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Secret Chinese Police Stations in Paris and other parts of the world a threat to democracy. Activists call for action.

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By the DISSIDENT club team

Masquerading as a residence between two restaurants in the 13th arrondissement of Paris is one of the three alleged Chinese “overseas police stations” in the city. Established secretly, these are apparently offices of Chinese regional police organizations that are used to surveil and intimidate not just Chinese exiles and dissidents, but also people of other nationalities who criticize the Chinese regime.

“Our survey shows that there are over a 100 clandestine police stations in over 50 countries around the world”, said Laura Harth, Campaigns Director at the Safeguard Defenders at the DISSIDENT club.

A roundtable hosted by the DISSIDENT club last week focusing on “Chinese police stations in France and the West” brought together representatives from Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) that recently released an in-depth investigation about the issue, along with journalists from several French media outlets including – the well known newspaper Libération.The event was attended by a number of Chinese dissidents in exile from Hong Kong, Tibet, and East Turkestan (commonly known as the Uyghurs), who spoke of their experiences.

“The goal [of these police stations] is not to put people in prison, but to send the message that even in France, China has the power”, said Tenam, an activist for free Tibet living in exile in Paris.

Last December, the Libération reported that these police stations have facilitated at least one coercive operation on a Chinese citizen on French soil. Laurence Defranoux, the journalist from Libération, told the audience at the DISSIDENT Club how the Chinese embassy tried to discredit its investigations into a secret police station in Aubervillier, a Parisian suburb. “It is a question of sovereignty,” she said. “It is really democracy under attack.”

Dr. Dilnur Reyhan, the President of the Uyghur Institute in France reported that the Chinese police were harassing her sister, with whom she has had no contact since 2019, for details about her French citizenship. “Now the Chinese monitoring service is not only targeting dissidents and the diaspora, but also citizens of these so-called democracies who dare to speak out and criticize”.

Others exiled speakers included Lok Kan and Kenneth Yeung of the Hong Kong freedom movement and Can Polat from the Turkish exiled community.

“The existence of these police stations is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Chinese government’s efforts to intimidate and persecute its critics,” explained Lok Kan of the African Hong Kong France (AHKF) movement.

But even more alarming is the fact that the Chinese regime is trying to legitimize these stations by inserting them into the mechanisms of international and bilateral cooperation, which is a clear attack against civil liberties.

An example of such cooperation between China and Europe is Italy. Between 2015 and 2018, the Italian government signed a series of bilateral security deals with China that included joint patrols with the Chinese police forces in Rome, Milan, and Naples, according to Safeguard Defenders, which also found evidence of video surveillance systems being added to the Chinese residential areas in Italy under the guise of “deterring crime”.

“The most serious problem about this is not just the actions of the Chinese state, but the fact that the countries that claim to be democratic are accepting this,” said Dr. Reyhan.

Since the Safeguard Defenders report was released in late 2022, governments of the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Canada have launched police investigations into the matter. However, without a strong and effective action to stop such violations of sovereignty and rights, political dissidents, especially those from regions under control by China continue to face threats to their freedom and life, despite living in exile, where they are supposed to be safe.

Taha Siddiqui, the founder of the DISSIDENT Club, and a Pakistani journalist in exile concluded the roundtable by calling for the West to do more.“Dissidents like us are repeatedly highlighting such transnational repression by China and other oppressive regimes. Journalists are writing about it, and NGOs are publishing reports. It is high time that the western governments also acted against this illegal acts of China to protect the values of democracy and freedom of speech.”

 

This article orginally appeared on the DISSIDENT club.

Arshad Sharif’s killing: a well-planned elimination?

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By South Asia Press Team

There is increasing evidence that the brutal killing of Pakistani investigative journalist, Arshad Sharif, in Kenya was carried out by an international cabal controlled by Pakistani intelligence agencies. He was close to the Pakistan Army officials but when he turned against the army after  the Imran Khan government fell, orders went out to eliminate him. There is already evidence of assassin squads run by the ISI tasked with taking out journalists, bloggers and social media activists critical of the army.

Sharif first went to UAE and was living in Dubai when he was forced to leave the emirate under pressure from the army. He then went to Kenya where he was cornered and shot in October.

A 592-page investigative report presented recently to the Supreme Court of Pakistan categorically stated that Sharif’s killing was premeditated and was carried out by a group of persons who had planned and executed the killing. The assassins had been chasing Sharif for some time. The murder, the report said, was triggered by Sharif’s work as a journalist. The report was prepared by a team of senior police officers set up by the apex court.

Arshad Sharif’s killing closely resembles the killing of another famous journalist, Saleem Shahzad in 2011. Shahzad was known to be close to the army but when he began unravelling the connection between ISI officers, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and al Qaeda, he became the army’s target. He was abducted from outside his house in Islamabad, tortured and killed and his body dumped outside his house. Shahzad, considered a pro-Army journalist, found the mysterious  killing of retired chief of the Special Services Group, Major General Ameer Faisal Alvi in October 2008 fishy and discovered that the senior army officer had threatened to expose two Generals who were striking deals with TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud. He had warned of the nexus between ISI officials, Sipah-e-Sahaba and TTP.

