"The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom", the State Department said. The other named countries are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The State Department says that the designation is annually made as a way to encourage other countries to join the USA in "upholding high but universal standards".
"This placement on special watch list is a new categorisation and we would be seeking clarification from the USA regarding its rationale and implications", a statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
This unfolds also amid heightened tensions between the two countries after the Trump administration informed members of the US Congress it would soon announce plans to end "security assistance" payments to the country.
"The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity", the department said in a statement.More news: Expect specific action on Pak. this week, says US
Washington confirmed it will withhold 255 million dollars in USA military aid to Pakistan this year, a threat first issued last August when Trump announced his Afghan policy, which took aim at Pakistan and demanded an end to Islamabad's alleged support for the Afghan Taliban.
The State Department raised the issue of religious intolerance in Pakistan in a 2016 report, and said US officials have met with various Pakistani officials to discuss ways to combat violence and intolerance against religious minorities.
Pakistan said on Friday that it "rejects the U.S. designation" and that the report is "not based on objective criteria". "These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries", the department said in a statement.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) praised the White House for making religious freedom designations a priority but was disappointed that Vietnam was not designated as a CPC. Around ten other nations have been listed as "Countries of Particular Concern" by the US.
"However, I am troubled that Vietnam was again not designated this year", he said. "The U.S. should never shrink from calling out countries for such abuses", Royce said.