WASHINGTON, Jan 11: The US Department of State paid $36,607 to the Sunni Ittehad Council during the US fiscal year 2009-10, reveals a document placed on the website of a government agency called USAspending.gov.

The money came from the State Department’s fund for “public diplomacy programmes for Afghanistan and Pakistan”, the document shows.

The department sent the money to 38-C Garden Villas Adhyala Road, Rawalpindi, to help organise a “national flags march” on Aug 14, 2009.

The payment receipt, however, was signed on Dec 17, 2009, months after the event, and that’s why the transaction was included in the funds for US fiscal year 2010.

A US official document lists the transaction as a grant and with a US federal government identity number SPK33010GR009.

The document shows the grant as a “new assistance action”, indicating that the council had not received US grants before this transaction or at least not from the State Department’s public diplomacy fund.

Officials at the US Embassy in Islamabad also said it was a one-off grant and would not be repeated.

A senior US diplomat said a change in the council’s “direction and leadership” caused the embassy to discontinue its assistance to the group.

US policymakers view the Sunni Ittehad as a group of theological moderates who can counter the influence of extremist groups.

Officials at the US embassy in Islamabad said the group used the money to organise nationwide rallies against militants and suicide bombings, which received widespread media coverage, and were some of the first against extremism in the country.

The Jan 4, 2011 assassination of Governor Salman Taseer, however, changed the US attitude towards the Sunni Ittehad as his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, had links to the group.

Later, the group led demonstrations in support of the killer and threatened to punish those lawyers and witnesses who would appear against Qadri.

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