In an exclusive internal document (dated 8th June 2021) obtained by South Asia Press, Pakistan’s mission in Afghanistan has written a letter to the Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry detailing the case of 24 Pakistani women imprisoned with their children in Afghanistan for having ties with the so-called Islamic State local chapter IS-Khorasan.
South Asia Press team spoke to one of the family members of the women on the list, who confirmed that their daughter was being held in prison for over a year now.
“She had problems at home with her husband. She did not approach us and instead approached her friend from a local seminary, who recruited her, and took her to Afghanistan,” says her relative, speaking to South Asia Press by telephone from Lahore city.
The document mentions how many of these Pakistani women are mothers and living with their children. Some of them also have Pakistani husbands that have been detained in different parts of Afghanistan for militant activity. In some cases, the women have already spent their prison time and are yet not freed.
The Pakistani government officially maintains that the Islamic State group is not active in the country, and that they do not allow people to cross over into Afghanistan to join militant groups. However, the communication in the document obtained by South Asia Press between the officials of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan is in clear contradiction of that claim.
Pakistani women joining militant groups in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region is reflective of a larger trend, ongoing since the last few years, where there are several cases of women in Pakistan being radicalised and leaving the country. Many of these women have been educated in high-profile institutions and live in urban centres of the country. These young women are inspired by the ideology of the IS and are radicalised through seminaries in Pakistan.
In a famous case from 2017, the Pakistani police and intelligence agencies revealed how a woman from Hyderabad Sindh had joined the group, admitting officially for the first time that women were being recruited for the IS from Pakistan. Noreen Jabbar Laghari, a university student, shared extremely radical religious views on her social media accounts, and it was found that seminaries of Islamist groups were working in educational institutions in this part of Southern Pakistan and radicalising students.
As United States and its allied forces do complete withdrawal from Afghanistan this September, there appears to be a growing trend of more and more people joining such militant groups. According to a recent investigative report by a well-known German media, Pakistani militant groups have intensified their collection for donations and funds and for recruiting, while Pakistani state authorities turn a blind eye.
In conversation with the German news outlet Duetsch Welle, a former Pakistani parliamentarian claimed that the Taliban was recruiting militants from Pakistan: “Come to Balochistan, and I will show the villages and areas where clerics are openly attending the funerals of those Pakistanis killed in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban.”
For the last 50 years, Pakistan has fanned Islamist movements in Afghanistan and in the northern parts of the country to weaken and counter nationalist sentiments among the Pashtuns population inhabiting this region. Pakistan has steadily supplied new recruits to Islamist militant movements in Afghanistan, a trend which continues even today with state authorities remaining complicit to protect their own interests.
SOUTH ASIA PRESS INVESTIGATES HOW THE PAKISTANI MILITARY OUTSOURCED THE TARGETING OF BALOCH SEPARATISTS AND POLITICAL ACTIVISTS TO PRIVATE MILITIAS KNOWN AS “DEATH SQUADS” IN THE PROVINCE AND HOW MANY OF THESE DEATH SQUAD OPERATIVES ARE NOW TURNING TO MAINSTREAM POLITICS IN THE PROVINCE, AGAIN WITH THE HELP OF THE PAKISTAN ARMY.
By a Baloch Reporter AND Taha Siddiqui
During the summer of 2020 in Pakistan, Major Nadeem Abbas Bhatti and soldiers under his command were on their way back to their military base in Kech district of Balochistan province after patrolling close to the Pakistan-Iran border. According to the Pakistani military, the team was looking for Baloch separatist groups when their vehicle came under attack. An improvised explosive device planted on the side of the road hit them. Six personnel were killed including Major Bhatti. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a Baloch ethno-nationalist separatist group, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Soon after the attack several photos of Major Bhatti from his time in Balochistan started to surface on social media showing him posing with unknown armed teenagers. Prominent Baloch political and separatist leaders took to social media to allege Bhatti was running a “death squad” and the teenagers he was posing with were part of the squad. Some further claimed that even at the time of the attack, Bhatti was traveling with death squad members. One such account says three Baloch teenagers were killed alongside the six officials.
“Major Nadeem Bhatti was involved with proxy militias…” tweeted Rahim Baloch, a central figure of Baloch National Movement, a political party in the province that calls for the region’s independence from Pakistan. Rahim further claimed that three Baloch teenagers who had been recruited by Major Nadeem for death squads were also killed in this IED attack.
Rahim’s tweet contained photos of Major Nadeem in different parts of Balochistan including one from an unknown location where Major Nadeem is seen with armed civilian men. The tweet also shows the above photo of two teenagers posing with automatic weapons.
Further investigations by South Asia Press led to the discovery of two other photos of the same teenagers that Rahim Baloch tweeted, posing with Major Nadeem Bhatti.
Multiple local sources confirm that these armed teenagers are indeed Baloch youngsters from Buleda, a town tucked between the Iran and Pakistan border, a town Major Nadeem Bhatti frequented.
DEATH SQUADS: THE ORIGINS
Like late Major Nadeem, many Pakistani military officials continue to work closely with death squads in the southwestern province of Balochistan, South Asia Press has learnt in a three-month long investigation.
Although there are reports that Pakistani military has been using such squads for decades now, our in-depth investigations point out that since 2010s, the practice of using death squads in the name of private militias has been institutionalized, especially in the south-western districts of Balochistan. This is the region where a full-fledged insurgency continues to rage since the mid 2000s, triggered by the killing of former Chief Minister of the province Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006.
Bugti, an influential tribal chieftain was murdered along with more than 35 others when the Pakistan Air Force bombed his hideout inside Marri hills in Balochistan.
Pakistan’s former dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, who was the country’s military chief and president at the time ordered Bugti’s assassination.
Since partition of South Asia in 1947, Balochistan has seen five ethnic Baloch separatist insurgencies and a brutal crackdown by the Pakistani state, ensuing a conflict which has claimed thousands of lives. The latest wave is considered to be the most violent by many accounts.
“Akbar Bugti’s killing triggered a new wave of insurgency and it began from the southern parts of Balochistan. Middle-class youth especially from the south-west of Balochistan started to actively join the pro-independence movement,” says a local Baloch journalist who has been covering conflict in the province over the past two decades.’.
He wishes to remain anonymous, for the fear of reprisal from the Pakistani military for openly speaking on this subject.
The editor says that to counter this new wave, since the late 2000s the Pakistan military has deployed several strategies, one of them being the formation of the private militias known as death squads, for which they recruit local criminals, drug lords and pro-Pakistan Baloch political activists.
“The Frontier Corps [the military’s corps stationed in Balochistan], along with other paramilitary forces have been sponsoring private militias in south-western districts of the province in response to a rapidly rising Baloch nationalist insurgency there,” the editor explains.
Besides death squads, another strategy employed by the military to suppress the local rebellion – especially in the northern parts of Balochistan – is to Islamize the youth, with the help of seminaries run by religious groups close to the military.
“In the northern parts of the province, Pakistani paramilitary forces promote radical Islamist groups to counter secular voices, especially of Pashtuns, who live mostly in the north of Balochistan,” the editor further explains.
Reportedly, many of these Islamist groups in the north also have linkages with the members of death squads in the south, like that formed by the infamous Shafiq Mengal, who is credited to be one of the first to form such a private militia aka death squad in 2008.
DEATH SQUADS: THE BEGINNINGS
Shafiq Mengal is the son of Pakistani politician Mir Naseer Mengal from Khuzdar district, where he and his family currently reside. A drop out of the well-known Aitchison College in Lahore (the Alma mater of the current Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan), Shafiq also later attended a Deobandi seminary for religious education. His family is involved in the mining sector in Balochistan, an industry known to be run with military’s patronage. Shafiq’s father, who was part of General Zia ul Haq’s government is also famous for signing the controversial Reko Diq mine deal as the caretaker Chief Minister of the province in 1993. The father joined Pakistani military dictator General Musharraf’s party Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) (formed after Musharraf’s coup in 1999) and then became the oil minister in the general’s government. When PML-Q lost power in the 2008 elections and Musharraf resigned, his father disappeared from the political scene. But it was not the end of the road for the junior Mengal.
The same year, in 2008, Shafiq launched Baloch Mussallah Diffa Tanzeem (BDM), a tribal militia with the mission of defending Baloch locals from separatists. Locals say he had support of the Pakistani military in launching the militia, helping him acquire weapons. But instead of protecting the Baloch, Shafiq unleashed a reign of terror through the BDM, credited to be one of the first-known death squads of Balochistan. At first, he was only targeting suspected Baloch separatists but then he reportedly started killing political, non-political and criminal rivals too, as highlighted by the leading Pakistani daily Dawn in this report from 2014.
“Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces permitted Shafiq to expand his private militia network and provided him unlicensed ammunition in large quantities and bomb proof vehicles, to fight against Baloch insurgents seeking separation from Pakistan,” says a former bureaucrat from Balochistan, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
For the next three years, despite his murderous campaign, Shafiq managed to stay low profile, but all that changed in 2011 when he became the target of the first-ever suicide bombing by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the same separatist insurgent group that recently killed Major Nadeem Bhatti in an IED attack.
According to the police, a car packed with around 50 kilograms of explosives tried to ram into the house of Shafiq Mengal. BLA said its suicide wing known as Majeed Brigade targeted him to avenge deaths of the Baloch targeted by his death squad. He and his family remained safe but 13 other people including women and children were killed in the attack according to local media reports.
Two years later as the 2013 general elections approached in Pakistan, Shafiq Mengal made headlines again, when Akhtar Mengal (not related), a politician and parliamentarian from Khuzdar (where Shafiq is headquartered) said his men were gunned down by a death squad run by Shafiq Mengal in their hometown, Khuzdar city, the capital of the district of the same name.
DEATH SQUADS: THE FAILED CONTAINMENT
Many say post the elections of 2013, there was an attempt to shift the government policy towards Balochistan initiated by the new chief minister (CM) Dr. Abdul Malik. Credited to be the first non-tribal leader to serve as the CM, with roots in the south-west of Balochistan, Baloch political circles say he was brought in to reconcile with the insurgency that the Pakistani military was grappling to deal with despite unleashing a deadly campaign of violence against the Baloch.
As Dr. Abdul Malik assumed power, he announced many measures to reconcile with the separatist Baloch including a crackdown against death squads. Just a few months into this crackdown, Abdul Malik faced his biggest challenge.
On January 25th, 2014, a local shepherd while herding his cattle stumbled across mass graves in a small town of Balochistan. He alerted the local authorities who reached the site and dug out several dead bodies buried together.
Government sources say they found 17 bodies only but Baloch activists dispute this and say around 169 dead bodies were recovered, as per reports in the international media.
The Balochistan government formed a judicial commission in February 2014 to launch a probe into the discovery of these bodies. And once again Shafiq Mengal name surfaced and he became the center of attention. Local media reports say the bodies were found near his property in Khuzdar’s Tootak area, a deserted locality, and several locals have alleged his involvement in the mass graves.
Subsequently, the Pakistani Supreme Court also took notice, but to date no one has been held accountable and the government’s commission report also remained inconclusive. Many of the suspects including Shafiq Mengal refused to appear before the commission.
“Everyone knew Shafiq Mengal’s BDM and intelligence agencies were behind these mass graves. They were the dead bodies of missing persons. The judicial commission report was a mere eyewash like if you try to hide the sun with your hand,” says the Baloch editor.
After Dr. Abdul Malik left office, he reportedly said that the Pakistani military, which is considered to be the de-facto power in the province, had also agreed to a crackdown against death squads. But was the military willing to deliver on its commitment? Seeing how Shafiq goes unpunished even today, it seems the military was never on board with Abdul Malik’s plan.
The same year, Shafiq again became the center of attention but got away this time too. On May 25, 2014, eight levies security officials were allegedly killed by his men. A case was registered against him but despite the passage of several years now, there has been no progress in the case.
A Baloch politician, who was part of Dr. Malik’s government at the time claimed that during following the killings of security officials, Shafiq Mengal sensed some pressure and moved to Afghanistan for some time.
“In Afghanistan, Shafiq Mengal developed a closer nexus with sectarian outfits in the Nangarhar province,” the Baloch political leader claims, speaking on the conditions of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Shafiq Mengal’s sectarian links were also confirmed in a 2017 investigation by the Police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in Pakistan’s Sindh province. In the investigation report available with South Asia Press, he is named as a suspect in having helped orchestrate sectarian attacks in the province, including the 2017 failed suicide bombing on a Shiites Imam Bargah (mosque) in Shikarpur city.
A suicide bomber, who could not detonate his explosive jacket told the Sindh police during interrogation that he stayed in Khuzdar city at Shafiq Mengal’s residence before moving to Shikarpur to carry out the attack.
Baloch journalists on the ground say his links to such sectarian anti-Shia groups were not only developed with his time in Afghanistan but already existed in Pakistan, especially due to his relationship with Ramzan Mengal (not related), the provincial chief of the Ahl e Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ) in Balochistan, a radical-right religious group that declares the Shia sect Kafir. ASWJ, formerly known as Sipah e Sahaba, is also known to be close to the Pakistani military establishment.
Journalists in Balochistan tell South Asia Pressit is such religious alliances of Shafiq Mengal that provide him an out-of-jail card in Pakistan and keeps his relationship with the military establishment intact, even if the relationship has seen its ups and downs.
DEATHS SQUADS: THE NETWORK
By early 2010s, the experiment that started with Shafiq Mengal’s death squad – to counter the insurgency fueled by Bugti’s assassination – had spread across the province with the Frontier Corps (FC) allegedly backing similar militias in Khuzdar and other parts of south-west Balochistan, and like Shafiq’s BDM, most of these private armed groups also quickly turned into death squads.
South Asia Pressinvestigations reveal that the majority of such militias are run by hardcore criminals and drug lords, while a few of them are also led by extremists, pro Pakistan politicians, and former separatist insurgents who have surrendered to authorities under reconciliation schemes in the recent past.
During these investigations, it also emerged that five Balochistan districts are more known for death squads, namely Khuzdar, Awaran, Kech, Panjgur, and Mastung. Besides Mastung, the rest of these districts are next to each other and lie in the extreme southern part of the province where, as mentioned earlier, the Baloch insurgency is said to be the strongest. (Note: There are reports of death squads in some other parts of Balochistan too, scattered across the province, like in Dera Bugti, but South Asia Press was unable to find reliable sources on ground. However, we plan to focus on it in future).
THE WHO’S WHO OF DEATH SQUADS
As illustrated in the above map, within Khuzdar district, besides Shafiq Mengal, another well-known private militia aka death squad organizer is Zakria M. Hasni. He is a young man in his thirties and is believed to be responsible for assassinations and abductions of people linked to the Baloch cause not just in Khuzdar but across Pakistan. His sister is an officer in the Pakistan Army, according to highly-placed sources, however South Asia Press could not independently verify this claim.
Just next to Khuzdar district, where Shafiq and Zakaria run their militias, is the Awaran district, considered to be the heart of the latest wave of Baloch insurgency. Here the private militia aka a death squad is led by Deen Mohammad Deenu, a former Baloch insurgent.
Next door to Awaran is the Kech district, where the military has supported several death squads, starting with that of Rashid Pathan, a known hardcore criminal. Rashid’s brother-in-law was a key commander of Baloch Liberation Front, a separatist organization fighting the Pakistani state and was killed in a Pakistani intelligence operation with the help of Rashid in 2010. This insider info made Rashid a key ally for the military to find more about the Baloch insurgency which has been going strong in this district, especially around the city of Turbat.
Besides Rashid, Samir Sabzal is another hardcore criminal, also running a private militia in the district. He recently ran into police troubles after his death squad was involved in a shoot-out that resulted in the killing of a woman and injuring her five-year-old child.
Besides these two, another known militia chief from Kech is Sardar Aziz, who runs a religious seminary in the area since 2010.
Next door to the territory of these three death squads is the district Panjgur where Maqbool Shambezi – a drug kingpin involved in cross-border smuggling – leads a state-backed private militia. Little is known about this drug kingpin except that he is involved in the illegal trade and runs a death squad. Panjgur has witnessed a moderate insurgency in the area since the late 2000s.
Beyond these death squad clusters in the four adjacent districts, another infamous but recently defunct one to that South Asia Press was able to confirm information about from local sources was that of Baloch politician Siraj Raisani.
Siraj was running a private militia in Mastung until his recent killing. Besides running the squad, he comes from a politically active family with his brother – Nawab Aslam Raisani serving as the former Chief Minister of Balochistan.
ZAKARIA M HASNI’S REIGN OF TERROR
Along with Shafiq Mengal, a key recipient of support from the state since 2010 has been Zakria M Hasni.
Zakria claims to local journalists that he fights BLA, BLF, and Baloch nationalist militants. Multiple images collected by South Asia Press show him riding a horse, holding AK47, and wearing prayer beads – symbolic attire that reflect his radical Islamic thinking. Zakria is also believed to be close to the local chapter of the so-called Islamic State – Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), which encompasses modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Zakria’s foray into crime began with him imposing taxes on people involved in the mining business in Khuzdar around 2012. It was at this time he also became notorious for a graphic mobile phone photo showing him torturing a man identified as Mohammad Baloch. The image, published by a local daily paper called Tawar (translation: the Voice) (now banned) shows the man being tortured while he hangs upside down. The paper claimed the man was allegedly being tortured after his family failed to pay ransom for his release from the custody of military authorities.
The Baloch nationalist have also accused Zakria and his death squad in Khuzdar of torturing and killing political activists and nationalists. Zakria’s close circles that South Asia Press spoke to claimed he has also admitted to being involved in the killing of Sabeen Mahmud, a progressive Pakistani human rights activist, and social worker. Sabeen was murdered after she held a talk on Balochistan at her intellectual initiative in Karachi. This claim could not be independently verified and further details are not available to establish the extent of his involvement. A Baloch journalist also told South Asia Press Zakria claims to be involved in the deadly attack on prominent Pakistani TV journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi. Mir surived the attack. This claim could also be not independently verified.
Like other death squad chiefs mentioned blow, eyewitness accounts say he roams openly in the province with automatic weapons. He is also known for organizing rallies on Pakistani national days in Khuzdar.
THE DEATH SQUAD CHIEF WHO LOVES FACEBOOK
South-west of Khuzdar district where Shafiq and Zakria run their squads is the Awaran district, where Deen Mohammad aka Deenu runs a private militia. Awaran is considered to be Balochistan’s most volatile region in the south-west as it also serves as the headquarter of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), a separatist armed group currently led by Dr. Allah Nazar, a medical doctor who went underground in 2008 and joined the Baloch resistance.
According to Baloch sources, Deenu is himself a former insurgent, and was once close to Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, commanding BLF in the Mashkey region of Awaran district but he surrendered to the forces in 2017 under the Balochistan Reconciliation Process.
Exact reasons for him changing sides are not known but experts say the reconciliation process is usually a way out for those who want safety for themselves and do not want their families to be harassed by the state any more. Money is another motivation for leaving the insurgency, as the government offers a significant amount of cash to those who give up arms.
Deenu also has the support of another of Dr Allah Nazar’s former close associate – his brother-in-law Mehrullah Baloch, who lives in city of Hub, near Karachi.
Since leaving the rebellion, several photos documenting Deenu’s atrocities in Awaran have appeared on social media, with him posing for the camera. A photo posted on Facebook in April 2018 shows Deenu with a group of Pakistan Army soldiers in Awaran district.
Sources say these photographs (show above) are from a joint operation by Deenu and the military against Baloch separatists hiding in Awaran’s mountainous region.
RASHID PATHAN: PART TIME DEATH SQUAD CHIEF, PART TIME CRIMINAL
Next door to Awaran district is the Kech district which has also seen its fair amount of insurgency and therefore death squads.
In the early 2010s, Rashid Pathan started to emerge as a terror face in Kech’s district capital – Turbat.
An illiterate man with a criminal past, Rashid comes from a poor background. Before leading his private militia allegedly with the help of Pakistani military, he was involved in robbery and burglaries in his home district of Kech.
South Asia Press investigations reveal that Pathan was introduced to the military through Imam Bheel, a local drug kingpin, named as one of the four main drug barons in the world in 2009 by the US administration under the then President Barack Obama. (NOTE: Bheel has been politically connected to the military since General Musharraf’s time, and South Asia Press will be releasing a separate investigation into his activities soon).
As mentioned earlier, Rashid forged closer ties with the military after he helped them catch and kill his brother-in-law. At his peak, Rashid Pathan commanded a core of more than 100 loyalists, mostly criminals. Baloch political activists say he has been involved in attacks against members of Baloch Students Organization (BSO-Azad) and BLF (Balochistan Liberation Front), who have a strong hold in the Kech district. Rashid is also accused of killing Imdad Baloch, a leader of BNM, and Jahangir Baloch, central secretary general of BSO-Azad in Kech district in 2013. He also helped the FC in its operations in Kech district, including taking over local Baloch property, as reported by the daily Dawn in 2014.
