Anti-U.S. Cleric Freed by Pakistan as Tensions Rise Following Trump Tweets

A Pakistani court has ordered the release of an anti-U.S. cleric who went to Afghanistan to help the Taliban fight against Americans after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The move came after tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan had risen after President Donald Trump accused the South Asian country of harboring militants and moved to withhold American aid from Islamabad.

Defense lawyer Fida Gul said on Tuesday Sufi Mohammad was being set free on health grounds, adding that the paperwork for his release was still being processed.

GettyImages-901463974 (1) Pakistani demonstrators burn images of President Donald Trump and the U.S. flag during a protest against U.S. aid cuts in Lahore on January 5. Getty

Mohammad, who is known as the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, had been imprisoned since 2009. 

In 2001, he issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for a holy war against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. 

The Trump administration has accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to militants in the country, a charge the country has vehemently denied.

Read more: Why halting aid to Pakistan won't stop them supporting terrorists

The State Department announced on January 4 it would be freezing the majority of Washington's security aid to Pakistan, with Trump tweeting that the U.S. had "foolishly" given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and had gotten nothing but "lies & deceit" in return.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” the president added.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif responded with a volley of tweets on January 3 condemning the U.S. and the cost of the country's so-called war on terror in Afghanistan that has been ongoing since 2001.

“Our country witnessed the worst bloodbath. You carried out 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan from our bases, your forces were supplied arms and explosives through our soil, thousands of our civilians and soldiers became victims of the war initiated by you," Asif wrote in tweets translated by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.

"We considered your enemy as our own, we filled the Guantanamo Bay," he added. "For the past four years, we have been clearing the debris… We are feeling sorry as you are not happy but we will not compromise on our prestige anymore."

The decision to withhold hundreds of millions from the U.S.'s "coalition support funds" sparked backlash in Pakistan, with some calling for retaliatory measures that could interfere with U.S. efforts in neighboring Afghanistan.

U.S. officials had previously said they had seen no evidence Islamabad was planning such a move, but Pakistan has closed its borders in the past, stemming the flow of vital goods and equipment. 

In 2011, the country closed its borders to NATO convoys carrying supplies for international troops after a series of incidents that saw relations between the U.S. and Pakistan plummet, including a NATO airstrike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, has insisted that the Trump administration has ignored the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror, calling the U.S. president's rebuke "unfair." 

"We have been the victim of terrorist attacks and how can we tolerate the presence of militants on our soil?" he said to the Associated Press over the weekend. 

The increasingly frayed ties between Washington and Islamabad could see further strain with the release of Mohammad. 

The Trump administration has yet to respond to the decision. 

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