Arshad Sharif, according to his lawyers, was close to Brigadier Muhammad Shafiq in ISPR. The lawyer said ISPR was like a second home to Sharif. But when Sharif turned against the army after the no-confidence motion, Shafiq tried to persuade him to stop in vain. Several cases of treason were filed by Shafiq against Sharif. Shafiq refused to answer seven questions sent in writing by the investigation team set up by the Supreme Court.

Arshad Sharif’s mother, Riffat Ara Alvi,  reinforces the fact-finding commission’s report by accusing not only Brigadier Shafiq but also the former army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, ISI chief Lt. General Nadeem Anjum, Major General Faisal Naseer, Brigadier Faheem Raza, Colonel Rizwan, Colonel Nouman Waqar Khurram.

In a letter sent to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, she said her son turned against the army in April 2022, for its “involvement in politics and political engineering”.  For the past 15 years, Ms Alvi wrote, “Sharif was close to the army, covering many of their operations against militants. He became critical of certain individuals in the army for their involvement in politics and forced disappearances.This is when he started receiving threats, first from Brigadier Muhammad Shafiq Malik of ISPR…and then from Brigadier Fahim Raza of ISI who called him to ISI Sector HQ Islamabad to convey message of Major General Faisal Naseer, DG -C, ISI.” When Sharif declined to heed these threats, other officers began issuing similar threats. In fact, one of them, Colonel Nouman came to his home one day and warned him of dire consequences if he did not stop from reporting on the army.

Thereafter, cases of sedition and treason were filed against him in various cities. In all, 16 FIRs were filed and only two complainants appeared before the fact finding committee. The committee found that one of the FIRs was filed by SHO Mamon Gath on the directions of SSP Malir Irfan Bahadur. The complaint was written in front of three ISI officers at ISI Karachi office. The committee got copies of only six FIRs despite several reminders, all that adds to the suspicion of involvement of state agencies.

Arshad fled Pakistan on August 10 and went to UAE where he could not stay longer due to pressure from the authorities. He then went to Nairobi to stay with two acquaintances, Khurram and Waqar Ahmad. The fact-finding team found Ahmad to be working for Kenyan intelligence agency and other international agencies. Arshad Sharif’s mother, in her letter, alleged that Waqar Ahmed worked for the ISI. He was reportedly in touch with ISI sector commander, Brigadier Faheem Raza.

In the early hours of October 24, Sharif was shot in Nairobi which the Kenyan police said was caused by `mistaken identity`. The fact-finding committee thought otherwise and reported that the murder was pre-meditated. The committee officers found that Arshad was killed at close range from a stationary vehicle, an assertion which counters the Kenyan theory. The Kenyan assertion that Sharif was shot twice only fell through when Sharif’s postmortem was conducted in Pakistan. The doctors found that the journalist was shot 12 times. What raised the investigating team’s suspicion that Sharif was shot in the back from relatively close range but there was no corresponding penetration mark of a bullet in the seat on which he was sitting, a “ballistic impossibility”. The only possibility is that he was shot either before he got into the car or shot from a very close range, from inside the vehicle.

Although the Supreme Court has shown interest in pursuing the case, most likely the killing of Arshad Sharif, like Saleem Shahzad, would remain inconclusive as key actors in this sordid drama are `untouchables` in Pakistan.

51 years after Pakistan has learnt no lesson from the separation and liberation of Bangladesh known as Fall of Dhaka

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Pakistan lost what was called East Pakistan in 1971 after a bloody conflict, which involved its military against the separatist fighters from the former East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. Thousands of Bengalis lost their lives, hundreds of women were raped, and many locals went missing, as the Pakistan Army unleashed a campaign of terror at the beginning of 1971, in Operation Searchlight – which was the codename for a planned military operation carried out by the Pakistan Army in an effort to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in former East Pakistan.

Today, Pakistan is running multiple similar secret military operations against different ethnic groups, especially the Baloch, who are being oppressed by the country’s powerful military.

The Baloch demand an independent nation, and consider Pakistan as an occupying force. The indigenous population also claims that Pakistan has been exploiting their natural resources’ rich region which is known to have large gas and other mineral resources reserves without reinvesting the huge profits they earn. In response to the political demands of the Baloch people, Pakistani military has abducted thousands of locals and the mutilated bodies of missing persons are found daily.

Secondly, the Pashtun region in the North-west part of the country, are also facing state persecution, triggering an ethnic movement in the region called the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) which has repeatedly accused the Pakistani military of oppressing the locals using different tactics including militant groups to target kill those who ask for their rights.

The third group under that Pakistani state targets including ethnic Sindhis and Mohajir (which means migrants in the local Urdu language) groups who live in the south of the country. The ethnic Sindhi movements for separation are targeted in the same way as the Baloch, with the people going missing without any trials and no one knows their whereabouts, where as the Mohajirs are targeted by police and paramilitary security forces known as the Rangers who control the Sindh province.

Owing to these fault lines and Pakistan’s inability to learn from its mistakes in former East Pakistan, there is a growing perception among Pakistani intellectuals that the other regions of the country may also head towards a civil war and the country may end up being divided further. Given that Pakistan is now a nuclear armed country with the fifth largest population in the world, any destability in the country can have dire consequences for the region and the world at large.

