UK Urged to protect Pakistani Dissidents

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Pakistani exiles are facing the fate of Sauid dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The Observer newspaper revealed that intelligence services across Europe warned Pakistani dissidents, including rights activists from the Pakistani province of Balochistan, journalists, and members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a group representing ethnic Pashtuns against the state-sponsored intimidation

A senior former diplomat urged the British government to protect the safety of Pakistani dissidents in the country as exiles complained of intimidation by the agents of the Pakistani Army and the notorious Inter-Service Intelligence.

The Pakistani dissidents in the UK, especially in London, are fearing the fate of Saudi exile Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the Cabinet Meeting and uses a G7 mug. (Pic – Pippa Fowles No 10)

In an exclusive report, the Observer newspaper from The Guardian group said some of the most prominent critics of Pakistan were told by Met Police of plots against them.

“Pakistani exiles living in London who have criticised the country’s powerful military have been warned that their lives are in danger, raising fresh concern over authoritarian regimes targeting foreign dissidents in the UK,” the Observer reported.

British security sources are understood to be concerned that Pakistan, a strong UK ally – particularly on intelligence issues – might be prepared to target individuals on British soil.

The Observer has been told of further warnings given by other intelligence services across Europe to Pakistani dissidents, including rights activists from the Pakistani province of Balochistan, journalists, and members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a group representing ethnic Pashtuns.

Mark Lyall Grant, the former UK high commissioner to Pakistan and once the UK’s top diplomat to the UN, said that if figures from the Pakistani military had threatened exiles in the UK then this would be taken very seriously by the British government. “If there is illegal pressure, in particular on journalists in the UK, then I would expect the law enforcement agencies and the British government to take notice of that and to make an appropriate legal and/or diplomatic response.”

He said the development reflected a broader trend in authoritarian states such as Rwanda, Tanzania and the Philippines among others, becoming sufficiently emboldened to start silencing critics.

Mr Grant, also a former security adviser to the British government, said any evidence that officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the security arm of the military, were intimidating people in the UK would not be ignored.

“If British nationals or residents in the UK acting lawfully are being harassed or threatened by the ISI, or anyone else, then the British government would certainly take an interest,” he told the Observer.

Mark Lyall Grant, the former UK high commissioner to Pakistan and once the UK’s top diplomat to the UN, said that if figures from the Pakistani military had threatened exiles in the UK then this would be taken very seriously by the British government.

Last month, a man from east London was charged with conspiring with others unknown to murder an exiled Pakistani blogger and political activist, Ahmad Waqass Goraya, in the Netherlands.

Muhammad Gohir Khan, 31, from Forest Gate, east London, appeared at the Old Bailey after being arrested at St Pancras station in London.

Since Imran Khan came to power in Pakistan in 2018 with the backing of the military, civil rights groups there have documented erosion of press freedom with rising violent attacks on journalists. The concern now is that Pakistan appears to be moving from suppressing criticism within its borders to targeting critics based overseas.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani political scientist and commentator based in London, said she had received a “threat to life” notice – known as an Osman warning – from the Metropolitan police. “The Met’s counter-terrorism command said that there was credible information of a threat to my life. It’s a life and death matter,” she said.

Officers have even asked her husband if anybody had offered him money to ask his wife to return to Pakistan. “It’s as serious as that,” added Siddiqa.

Gul Bukhari, a British-Pakistani YouTuber and columnist who has openly criticised the military, fled to the UK after being abducted by security forces in Lahore in 2018. “I feel threatened in London,” she said. Bukhari, who used a safety alarm bracelet last year, has been advised by the Met not to share her home address with anyone.

Fears among Pakistan’s exile community have been running high since the mysterious deaths of two Pakistani dissidents last year. Journalist Sajid Hussain, known for covering human rights violations in Balochistan, disappeared in March 2020 in Uppsala, Sweden, before being found dead in a river two months later.

Hussain’s friend Karima Baloch, who campaigned for an independent Balochistan, was found dead in a lake in Toronto, Canada, seven months later. Although Swedish and Canadian authorities dismissed foul play, other campaigners are unconvinced.

Baloch’s husband, Hammal Haider, a British resident, says he doesn’t feel safe in Europe. “Anyone critical of the Pakistan army is a potential target,” he told the Observer. “The authorities in Europe must take these threats seriously.”

Karima Baloch

Compounding the situation is the suggestion, according to Siddiqa, that the UK’s Pakistani community is “very infiltrated” by those loyal to the military.

The Observer also published a statement from the Pakistani government. It said: “As a responsible state, Pakistan respects norms and principles of international law, and abides by legal and diplomatic frameworks that govern inter-state interaction including on community matters. There is no question of any threat being made to any national of any state including Pakistan’s own nationals living anywhere on any pretext whatsoever. The unsubstantiated allegations appear to be part of the rather blatant on-going misinformation campaign against Pakistan to malign the country and its state institutions.”

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