U.S. suspends security assistance to Pakistan

By Susan McFarland  |  Jan. 4, 2018 at 1:25 PM
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Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The State Department suspended most security assistance to Pakistan and put it on a "special watch list" Thursday for its treatment of religious minorities.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States will temporarily freeze military equipment deliveries and transfers of security-related funds to Pakistan and freeze reimbursements to the Pakistani government for money spent on conducting counterterrorism operations.

"Until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, we consider them to be destabilizing the region and also targeting personnel," she said.

Nauert was unable to provide a total dollar amount for the cutoff, stating the State Department is still "working through the numbers."

She added the suspension will remain in effect until Pakistan "takes decisive action" against terrorist groups.

Earlier Thursday the State Department put Pakistan on a "special watch list" for its treatment of religious minorities.

"Severe violations of religious freedom" were cited for adding Pakistan to the list, put in place under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the State Department said in a statement. The law was passed during Bill Clinton's administration as an initiative to make religious freedom a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.

Annually, the secretary of state designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom. Thursday's announcement redesignated countries of "particular concern," which include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief," according to the statement. "The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries."

The United States and Pakistan have had increased tensions recently. On Tuesday, United States' ambassador to Pakistan was summoned by leaders in Islamabad -- an ongoing response to a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump Monday that slammed the Middle Eastern nation.

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