WASHINGTON, May 23: US lawmakers warned on Wednesday that Pakistan was moving rapidly on a path leading to a direct confrontation with the world’s sole superpower as Pakistan convicted and sentenced a man considered a hero in America.

On Tuesday, a US Senate panel voted to cut aid to Pakistan by 58 per cent in fiscal 2013 and threatened to withhold even more cash if Islamabad did not reopen Nato supply routes.

“Shocking and outrageous,” said Senators John McCain and Carl Levin — one a senior Republican, the other a senior Democrat — as a tribal court in Pakistan sentenced Dr Shakil Afridi to 33 years in prison for the crime of treason.

The United States saw “no basis” for continuing to hold Dr Afridi, said US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

In Tuesday’s vote, senators endorsed the administration’s request for $1 billion for Pakistan, including $800 million in foreign aid. But funding for the Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capability Fund was reduced to just $50 million, and subjected to the reopening of supply lines.

The decision came two days after a Nato summit in Chicago where Pakistan annoyed the United States and its allies by refusing to reopen ground routes for supplying their forces in Afghanistan.

“It is shocking and outrageous that Dr Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States in the search for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for the crime of treason,” observed Senators McCain and Levin.

“We call upon the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr Afridi immediately. At a time when the United States and Pakistan need more than ever to work constructively together, Dr Afridi’s continuing imprisonment and treatment as a criminal will only do further harm to US-Pakistani relations, including diminishing Congress’s willingness to provide financial assistance to Pakistan,” they warned.

State Department’s Victoria Nuland noted at a news briefing in Washington that US secretaries of State and Defence had addressed this issue in the past, pointing out that they saw no basis for holding Dr Afridi in prison.

The United States, she said, had regularly taken up the issue of Dr Afridi with Pakistan, and “will continue to do so”.

The State Department official, however, refused to comment on the sentencing.

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