Written By: Dr Shabir Choudhry
Switzerland is known to be a country that has a neutral foreign policy. I am not sure if that is still the case.
Switzerland is home to many international institutions, including the UN Human Rights Council and its other bodies. Tens of thousands of delegates visit Switzerland and provide the country with enormous income.
It was during one session of the UN Human Rights I saw Mehran Baloch, who was addressing a seminar. Mehran Baloch speaks English fluently, and he very eloquently and effectively put forward the case of the Baloch people. I learnt many new things about Balochistan; and how the local people were treated by the government.
After that we have met many times. Once, I interviewed him and wrote an article about Balochistan as well. Apart from the public meetings we have had small private meetings over dinner or coffee. Last such meeting was in Geneva in September 2017. I have never heard him preaching hatred, extremism violence or terrorism.
Then question arises why the Swiss government has imposed a life time ban on his entry to the country, especially when he respected the Swiss laws; and was promoting his struggle within the parameters of the UN mechanism?
Was there some pressure from outside? If there was some pressure from another country or countries, then why Swiss government has buckled under this pressure? Is there something hidden – something we don’t know?
It is believed that it is the handiwork of Pakistani government and their secret agencies; and the Swiss officials could not stand the pressure. But can that be true? Has Pakistan become so influential in international relations? Or there was some other mechanism used by their secret agency to obtain the desired outcome?
The statement of the Swiss official indicates some pressure. A report published in the News by a famous journalist Murtaza Ali Shah indicates that the ban on Mehran Baloch was related to issues concerning “international relations.” The report further says that:
‘A Pakistani official, privy to developments taking place in Europe, said that Pakistan respected freedom of expression and criticism but had the right to pass its concern to countries if anything was going on against Pakistan. The official said that Pakistan has been regularly communicating with various western governments and passing its concerns and will continue to do that’. 1
This matter has great significance, as it is a clear human rights violation by a country that champions the cause of human rights, and hosts the UN Human Rights sessions in Geneva.
In my opinion, this is only a start of the Pakistani ‘diplomatic offensive’. There will be more problems for the Baloch people and other dissidents, including true Kashmiri nationalists who expose Pakistani policies on Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
During the September Session of the UN Human Rights in Geneva we saw pro Baloch struggle posters on street lamps, coaches and taxis in Geneva. The Pakistani government acted strongly and the Swiss government had to retreat; even though it is quite normal activity to have demonstrations and posters displayed in various locations to promote the cause people believe in. Citizens of Jammu and Kashmir also hold demonstrations in Geneva outside the UN building and sometimes display photos and posters.
After Geneva, we saw pro Baloch struggle posters on London busses and Black Cabs. Once again response of the Pakistani government was strong and sharp. Not only Transport for London agreed to take off the posters, but also extended an apology, even though these posters were bringing in very valuable income.
Instead, to the surprise of many, we saw posters on the busses about Balochistan which supported the Pakistan government’s narrative. Also, no matter what method they are employing, it is true that Pakistani influence to intimidate other governments is increasing, especially when it comes to Balochistan, terrorism, human rights, CPEC and Jammu and Kashmir dispute. It is difficult to say which mechanism has enhanced their ability to intimidate and harass others.
To strengthen Islamabad’s agenda, Pakistani and Jammu and Kashmir diaspora play a significant role. Their politicians, academics, students and other citizens lobby Members of Parliament, Councils, hold discussions, seminars and protests; and even harass and intimidate those who present a counter narrative.
To discipline diaspora threat of being declared ‘anti Pakistan’ and an ‘Indian agent’ is still very effective weapon in armoury of Islamabad. Apart from that, threat of losing property in Azad Kashmir and identity card frighten many potential rebels, although, it did not work in my case, as I have challenged them in court for not renewing my ID card.
One ‘Kashmiri nationalist’ said, I fully agree with what you say, but I can’t say that in public or on social media, because I don’t know what they may do to me when I go back for a visit. This sums up the appalling situation.
To conclude, I fear Mehran Baloch will not be the last person to be a victim of Islamabad’s new diplomatic offensive. Other people, including citizens of Jammu and Kashmir may soon face the music. We need to think, plan and act; and act soon.
Writer is a political analyst, and author of many books and booklets. Also, he is Chairman South Asia Watch, London and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org