Pakistan ‘committed’ to seizing extremists: PM Abbasi

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi warned the United States on Monday that the latter’s move to block financial aid to Pakistan “actually only serve(s) to degrade our capability to fight the war against terror”.

The incumbent leadership of Pakistan will, however, push ahead with plans to seize control of charities run by Hafiz Saeed — an extremist designated a terrorist by Washington — and warned the US not to weaken Islamabad, the Premier added.

“Yes, the government will take over the charities, which are sanctioned and not allowed to operate,” Abbasi, 59, told Reuters in an interview at the prime minister’s chamber in Islamabad.

The prime minister said any sanctions against the state would be counter-productive to the country’s own battle against militants, which he called “the largest war on terror in the world”.

He added that the US will have to fight terrorists on its own.

Abbasi continued that the nation had made progress in curbing terrorist financing after meetings with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — an international body that warned Islamabad could be put on a watchlist for not doing enough to stop the practice.

“We’ve had several meetings on that, and from what I’ve seen a large part of those actions have been taken,” Abbasi said.

A UN Security Council (UNSC) team is due to visit Pakistan this month to review progress against UN-designated “terrorist” groups, which includes LeT and others, such as the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network.

Hafiz Saeed

There are concerns in Pakistan that the country may face financial sanctions over accusations of selective action against extremist groups and financing.

Under pressure from the US and international institutions to crack down on terrorist financing, Pakistan last month drew up secret plans for a “takeover” of charities linked to extremist leader Saeed — who India and  Washington both blame for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

The US has labelled these charities as “terrorist fronts” for Saeed’s group that was founded in 1987.

Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says the charitable organisations he founded and controls have no ties with militants.

But both he and the organisations have been sanctioned by the UN and his freedom in Pakistan has been a thorn in Islamabad’s relations with India and the US.

Answering specific questions about the proposed takeover, Abbasi said the civilian government had the backing of the powerful military.

“Everybody is on board, everybody is on the same page, everybody is committed to [the]implementation of UN sanctions,” he said, declining to set a deadline.

Both extremist organisations have previously said they would take legal action if the government tried to take them over. Saeed could not be reached for comment.

Trump tweet and meeting

On another note, Abbasi also spoke of a brief discussion he had with Trump back in September, last year, at a reception at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

“I found him to be fairly warm,” he said. “Somebody that you would like to engage with and talk to.”

He, however, brushed off the US president’s recent tweet accusing Islamabad of “lies and deception” in its commitment to fighting terrorism, as he raised the prospect of charging the United States to use Pakistan’s airspace to resupply NATO troops in Afghanistan.

There was no customary meaning behind Trump’s tweet, the premier noted, saying, however, that the language the American head-of-state used was unacceptable.

Abbasi said Trump’s tweet was “unacceptable” in its tone and that Pakistan should not be “scapegoated” for US failures in Afghanistan.

“That is something … we cannot accept because nobody’s suffered more than Pakistan,” Abbasi said, adding that tens of thousands of Pakistani have died from militancy that has inflicted damage worth $120 billion to the economy.

Frayed relations

The US-Pakistan relations have frayed since January 1 when Trump lashed out against what he called Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” over its alleged support of Afghan Taliban militants battling US troops in Afghanistan.

The uneasy ally has since suspended — aid totalling about $2 billion — to Pakistan, accusing it of being a base for myriad extremist movements and critics alleging that Islamabad harbours terrorists and offers them “safe havens”.

Pakistan denies those allegations.

US officials last year warned of tougher measures against Pakistan, including potentially withdrawing its “non-Nato ally” status or even designating it a state sponsor of terrorism.

Abbasi said much of the suspended aid was from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a US Defence Department programme to reimburse allies for the costs of supporting counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.

He said the US needed to respect Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against militancy and raised the prospect of charging Washington for air transport flights that have been resupplying US-led troops and Afghan forces in landlocked Afghanistan.

“If somebody wants to start quantifying expenses and aid, I think let’s put this on the table also. Let’s discuss that,” Abbasi said, though he added that such talk was “hypothetical”.

Abbasi dismissed media reports that Islamabad has ended intelligence sharing with the US military as false.

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