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Pakistan Rejects U.S. Criticism On Religious Freedom

FILE: Pakistani Christians protest against suicide bombings at two churches in Lahore in March 2015.

Islamabad has rejected U.S. criticism about Pakistan's record on religious freedom, saying that Pakistan is being made a scapegoat for "failure" in Afghanistan.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf told RFE/RL on January 5 -- a day after the United States designated Pakistan as a "country of particular concern" for having "engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom" -- that the move was another blow to bilateral relations.

Yousaf's remarks also came after Washington announced it was suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan's military until Islamabad took "decisive action" against Afghan Taliban and Haqqani-network militants operating within Pakistan's borders.

"The [U.S.] is shifting its responsibility for failure [in Afghanistan] on Pakistan and it is adding many more things," Yousaf said.

"I think there is no issue here," Yousaf said. "So far as the followers of different religions are concerned, thank God, we are holding meetings and conferences regarding interfaith and intrafaith [harmony]."

"No one is banned and everyone can practice their religion as he or she wishes," Yousaf said.

Pakistan was placed on the U.S. State Department's special watch list for "severe violations of religious freedom."

Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia were the other countries designated by the U.S. State Department as "countries of particular concern."

The U.S. State Department said the designations were determined on December 22.