US suspends most security aid to Pakistan, places it on a special watch list

Thursday, January 4th, 2018 11:21 pm

USstates

The Trump administration will suspend most security assistance to Pakistan, the State Department said on Thursday, expanding its retribution over militant safe havens that U.S. officials blame for ongoing violence in Afghanistan.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, speaking to reporters, said the suspension would allow the administration, which will freeze the aid payments but not allocate the money elsewhere, to reassess in the coming year.

Because the administration had previously said it would suspend $255 million in foreign military funding for Pakistan, the new announcement will have limited practical effect in the short term, as officials wait to see if Pakistan takes new action against militants.

But it sends as a strong signal to an on-again, off-again counterterrorism ally. The Trump administration is seeking to take a harder line against Pakistan as it expands military operations in Afghanistan, more than 16 years after that conflict began.

For years, U.S. officials have complained that Pakistan has allowed the Taliban and other extremists to operate within its borders. Taliban leaders are widely believed to reside in Pakistan, helping to direct insurgent operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan denies those allegations and says the United States has failed to acknowledge the efforts it has taken against militant groups.

Also on Thursday, the State Department announced it would put Pakistan on a “watch list” for countries that fail to protect religious freedom.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom,” it said on Thursday, days after the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid.

The State Department also said it had re-designated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

The re-designated countries were China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were re-designated on Dec. 22.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end “security assistance” payments to the country.

Pakistan has said it is already doing a lot to fight militants, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a tweet by Trump that said the United States had been foolish in dispensing aid to Islamabad.

Sources: Reuters and Washington Post

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