‘Free Balochistan’ campaign in London, drive stopped at PHC and Pak Govt protest

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Nation special report

LONDON: After Geneva, during the UN General Assembly session in September this year, the same campaign to highlight the Balochistan issue was witnessed in London last week but the efforts of Pakistan High Commissioner and pressure on British High Commissioner in Islamabad materialised and the slogans on taxis and moving bill boards were removed. But, some people have reported to ‘The Nation’ that this campaign still goes on and a big flag containing this slogan was hoisted at the Brent Bridge on Monday night but later it was disappeared. Who hoisted and who removed it, no one knows.
It is pertinent to mention that the Baloch people have been trying various tactics to get the world’s attention and highlight what they claim the human rights violations allegedly by the Pakistan army in their province. London Taxis with the words ‘ Free Balochistan ‘ written on both sides were seen plying in capital especially outside Buckingham Palace and central London in what is a new push by the overseas Baloch groups to attract global attention to their cause.
Apart from taxis, a number of vans were moving on roads showing images of two women and four children alleging that they were kidnapped on 30 October in Balochistan. Pak Govt action According to PHC sources, Pakistan High Commissioner Syed Ibne Abbas brought this offending situation into notice of Foreign Ministry in Islamabad and on FO instructions contacted the relevant TfL authorities in London and urged him to take appropriate action to remove the provocative material. “It is ethically wrong and against diplomatic norms between two friendly countries”, Pak envoy stated.
The informed sources confided that Pakistan origin London Mayor Sadiq Khan played a pivotal role in sorting out thisimbroglio. The sourcessaid that the authorities were told that the situation would go worse and counter campaign and demonstrations would start taking place by Pakistani diaspora. Later, Pakistan High Commission informed the media; “On taking up the matter of pernicious anti-Pakistan campaign on London cabs by High Commissioner Syed Ibne Abbas, the Transport for London (TfL) promptly responded and has ordered the removal of offensive advertisements from London cabs immediately. The TfL confirmed that it has initiated an inquiry into the matter”.
“As soon as the vicious campaign came to the notice of the High Commission, the matter was taken up with the British authorities, including the TfL. The TfL after taking the suitable action of removal of advertisements, has assured of the disciplinary action against the perpetrators of this malicious campaign”, the PHC stated. Action in Islamabad Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua summoned British High Commissioner Thomas Drew on Friday to convey the concerns over the slogans seen on some cabs in London, attacking Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. According to the Foreign Office, the High Commissioner was told that Pakistan objected to the propaganda. The issue was raised with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the Pakistan High Commissioner in London as well. Using some very strong diplomatic language, Islamabad says that it has taken “a very serious notice of a pernicious and deceitful campaign using mischievous slogans against Pakistan on London cab(s)”.
Tweets with photographs of the offending British cabs were also displayed on the social media. “Pakistan, in line with the UN Charter, rejects actions and advertisements with malicious content that impinge on oursovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan is aware of the intentions of such sinister and malicious campaigns, which should not be allowed on the soil of a friendly country,” the foreign secretary told Britain’s top diplomat in Islamabad. Pakistan says that this issue of ‘serious concern” was also being raised with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by its high commissioner in London. While the Foreign Office here shied away from revealing the reaction of High Commissioner Thomas Drew, the usual reaction always either holds out an assurance that Pakistan’s sentiments would be conveyed to London or else that the expression of free speech allowssuch activity against a sovereign state.
Gen Bajwa takes notice According to informed sources in Islamabad, Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa also took serious notice of this campaign and took this matter with UK High Commissioner Thomas Drew who called on him at GHQ. He observed that the maligning campaign is absolutely against Pakistan and should not be allowed at the soil of Britain. “Allowing such nefarious campaign against Pakistan, is against the gesture of good friendly bilateral relations”, he stated.
Officially, this conversation was not mentioned in press release and only stated that UK envoy called on COAS and discussed bilateral issues. But the sources said it is not coincidence that the UK envoy who was summoned at the Foreign Office and soon after he held a meeting with Army Chief at GHQ. “Other issues of mutual interests also came under discussion”.
Embarrassing campaign Vehicles with words about the forced disappearances of Baloch people were seen in various parts of London including Piccadilly Circus, UK Parliament and Trafalgar square London that brought bad name to Pakistan and people watched them with great interest and asked for more information. ‘Free Balochistan’ posters embossed on several vehicles running on the road were seen in London this week to highlight human rights violations in Balochistan province. “Our peaceful awareness campaign in the great city London aims to highlight human rights abuses in Balochistan by Pakistani authorities “, the World Baloch Organisation said in a tweet. Vehicles were also seen with posters reading “Save Baloch Women & Children Campaign around the British Parliament and the London Eye in Central London to highlight enforced disappearances in Balochistan.
Various Baloch organisations had recently organised protests in several Western countries as part of their ongoing international awareness campaign for the freedom of Balochistan. The World Baloch Organisation (WBO) had organised a protest in September in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to raise awareness of human rights violations in Balochistan.
Human rights activists, Baloch representatives and allies of the Baloch cause came together during the 36th Session of the UNHRC to protest against gross human rights violations inflicted upon indigenous Baloch people. For decades in Balochistan, economic exploitation through the plundering of natural resources, and the systematic economic, social and political exclusion of indigenous Baloch people, has become the norm. In addition to this, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression are used as covert tools to brutally repress the Baloch peaceful struggle for justice, rights and equality. Since the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)has begun, the Baloch have been forcefully cleared, enforcedly disappeared and effectively excluded from the project at all levels – despite plentiful promises made by the Pakistani authorities of development and employment.
The campaign is being run by a group calling itself World Baloch Organisation (WBO). A Baloch source said that the London campaign is a “copycat” of a similar campaign run in Geneva last month by an NGO called ‘Baluchistan House’ which ran a highly visible and expensive campaign across the transport networks of the city. The Baloch source shared that campaign on London cabs had nothing to do with the Geneva campaign and a different organisation was behind it.