A court in Pakistan has directed the release of a cleric who had travelled to Afghanistan to support the Taliban to fight the Americans after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The move comes in wake of tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan after President Donald Trump accused the country of harbouring militants and has moved to withhold American aid from Islamabad.
According to defense lawyer Fida Gul the cleric Sufi Mohammad was being set free due to health reasons, noting that the paperwork for his release was still being processed.
Mohammad, who said to be the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, has been in prison since 2009.
Mohammad issued a fatwa in 2001, calling for a “holy war” against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan A Safe Haven For Terrorists
The Trump administration has in recent days accused Pakistan of failing to tackle militants located in the country and providing them a “safe haven”, a charge that it has vehemently denied.
On January 4, the State Department announced that it would be freezing the majority of Washington’s security aid to Pakistan. Trump had tweeted that the U.S. had “foolishly” given Pakistan aid of over $33 billion in past 15 years and received nothing but “lies & deceit” in return.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif however responded to Trump’s accusations, condemning the U.S. and pointing out the cost of US’ so-called war on terror in Afghanistan. He noted that the US had attacked Afghanistan from Pakistan’s bases 57,800 times and over the years, thousands of its civilians and soldiers have become victims of the war started by the U.S.
The withdrawal of the U.S.’s “coalition support funds” has sparked backlash in Pakistan, with some sections urging retaliatory measures , a move that could affect U.S. efforts in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Although initially, U.S. officials said there was no evidence of Islamabad take such steps, but Pakistan has in the past closed its borders, which can halt the flow of vital goods and equipment.
The country closed its borders in 2011 barring NATO convoys from carrying supplies for international troops after a series of incidents led to the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan worsening, which included a NATO airstrike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.
US Ignoring Pakistan’s Sacrifices
According to Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the Trump administration’s recent move ignores the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror, and has called the U.S. president’s rebuke “unfair.”
The release of Mohammad could further hamper ties between Washington and Islamabad, according to experts.
The Trump administration is yet to react to the decision.