 

 

 

Pakistan in desperate need of international aid as it fails to weather the storm of climate crisis

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By South Asia Press Team

Following the COP27 held in Egypt in the month of November, member nations of the Climate Change Conference reached an agreement to create a fund for “loss and damage”, where developed nations will pool money to help their developing counterparts who are struggling with the effects of climate change.

This fund comes at a time where Islamabad is struggling to barely stay afloat following the ruinous floods and torrential rains in the country which lasted from June through August. Brought on by climate change, the environmental disaster has brought Pakistan to its knees, as millions continue to suffer in a country entirely unequipped to manage a calamity of this magnitude, owing largely to its political instability and inadequate economic resources.

While the details of the agreement still remain to be hashed out (including the amount to be sanctioned or the course over which payments will be made), the United Nation Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), in October, 2022, had reached the conclusion that an amount of $816 million would be required to cover the cost of tending to an affected population of 20.6 million in the country.

116 districts across the nation stand impacted, out of which 84 have been declared to be “calamity hit” by the Pakistani government, with Balochistan and Sindh provinces having had to bear the worst of it. Estimates show that collectively, the disaster has left 33 million people affected in the country, with over 1600 killed and nearly 13,000 injured. The flooding and rains in the worst affected areas have washed away nearly all infrastructure, including residential houses as well as public service buildings such as hospitals. Currently, around 7.9 million citizens have been displaced from their homes, having to resort to living in relief camps and temporary housing just to get a makeshift roof over their heads.

The most immediate and pressing concern, apart from the distress of millions having lost their homes, is the rapidly emerging health risks and the resultant impending health emergency from the flood waters. Now that the water has started receding, having taken down 10% of the nation’s health facilities, Pakistan has been left grossly unprepared to deal with the aftermath. International aid and assistance is the need of the hour in the country, and if the global attention to the tragedy begins to wane, Pakistan will be struggling to deal with the long-term effects of the situation for a long time to come, while facing largescale loss of life.

The people having been displaced and living in temporary housing have the predominant requirement of clean water and sanitation facilities, as the stagnant water is giving rise to a host of medical issues within this broken community. A UNICEF officer stationed in Pakistan admitted that lack of access to medical supplies stands to be one of the primary difficulties in the crisis-response effort, post disaster. The medical needs of the affected areas continue to rise— water-borne diseases have taken centre stage for the suffering communities, malaria outbreaks have officially been reported in 32 districts, along with sharp spikes in cases of dengue, acute diarrhoea and skin conditions. The breakdown of roads and transport system in the floods also suggests that the reported numbers are merely a fraction of the full picture.

Over 8 million people remain in need of medical assistance, while WHO and UNOCHA in September 2022, jointly assessed less than 50% of the population to be receiving the health aid that they require. The disaster has not only created a new onslaught of medical emergencies, but also rendered the routinely available medical aid and assistance to the citizens, useless. Immunization campaigns within the country for polio (as Pakistan remainsone of the two countries still battling polio), as well as treatment for severe chronic diseases has been brought to a grinding halt.

What the country requires, to battle this crippling emergency- as more long-term effects come to the forefront- is international solidarity and aid to help battle this humanitarian crisis. While individual bodies of international organizations are attempting to tackle the situation to the best of their ability, the funding gaps for these agencies have seriously limited their efforts (UNICEF reported a gap of 85%, while the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) claimed one of 94%).

One of the most vulnerable populations has emerged to be young children. Riddled with diseases and infections, thousands of children suffer through the added issue of malnutrition, as food shortage has proven to be another acute consequence. With 9.4 million acres of agricultural land submerged in flood water, and over a million livestock dead- the country’s food insecurity levels are rising rapidly. The FAO has reported that over 500,000 people are on the verge of catastrophic food insecurity, while nearly 2 million people require assistance in this sphere.

Medical personnel tending to these compromised communities are at their wits end as they admit to the futility of their limited assistance in the context of the big picture. The previously impoverished areas of Balochistan and Sindh, after being hit by the floods have been driven up the wall. With 1.6 million children likely to suffer from severe malnutrition in the impacted areas, any substantial change is unlikely to come about without sizeable assistance from the global community, as the country seems to be “fighting a war which has no end to it”.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif claimed that the Post Disaster Needs Assessment placed the estimate of damages from this year’s floods at $32 billion, which approximates 10% of the nation’s GDP. The process of reconstructing and rehabilitating the disaster struck regions is a Gargantuan task, especially if undertaken with sustainable growth in mind.

Pakistan’s crisis brought on by climate change is an unfortunate affair, since the country contributes a miniscule 0.8% to the global carbon footprint as compared to its developed counterparts, which account for the majority. The country’s fate of facing disaster hit where it hurts, while the country was already in the midst of an expansive economic crises, with a slowed down GDP, dwindling foreign reserves and increasing inflation. To top it all off, the environmental catastrophe has pushed close to 9 million people into poverty, with an additional 8 million falling 20% below the poverty line.

At this time, when Pakistan struggles to dredge through flood waters, it is important for the world to notice the situation for what it is— a humanitarian crisis above all else. The time calls for the global community to come together to pledge help to one of the most vulnerable countries. It is necessary to have a commitment to protecting people’s social and economic rights by providing the financial and technical support to facilitate the country’s recovery.

