US puts Pakistan on watch list for 'violation of religious freedom'

Web Desk

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for what it claims are "severe violations of religious freedom".

In a press statement on Thursday, the State Department said it has also re-designated 10 countries as "countries of particular concern" under the country's International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

"Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017," said the State Department.

"The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom," it added.

The move against Pakistan comes amid a period of heightened tensions between the two nations, after US president Donald Trump said that Washington had foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years.

In a tweet on Monday, Trump accused Pakistan of giving nothing but lies and deceit, thinking US leaders to be fools.

"They give safe havens to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" he had said.

Trump's tweet was followed by the US withholding $255 million in aid to Islamabad, accusing Pakistan of failing to cooperate fully in the fight against terrorism.

"The administration is withholding $255 million in assistance to Pakistan. There are clear reasons for this. Pakistan has played a double game for years," US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters on Tuesday.

"They work with us at times, and they also harbour the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan," she said.

"That game is not acceptable to this administration. We expect far more cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against terrorism," she added.

"The president is willing to go to great lengths to stop all funding from Pakistan as they continue to harbour terrorists."

Shortly afterwards, the White House said it wanted to see Pakistan "do more to fight terrorism" and that it would likely announce further actions to pressure Islamabad within days.

"Our goal is that we know that they can do more to stop terrorism and we want them to do that," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

"In terms of specific actions, I think you'll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours."

Last month, Pakistan joined more than 120 countries to defy the US president and vote in favour of a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution calling for America to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But, addressing reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday, Haley said the Pakistan aid issue was not connected to the vote on Jerusalem, adding, "It is entirely connected to Pakistan's harbouring of terrorists."

"However, as I said earlier in December, we won't forget the Jerusalem vote," she had said.