WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday slapped new sanctions on Pakistan-based militants who have targeted India, on the eve of a trip by President Barack Obama aimed at shoring up relations with New Delhi.
While the United States already considered the pair to be terrorist groups, the Treasury Department blacklisted specific fronts and individuals including Azam Cheema, seen as a key commander of the bloody 2008 assault on Mumbai.
Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba “have proven both their willingness and ability to execute attacks against innocent civilians,” said Stuart Levey, the undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The Treasury action “is an important step in incapacitating the operational and financial networks of these deadly organizations,” he said.
Muslim militants launched a string of simultaneous attacks on Mumbai, India’s financial capital, in November 2008, killing 166 people dead and injuring more than 300 others.
Obama will commemorate the attacks when he visits Mumbai as the first stop on his trip. He will stay overnight at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, a Mumbai landmark partially ravaged by the attack.
Mike Hammer, Obama’s spokesman for national security, said he expected counter-terrorism to be a topic of discussion during the visit.
“We enjoy terrific and excellent counterterrorism cooperation with India and this administration particularly has gone to great lengths to make sure we’re working together,” Hammer told a news conference.
The United States and India signed an agreement in July formalizing growing cooperation on counter-terrorism.
But many Indians have voiced concern about the case of David Headley, the US-born son of a former Pakistani diplomat who has admitted he went to Mumbai to scout out locations for the attacks.
After loud appeals by New Delhi, the United States gave Indian investigators access to Headley. But US authorities have faced criticism for not pursuing warning signs, even though Headley’s wives told US authorities of his virulently anti-Indian views and suspicious trips to India.
The Obama administration has walked a fine line between seeking to nurture warming ties with India while also pursuing a better relationship with Pakistan, India’s historic rival.
The United States has put a focus on curbing widespread anti-Americanism in Pakistan, a vital gateway for US troops operating in Afghanistan.
Congress last year approved a 7.5 billion-dollar civilian aid package for Pakistan and the Obama administration recently proposed another two billion dollars in military assistance.
Hammer said that the United States was “very interested in working with both countries.””The US does enjoy very positive and fruitful relations with both countries and both countries benefit from American engagement in the region,” he said.
The United States has voiced appreciation for what it sees as a growing Pakistani commitment to fight homegrown Taliban. But it has called in the past on Pakistan to do more to rein in Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. – AFP