Maximum focus needs to be on providing a strengthened WASH (Water, sanitation and health) response, and to collaborate on providing the resources necessary to adequately address the calamity. Bilateral lenders need to consider debt relief for Pakistan, as nothing short of debt cancellation will help, given that the country stands next to no chance of honouring any repayments. The foreign direct investment in the country has fallen by 52%, pushing the country further into the clutches of financial ruin.

The support needed by the country needs to involve grants issued for the purpose of climate adaptation, separate from the aid coming in for the humanitarian cause. The government of the country also remains in need of guidance and support to better manoeuvre the establishment of an effective health and social security system to protect the citizens from the repercussions of this disaster, which must also serve as a protective measure for any unfortunate incidences in the future with regard to climate change.

The current scenario in Pakistan, given the political tumultuousness as well as financial ruin, does not serve as conducive to the well-being of the citizens, which requires to be one of the priorities for the state.

The dirty legacy of General Bajwa – one of Pakistan’s most controversial army chief who ended up dividing the military

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When General Qamar Javed Bajwa became Pakistan’s most powerful man on November 29, 2016, he was taking over the army amidst a religious campaign against him and in favor of his predecessor General Raheel Sharif, to stay as the army chief.

The 62-year-old official, in charge of the country’s most powerful post for six years will step down on November 29. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointed Lieutenant General Asim Munir, a former spy chief, as Bajwa’s successor.

General Bajwa is credited to be the man who institutionalized the current model of governance in Pakistan – called the “hybrid regime” where the military remains in control of the country behind shadows but helps install their person of choice as the Prime Minister.

The first experiment that Bajwa orchestrated in this regard failed miserably with Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, who turned against the military after his ouster as the Pakistani Prime Minister earlier this year.

The second experiment in this regard continues today but is yet to bear any results, given Pakistan’s economy is in trouble and the political instability in the country is at an all time high.

Khan and Bajwa had a fall out because of their disagreement last year over a key position in the military – the head of the powerful intelligence service – the ISI. Khan wanted his recommendation to continue as the ISI chief, but Bajwa eventually prevailed, and subsequently Khan was sent packing home earlier this year in a no-confidence motion by the Pakistani parliamentarians. But the dispute between Khan and Bajwa and Khan’s removal from office has led to one of the most vocal campaigns against the Pakistani military to date, leading to a dramatic decline in the army’s reputation across the country.

In his farewell speech last week, Bajwa acknowledged that the military has meddled in political matters for which it has been severely criticised.

“In my opinion, the reason for this is the constant meddling by the army in politics for the last 70 years, which is unconstitutional,” he said. “That is why, since February last year, the military has decided they will not interfere in any political matter.”

According to international media – Bajwa’s abiding legacy will be the “internal rifts” within the army, which has been viewed as the most disciplined institution in the country.

“General Bajwa miscalculated and underestimated the cracks within his own establishment. He acted too late and also perhaps does not seem to have the stomach to ‘quash’ the rebellion within,” said Maria Rashid, the author of a book on Pakistan’s military, Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army, in an interview to Al Jazeera English website.

“For the first time perhaps, the cracks within the military, even though they existed before, are being filtered through the concerns of a mainstream political party, the PTI,” Rashid told Al Jazeera, refering to Khan’s party.

Bajwa’s 6 year tenure also saw the worst crackdown against media freedoms, with Pakistani journalism dying a slow death. Today, the country’s media is effectively micro-managed and controlled by the ISPR – the military’s media wing, and as per RSF: “Pakistan is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished. Any journalist who crosses the red lines dictated by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – an intelligence agency offshoot – is liable to be the target of in-depth surveillance that could lead to abduction and detention for varying lengths of time in the state’s prisons or less official jails. Furthermore, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency, is prepared to silence any critic once and for all.”

Another legacy of Bajwa’s tenure is the resurgence of the Pakistani Islamist and militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban who were offered a peace deal recently, and the rise of the Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – an Islamist group that uses blasphemy as a tool to further its own extremist agenda. TLP has been involved in radicalizing Pakistanis beyond the country’s borders with blasphemy related attacks by Pakistanis in Europe and in neighboring India in recent years.

However, perhaps the most damning legacy of Bajwa is an investigative report that came out just a few days before his retirement by an exiled Pakistani journalist Ahmad Noorani, who in  a publication called FactFocus has revealed how the outgoing army chief’s family made billions of dollars in property and wealth during his 6 year tenure. The journalist published the tax records of his close family members and how the assets grew manifold since Bajwa’s appointment as chief. The report has led to the current Pakistani government initiating an inquiry into the leak but not denying the contents of the investigation.

Weeks after Pakistan’s exit from FATF grey list, terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad acquires land near its HQ in Bahawalpur: Report

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Source: The Print

Pakistan continues to shelter terrorist groups, with renewed fervour after exiting the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list earlier this year.

A report by the well known newspaper The Print says that soon after Pakistan exited the ‘grey list’ of the FATF – terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) began a large-scale construction work near its headquarter in Bahawalpur.

The Print, citing maps, videos and photographs, said the area was acquired by the terrorist group in 2022 itself and it houses a seminary that teaches several hundred children. The process of acquisition of the land began in 2008.

