In his first tweet of the year, Trump pledges to put a stop to aid to Pakistan claiming the US has gotten nothing in return.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (C), chief of the charity organisation Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), at meeting to protest Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on December 29, 2017.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (C), chief of the charity organisation Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), at meeting to protest Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on December 29, 2017. (Reuters)

Pakistan's government plans to seize control of charities and financial assets linked to former militant leader Hafiz Saeed, who Washington has designated a terrorist, according to a secret order seen by Reuters.

Pakistan's civilian government detailed its plans in a secret order to various provincial and federal government departments on December 19, three officials who attended one of several high-level meeting discussing the crackdown said.

Marked "secret,"  a December 19 document from the finance ministry directed law enforcement and governments in Pakistan's five provinces to submit an action plan by December 28 for a "takeover" of Saeed's two charities, Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) and the Falah e Insaniat Foundation (FF).

The US has labelled JuD and FIF "terrorist fronts" for Lashkar e Taiba ("Army of the Pure" or LeT), a group Saeed is said to have founded in 1987 to fight Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir region. Washington and India blame JuD for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

In a 2010 interview to The Independent, Saeed, denied forming LeT, or that his charity group is a front for LeT. He called it a "Propaganda of India."

The JuD garners support by providing extensive education, healthcare and disaster relief. 

The group won popular support for its quick relief work in Pakistan after an earthquake struck in 2005, floods in 2010 and another magnitude 7.5 earthquake in 2015.

The JuD also help people displaced by military operations in Swat, in the country's northwest.

Saeed has also repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and a Pakistani court saw insufficient evidence to convict him.

Washington, which has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed's conviction over the Mumbai attacks, warned Islamabad of repercussions after a Pakistani court in late November released him from house arrest.

Punjab's provincial government had put Saeed under house arrest for 10 months in 2017.

'Financing terrorism' 

The December 19 document, which refers to "Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issues", names only Saeed's two charities and "actions to be taken" against them.

The FATF, which is an international body that combats money laundering and terrorist financing, has warned Pakistan it faces inclusion on a watch list for failing to crack down on financing terrorism.

Asked about a crackdown on JuD and FIF, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who co-chaired one of the meetings on the plan, responded only generally, saying he has ordered authorities "to choke the fundraising of all proscribed outfits in Pakistan."

In a written reply to Reuters, he also said Pakistan wasn't taking action under US pressure. "We're not pleasing anyone. We're working as a responsible nation to fulfill our obligations to our people and international community."

The LeT has been designated as a proscribed organisation in Pakistan but the FIF has not been banned in the country while the JuD is placed on an observation list, according to a statement given by the foreign secretary in November 2015.

Spokesmen for the JuD and FIF both said they could not comment until they receive official notifications of the government's plans. 

First major move

If the government follows through with the plan, it would mark the first time Pakistan has made a major move against Saeed's network, which includes 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance services. 

The JuD and FIF alone have about 50,000 volunteers and hundreds of other paid workers, according to two counterterrorism officials.

Participants at the meeting raised the possibility that the government's failure to act against the charities could lead to UN sanctions, one of the three officials said. 

A UN Security Council team is due to visit Pakistan in late January to review progress against UN-designated "terrorist" groups.

"Any adverse comments or action suggested by the team can have far-reaching implications for Pakistan," the official said.

The December 19 document gave few details about how the state would take over Saeed's charities, pending the plans submitted from the provincial governments. 

It did say it would involve government entities taking over ambulance services and accounting for other vehicles used by the charities.

It says law enforcement agencies will co-ordinate with Pakistan's intelligence agencies to identify the assets of the two charities and examine how they raise money.

Trump's tweet

US President Donald Trump began the New Year by sending an angry, early morning tweet criticising Pakistan.

In a tweet , he suggested to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of harbouring violent extremists and lying about it.

Responding to Trump, Pakistan's foreign minister tweeted that "Will let the world know the truth ... difference between facts & fiction..."

Last week, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was seriously weighing whether to withhold $255 million in already delayed aid to Islamabad over its failure to better crack down on terror groups in Pakistan.

The report also said that the US was frustrated over the refusal of its demand for access to a man captured by Pakistan's security forces while freeing a Canadian-American family in the country's northwestern region near the Afghan border, who were held captive by militants.

The report added that the member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network captured in Pakistan could potentially provide information about at least one American hostage.

US-Pakistani ties have taken a nosedive under Trump, who in August declared that "Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror."

Earlier this month, Trump had already hinted that he may cut off the aid for good.

"We make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help," he said in unveiling his national security strategy.

And last week, Vice President Mike Pence told American troops during a visit to Afghanistan, "President Trump has put Pakistan on notice."

Responding to Pence's statement, Pakistan's Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said, "Pence had the gall, the audacity to say that Trump has put Pakistan on notice." 

"Let the word ring out in clear terms that Pakistan is a sovereign state and is not in the habit of taking notices from anyone, least alone the US," Rabbani said while addressing a six-nation Speakers' Conference held in Islamabad.

The Senate Chairman added, "We saw the US ignoring the sacrifices made by Pakistan."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies