayer money for 2013.
Angered by a Pakistani court's sentencing of a doctor who helped the US nail Osama bin Laden to 33 years in prison (for high treason), the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted for a symbolic but token $ 33 million cut in aid -- a million for each year of the sentence.
The cut came on top of the panel voting to withhold nearly a billion dollars in proposed assistance subject to Pakistan re-opening Nato supply routes, although it still left more than $ 1 billion on the table for a country that has publicly castigated the US for killing a universally reviled terrorist. Further reductions have been threatened if Pakistan does not change course.
The Senate action reflected growing American anger over issues ranging from the Nato supply route stand-off to the sentencing of Dr Shakil Afridi, all of which, some US lawmakers suggest, show that Pakistan is in league with terrorists rather than with the United States.
"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," Lindsey Graham, a Senate Republican who pushed for the additional cut in aid said, while calling Pakistan a "schizophrenic ally."
Lawmakers on the House side have been less kind. Following the sentencing by Pakistan's pro-jihadi courts of Dr Afridi, who helped the US locate bin Laden, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said "This is decisive proof Pakistan sees itself as being at war with us."
"There is no shared interest against Islamic terrorism," Rohrabacher maintained in a statement, contesting the bromide periodically advanced by the administration that Islamabad is an ally in the war on terror. "Pakistan was and remains a terrorist state."
These and other remarks by US lawmakers suggest that many of them, including Rohrabacher, who supported Pakistan for more than two decades despite its track record of rampant nuclear proliferation and sponsorship of terrorism, have turned against the country, although even now the administration and its supporters advance the idea that Pakistan is better treated as an ally rather than as an adversary.
"It's Alice in Wonderland at best," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who heads the appropriations sub-committee which voted to size down and make conditional some of the aid to Pakistan. "If this is cooperation, I'd hate like hell to see opposition." The United States, Leahy added, is "not going to invest in a country that won't help us in a reasonable way to deal with threats to our forces in Afghanistan."
Meanwhile, Washington and Islamabad clashed over the sentencing of sentencing of Dr Afridi, even as the matter became a political issue in the US election season with some Republicans accusing the administration of throwing him under the bus by publicly revealing his identity and his cooperation even before he could be rescued from Pakistan.
On Thursday, secretary of state Hillary Clinton waded into the issue, demanding that Dr Afridi be released, because "his help was instrumental in taking down one of the world's most notorious murderers that was clearly in Pakistan's interest as well as ours and the rest of the world." The Pakistani foreign office fired back, saying the US needed to respect Pakistan's legal processes and judgments. Congressman Rohrabacher meanwhile is pushing for legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal and a US citizenship for Dr Afridi.
"Secretary Clinton will have to do more than voice protests over the Afridi case. Both the Departments of State and Defense need to take punitive actions against Pakistan. Carrots are not enough when dealing with an adversary. Sticks are needed to prove we are serious," Rohrabacher said.
The lawmaker also contested arguments from advocates of aid to Pakistan that the US should draw a distinction between the civilian government and the military-intelligence cabal who are supporting terrorist groups, saying President Zardari's behavior at the NATO summit in Chicago indicates that he is either in league with the military or under their domination.
"Any money that goes to Islamabad will continue to end up in the pockets of people actively and deadly hostile to America," he said. "The Taliban is only the tip of the spear, the real enemy is Pakistan."