The purchaser of the land is Abdul Rauf Asghar aka Abdul Rauf Azhar aka Rauf Ashgar. Abdul Rauf Azhar, is currently the deputy chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), but escaped the global terrorist tag after China placed a technical hold on the proposal in August against a India and the US joint bid.

Pakistani authorities have consistently claimed that the seminary has no link with the terrorist group that plotted and carried out the Pulwama blast in 2019 and the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001 and was also the main orchestrator of the attacks on Pathankot Air Base in 2016. The JeM also claimed responsibility for killing three police personnel near Srinagar’s Pantha Chowk in December 2021.

Pakistan has arrested 26/11 perpetrator Sajid Mir, urged the Taliban to locate Masood Azhar and also arrested several members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba on terrorism-related charges. These were measures undertaken to exit the FATF list and were taken ahead of the FATF team’s visit to Pakistan in August.

However, a separate report by local media said that Mir is in custody of the Pakistani deep state in a guest house.

The report in Print further said that JeM maintains eight training camps in Nangarhar of which eight remain in control of the Taliban.

Source: The Print, News18

Pakistan’s balancing act between China and the West exposes its duplicity once again – ANALYSIS

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Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif landed in China on Tuesday for a two-day official visit at the country’s Premier Li Keqiang’s invitation. This is his first trip to the neighboring country since assuming office in April this year. The country’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, among other Pakistani officials are part of the delegation accompanying the PM.

Ahead of his departure, Sharif posted on the social media site Twitter saying: “Honored to be among the first few leaders to have been invited after the historic 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. At a time when the world is grappling with multiple challenges, Pakistan and China stand together as friends and partners.”

The prime minister further said in his tweet that discussions with the Chinese leadership would focus on the “revitalisation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) among many other things”.

At a time of drastic global geopolitical realignments, Sharif’s visit to China is being closely watched by the West, due to Islamabad’s commitment to different international economic institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, from whom Pakistan is seeking financial assistance and which view China as an exploitative power.

It is well-known that the Chinese economic ambitions are expansionist. As records show, strategic infrastructure projects are taken up globally in an attempt to set up major debt traps for countries. Chinese financial assistance in the form of “easy loans” have already destabilized countries like Sri Lanka, Laos and Mongolia. But Pakistan appears to push ahead making financial and economic deals with China that are neither transparent, nor do they seem to benefit the country. 

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), launched in April 2015 was supposed to turn around Pakistan’s economy. Despite all such rhetoric in public from the leadership in both countries that it will lift ordinary Pakistanis from poverty, the CPEC is yet to deliver on its promises. Experts say that Chinese projects are benefiting only a handful of the elite of the country, and this perception further took root when Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician came to power. Khan had already questioned the transparency of the CPEC, and once in power, he created a CPEC Authority, which added a bureaucratic layer, slowing down the CPEC projects further.

On the other hand, in recent years, Islamabad’s relationship with the West, and primarily with Washington has also been under pressure, especially since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. This relationship worsened even further since the downfall of Imran Khan’s government this year, as he accused the US of orchestrating his ouster from power. 

Since then, an attempt has been made to improve the ties between the two countries by PM Sharif and Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Bajwa, who dominates the country’s foreign policy. They made official visits to the US recently, following which there were speculations about improvement in ties between the two countries.

However, it appears that Islamabad is also continuing to strengthen its relationship with China – a rival of the US, which could create complications for Pakistan going forward as it may need to choose a side. In fact, Pakistan’s balancing act between the West and China has been quite dubious, with the country giving assurance to both sides of commitment to their respective interests in the region. But for how long will Pakistan continue to fool the West and China – it is a question that policy makers in Washington and Beijing must ask themselves.

Who killed Arshad Sharif? 5 questions that raise suspicions of the involvement of powers beyond the Kenyan police.

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The brutal assassination of Arshad Sharif, a Pakistani journalist in exile, at the hands of the Kenyan police has raised some serious questions about the killing, especially since he was on the run from Pakistan after receiving threats from the Pakistani military, and Pakistan’s former human rights minister Shireen Mazari had alluded to the media that powerful institutions (read Pakistan Army) had put out head money and wanted him dead. There are several questions that we must ask, and at South Asia Press, we thought of compiling those queries as below:

  1. Who is Khurram Ahmed – the person driving the vehicle Arshad Sharif was in? As per Kenyan police, Khurram Ahmed claimed to be the brother of Arshad Sharif, which is not true. In fact, he is the brother of Waqar Ahmed, who runs a shooting range in the area. The business claims to be the major site for shooting practice by Kenyan security officials. Following the fatal shooting that killed Sharif, Ahmed has completely disappeared from the scene, and has not given any statements to the press, raising speculations of his linkages to the Kenyan police.
  2. The Kenyan police says that they were looking for a vehicle that had been stolen with a child inside it. Would the police fire at a vehicle knowing there are children inside it? Also, as per local media, the police did not allow journalists to visit the site of the incident and have not clarified how they sprayed bullets on the vehicle and yet did not even touch the driver who escaped unharmed and only got Arshad Sharif, the passenger, who had bullet lodged into his head from behind, and it exited from the front. Was there any autopsy done to determine the distance from where the bullet was fired from? Why does the fatal shot that killed Arshad Sharif sound like he was executed rather than a victim of a bullet that was not aimed for him but for stopping the car?
  3. Who lured Arshad Sharif to come to Kenya, a country known for its lawlessness and extra judicial killings by the police? Sharif had escaped to Dubai via Peshawar some months ago after receiving threats. But in Dubai, he was being harassed and told he will be deported back to Pakistan where he was also facing a case of sedition for maligning the Pakistani military in a TV show. He reportedly had applied for a visa to the United States but was rejected. He also wanted to go the UK but it is unclear if he was able to. In such circumstances, was he forced to make a decision to go to Kenya to so-called friends who had other plans for him?
  4. Who had paid head money for killing Arshad Sharif when he was in Pakistan and why did they want to kill him? As claimed by former Pakistani minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, the head money was paid to a terror group. It is a well-known fact that Pakistani terror groups have global connections. Is there some linkage between those who were paid in Pakistan and those who orchestrated his killing in Kenya?
  5. Former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has said that Pakistan should go after its dissidents abroad in a television interview a few years ago. He laughingly told the journalist interviewing him that around the world, dissidents in exile are killed by the state, and Pakistan should follow their steps. The mysterious deaths of activist Karima Baloch in Canada and journalist Sajid Husain in Sweden in the year 2020 also raise questions about Pakistan’s involvement in killing its dissidents abroad. But most importantly, the case of Waqas Goraya, whose Pakistani origin would-be assassin was arrested by British police last year and convicted by the UK courts this year is a clear indication that the Pakistani state is involved in killing or attempting to kill Pakistani dissidents abroad. 

As Pakistani government sets up a judicial commission to probe the killing of Arshad Sharif, it is most important that any investigations must look into the context and history of such assassinations, threats and attacks against Pakistani dissidents in exile. 

7 questions the US must ask Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa as he visits America

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By South Asia Press Team

The Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa is on a 5-day official visit to the United States at the invitation of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, where he is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with senior US officials and, as well as visit the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Pentagon and Langley. Although the military’s media wing has kept the General’s itinerary and agenda guarded, his warm reception by the Biden administration had renewed speculations on the restoration of US-Pakistan security relations. On this occasion,  we at South Asia Press will like to send a memorandum of questions that the US government, military and other officials should pose in front of General Bajwa, one of Pakistan’s most controversial army chief, known for his non-democratic interventions:

Question # 1: Why are Pakistani jihadis resurfacing once again in flood-hit regions of Pakistan?

In a recent investigation by South Asia Press (SAP), we revealed how the ongoing flood situation has facilitated the return of Islamist terrorist organizations, such as the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, in nearly all regions of the country.  On the surface, these terrorists want to serve the flood-affected people, but in reality, as SAP found out, they are using this opportunity to proselytize jihadi ideology and reestablish bases of support in the country. Not only that, these terror groups are also collecting funds, despite assurances from Pakistan to the international watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that terror-financing is no more allowed in the country. It is pertinent to mention here the long history of Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence services of being involved in the formation of jihadi groups, as well as their attempts to utilize militant groups for their so-called strategic agendas – in Afghanistan, India, Kashmir and even against the separatist movement in Balochistan. 

Question #2: Will the Pakistani Military stop interfering in the country’s democratic progress?

The Pakistan Army is being accused of orchestrating a move against the last government of Imran Khan this year and before that meddling in the 2018 elections in favor of Khan, and getting Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister disqualified for life from contesting elections with fabricated charges, in collusion with the Pakistani judiciary.

General Bajwa is especially notorious in this regard as it is widely known in Pakistan that he sought an extension to his three year stipulated tenure as army chief and arm-twisted the civilian leadership to pass a law so that he could continue as the chief for another term. Bajwa who cherry-picked Khan to become the Prime Minister in 2018 did so by not only rigging the elections on the day of the vote but also using the military power to attack political opponents of Khan.

The Pakistan Armed Forces have a long history of direct and indirect control in the country since its creation in 1947, and the military leadership must be questioned over these practices that lead to a regression in the democratic process.

Question # 3: Can the Pakistani military be held accountable for the rampant human rights abuses in Balochistan?

The Baloch separatist movement in south-western Pakistan, is a well known insurgency, as old as Pakistan itself, with several secret and unannounced military operations by Pakistan’s Armed Forces in the region. The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch has documented the conduct of military atrocities, including  extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances targeting not only insurgents but innocent Baloch too. The battered bodies of Baloch missing persons are found on a daily basis in Balochistan. The military is also known to outsource military operations to private militias or “death squads”, revealed by an in-depth investigation by South Asia Press. Furthermore, representatives of the Baloch Human Rights Council have reported the exploitation of natural resources in the region, while the local population remains extremely poor. Now with the advent of Chinese interests in the area, it is being reported that the Baloch are being displaced from their own lands to make space for Chinese projects, that will only benefit the elites of the two countries.

Question #4: When will the Pakistani military close its secret military prisons that are spread throughout Pakistan? 

The Pakistani Army operates secret military tribunals and internment centers all throughout Pakistan, including 43 secretive detention centres just in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which have become the sites of starvation, torture, and extrajudicial executions of insurgents, alleged terrorists, their sympathizers, human rights defenders, and anyone who criticizes the military’s oversized presence and role in the country. 

There have been several cases of mysterious deaths being reported at these internment centers but no one has been held accountable.

Most recently, an Amnesty International report has documented the extrajudicial trial by the Pakistani military of a well-known activist Idris Khattak on charges of espionage, who had previously been a victim of enforced disappearance.

Question # 5 Why is Pakistani military best friends with the Afghan Taliban?

The Pakistani military is known for its close ties with the Afghan Taliban and one of the first official visitors after the fall of Kabul was General Faiz Hameed, the chief of Pakistan’s intel agency the ISI. He visited the Afghan capital right after the Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan in August 2021. This visit led to the development of bilateral relations between the two countries, most prominently through coal exports and the implementation of infrastructure projects. Furthermore, Pakistan has also become one of the key promoters of the Afghan Taliban on the global front, appealing for the reestablishment of their relations with the international community, including the United States.

Question # 6: Can the Pakistani military stop censoring the local and international media operating in the country? 

During Imran Khan’s four-year reign as prime minister, the Pakistani military was involved in several press freedom violations and attempts to interfere in the media, including harassment of journalists, physical attacks, shooting attacks, kidnappings, threats against journalists living abroad, blocking of broadcast signals and direct censorship of traditional media, video platforms and social media, according to a recent update by the Paris-based international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “There has been no let-up in the harassment of journalists since Khan’s replacement by Sharif as prime minister – quite the contrary,” reports RSF. “Arsalan Khan, an independent commentator who worked for Geo News TV for many years, was kidnapped from his home in the southern city of Karachi on 24 June,” the report adds.

Pakistan currently ranks an alarming 157 out of 180 in the media freedom index by RSF and this media clampdown is facilitated by draconian laws such as the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021 and the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016, including its proposed 2022 amendments

According to RSF, Pakistani military regularly abducts journalists to intimidate them. RSF has documented several such cases in the past, for example, against the Express Tribune editor Bilal Farooqui in September 2020, court reporter Matiullah Jan in July 2020, and Taha Siddiqui, editor in chief of South Asia Press, who narrowly escaped a kidnapping and assassination attempt in 2018 and now lives in self-imposed exile in France.

“The many cases of harassment that RSF has registered in the past two months [since April 2022] have one thing in common – all the journalists concerned had, in one way or another, criticised the army’s role in Pakistani politics,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. 

“It is clear from the data that the armed forces have launched a major campaign to intimidate critical journalists. This kind of interference, which is absolutely intolerable, must stop at once or else the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, will be held directly responsible for the decline in press freedom in Pakistan,” the RSF representative adds.

Question #7: Why has there been an increase in cases of Transnational Repression under General Bajwa’s tenure as Pakistan army chief?

In the last five years under General Bajwa as army chief, there have been several cases of transnational repression in the West. The case of Waqas Goraya, a Pakistani social media activist living in self-imposed exile in Netherlands is the most recent of these incidents. Goraya had to go underground after the Dutch authorities tipped him off about an assassination plot against him. In a joint operation between the Dutch and British authorities, the would-be assassin of Goraya, Gohir Khan, a Pakistani origin British national was arrested and convicted to life by the UK courts. Police investigations reveal Khan had a handler in Pakistan who has disappeared since the plot got exposed. Preceding to this assassination attempt, several Pakistani dissidents have been contacted in recent years by foreign intelligence agencies to tell them of an assassination plot against them. Cases include prominent scholars like Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, as reported by the Guardian this year, and of Mr. Siddiqui, editor-in-chief South Asia Press. 

There are also questions over the two mysterious deaths of Pakistani exiled activists from Balochistan. The first happened in April 2020, in Sweden where Sajid Hussain went missing for some weeks and then was found dead in a river, and the second in December 2020 when Karima Baloch, another Baloch origin individual in exile in Canada was found dead in a lake after briefly going missing. 

It is pertinent to note here that Pakistan’s last military Dictator General Pervez Musharraf had called for carrying out assassinations of Pakistani dissidents globally in an interview to a local journalist a few years ago.

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We at South Asia Press hope that the US government officials meeting with Pakistan army chief General Bajwa this week question him and hold him accountable for the abusive practices of Pakistan army under his command. The US must ensure that any talk of future partnership between Pakistan and the US is conditional to the Pakistani military stopping its oppression against its own people at home and abroad.

“Taliban, Pakistan Army and the heroin networks” – NATO’s latest investigation reveals how Afghanistan and Pakistan are involved in narco trade.

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The illegal narcotics trade constitutes one of the main financial sources of the insurgency groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but, more importantly, it feeds narco-terror, globally. The American withdrawal in 2021 means that the countries of the region and beyond will have to play a greater role in the management of their borders and confront questions about their capacity to stop potentially destabilising trends emerging from Afghanistan, as per a new report published by the NATO Defence Education Enhancement Program (DEEP).

According to this 2022 report titled “Narco-Insecurity, Inc., the convergence of Pakistan and Afghanistan narco-trade”, such trade was made possible with the help of Pakistan’s military spy agency the ISI, who launched several covert operations with sympathetic jihadist groups, all of whom relied heavily on narcotics trafficking to fund their operations, expanding the trafficking route even further through their regions, launching the Balkan, northern, and southern routes of the global narco-trafficking pipeline.

The central aim of this NATO academic report written by David R. Winston is to analyse the growth of the narcotics industry stemming from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and the nexus that has formed between narcotics trafficking and terrorism/extremism. The Taliban have long used narcotics as their main source of revenue. Without the poppy crop, they may never have grown to be the massive organisation that they are today that was capable of toppling the Ghani government, as per the writer. Through examining the history of narcotics and its connection to terrorist groups, this report identifies how the world fell down this perilous path, and offers possible solutions to deal with this new dynamic.

The most substantial networks mentioned in the report is the Haqqani network, a criminal enterprise situated along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border that was founded on smuggling. The Pakistani military saw the Haqqani network as a key ally, given their location and alliances with numerous jihadist groups, and began investing in their bases while using them as a proxy for engagement with other non-state actors. The prominence of the Haqqani network within the Taliban’s current leadership is being witnessed while there is uncertainty as to who may succeed after Sirajuddin Haqqani in the coming years, which can be a further alarming development.

With the control of Afghanistan by the Taliban last year, the terror group has acquired control over the opium cultivation in the country.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) November 2021 Report, Afghanistan accounted for around 85 percent of global opium production in the year 2020 and supplied to approximately 80 percent of the world’s opium consumers. The total value of opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) was 9 per cent to 14 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. Methamphetamine and cannabis are two other major drugs which have expanded production in Afghanistan in recent years.

The Western withdrawal that precipitated the swift takeover by the Taliban, has led to increasing instability such as internal conflict within the Taliban and growing local opposition to the Taliban, fueling further growth of narcotics trafficking.

While the Taliban publicly states they will not traffic narcotics, that depends on whether or not they would make enough from other revenue sources to sustain the country, and whether they believe trafficking will impact their international standing enough to threaten their control of the country, according to the Afghan Diaspora Network (ADN).

With Afghanistan facing its worst humanitarian crisis due to economic collapse and climate change, the Taliban would not want to ban the drug which has funded its insurgency against the US and NATO-sponsored previous Afghan government, ADN adds in its latest research report.

“The Taliban needs the drug money to keep control over their cadres. Although drug production and consumption are un-Islamic, in their previous regime the Taliban did not ban the production and trading of opium cultivation for the longest time. The drug money has also played an important role in the Taliban’s rise to power for the second time and it would not want to jeopardise it,” the ADN says.

With Pakistan sharing 2400 kilometres of largely porous border with Afghanistan, it has served as a transit corridor for drug traffickers. According to independent estimates, more than 40% of Afghan drugs transit Pakistan before they reach the international markets.

Tonnes of opiates and meth are trafficked from Afghanistan to the Torkham border crossing, Ghulam Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, from where they are sent to Lahore and Faisalabad, reassembled into huge consignments.

Pakistan’s role in drug proliferation is validated by a number of arrests of its nationals in other countries on charges of drug trafficking. Shahbaz Khan, a Pakistani national, was the leader of a drug trafficking organization (the “DTO”) based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which produced and distributed massive quantities of narcotics around the world. He was arrested by Liberian authorities in December 2016 and later deported to the United States, where in 2019 he was sentenced to 15 years for conspiring and attempting to import heroin into the U.S.

In May 2017, officials for the U.K.’s Border Force impounded a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Islamabad at London’s Heathrow airport. Later, the National Crime Agency said that a quantity of heroin had been found hidden in different panels of the plane.

In March 2018, two members of the cabin crew of a PIA flight, travelling on an Islamabad-Paris flight (PK-749), were caught smuggling narcotics on board the flight.

There is also the famous case of Mir Yaqub Bizenjo who appeared on a White House list of the world’s four leading drug barons in 2009.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a notice under Obama administration saying that he operated from Balochistan, a Pakistani province sharing borders with Afghanistan and sends his durgs consignments out of Jiwani, Turbat and Gwadar.

In 2002, Mr Bizenjo vowed to work for the success of General Musharraf through front-page ads in newspapers. He is currently involved in real estate projects with the Pakistani military, and his family is part of the Pakistani parliament, according to a previous South Asia Press investigation.

It is reported that Pakistan has established smuggling networks over the last years into India – and especially within the Kashmir valley – so as to ensure a steady supply of narcotics and weapons. The recurring, major terrorist attacks, for example in Uri and Pulwama, and the subsequently increased security measures by the Indian armed forces led to the suspension of traditional smuggling routes in the area and forced the Pakistani to use other land-based trafficking options through Punjab and Gujarat. Also the sea-based smuggling gained significance for Islamabad’s crime-terror nexus. An increasing number of exposed consignments on the India–Pakistan border containing narcotics as well as arms and ammunition were seized by the Border Security Force/BSF, particularly in Punjab. This indicates expanding activities by terrorists and drug traders, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Moreover, it points to Pakistan’s ‘larger’ plans to carry out disruptive activities in India.

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had once revealed how the Pakistani security establishment sells heroin to pay for the country’s covert military operations. This was reported in 1994, in an interview Sharif gave to The Washington Post.

Af-Pak Heroin networks, drug lords and their nexus with the Taliban and Pakistani military present a principal impediment to security, state-building, and democratic governance in Afghanistan and the region. Beyond the region, Afghan-originated drugs create enormous challenges for international security by financing terrorism, instigating corruption, and creating health emergencies. It is time to put an end to such “narco” trade originating from Afghanistan and supported by Pakistan.