“The military armed Rashid Pathan and used him to attack pro-separatists,” says the former bureaucrat who also served in Kech district.
“Rashid is feared more than the police. He is known to harass businessmen, government officers, and politicians in Turbat,” the bureaucrat adds, further claiming that despite Rashid’s criminal activities, no one can touch him because of his perceived connections with the military intelligence (MI). “He raided houses and abducted people in the areas where the military could not navigate the population,” the bureaucrat explains.
Rashid recently moved out of the region and is said to be setting up base in Gwadar since 2018. Since then, he has kept a low profile as far criminal activities are concerned but Baloch sources say Pathan’s previous affiliation with Imam Bheel may have been the reason for his move to Gwadar, since the alleged drug baron is reportedlyinvolved in forcibly acquiring Baloch land for Pakistani armed forces in Gwadar (and in the adjacent Kech district too) since 2018.
SAMIR SABZAL – THE DEATH SQUAD CHIEF ABOVE THE LAW
Since Rashid Pathan’s departure from Kech District towards the south in Gwadar, locals in Turbat area say the paramilitary force FC started to support another known criminal Samir Sabzal, who launched his own private militia in the name of defending the Baloch. The thirty-year-old’s career as a death squad chief almost came to an abrupt end last summer but his alleged connections to the military came to rescue.
On May 26th four people broke into a house in Dannuk, a dusty village, west of the main Turbat city. The intruders met with resistance from women inside the house who managed to overpower one of them. The rest, while fleeing fired and killed one of the women named Malik Naz and injured her 5-years-old daughter Bramsh. The man caught by the family admitted he was working for Samir Sabzal’s private militia. Balochistan and especially Turbat city erupted in widespread protests following this revelation and Samir was subsequently arrested and charged with murder and robbery. But he was recently acquitted by the courts due to lack of evidence, which many say is a sign of his strong connections inside the military establishment.
A family member of the killed woman who does not want to reveal their identity due to fear told South Asia Press that Samir was even protected during his short time in custody. “Samir was shifted to his home in Absar in Turbat at night and brought back to the prison in the morning,” the family member alleged.
Like other death squad organizers, Samir also gained the trust of the Pakistani military by orchestrating rallies on Pakistan’s Independence Day and other national holidays before starting his own private militia to hunt the Baloch.
“Such display of patriotism is often orchestrated in the province to show to the world that the Baloch are happy with Pakistan,” says a local from Kech, who has witnessed Samir co-organizing such patriotic events with the help of the Pakistani military officials stationed in Kech district.
Like Deenu, Samir is also a fan of using Facebook and often posts videos on the social media platform where he is seen traveling through Balochistan, especially in Turbat city. In one such video viewed by South Asia Press, he can be seen traveling with an armed convoy of four-wheel SUVs that have installed state-of-the-art signal jammers, in a bid to stay safe from IED attacks, like the one that killed Major Nadeem Bhatti. In this video Samir can also be seen passing through a military check post while openly displaying a weapon, but his car and the convoy do not get stopped and checked.
SARDAR AZIZ: MANAGING A MOSQUE, MADRASSA AND A DEATH SQUAD
Another known figure running a private militias in this district is Sardar Aziz who leads the alleged death squad with his two sons Meeran Aziz and Shah Meer. Meeran is said to be close to Rashid Pathan too.
The Aziz family belongs to Pidark, an impoverished town located in the west of Turbat, the district headquarters.
In Pidark, Sardar established a mosque and a madrassa (a religious seminary) in 2010. Locals tell South Asia Press poor families in the area enroll their children at Sardar’s religious school to benefit from free food and lodging. The locals further add Sardar is not a religious man but through his seminary he has gained influence in the region, especially with the military that considers him an important ally for running a private militia and also helping them Islamize the Baloch population. Today, his seminary is also known as a recruiting ground for jihadis going to Afghanistan and other regional conflicts.
In 2014, Sardar and his sons are accused of carrying out a spate of attacks on members of the Zikri community, a religious minority, settled in the region.
Zikris have a strong affiliation with Balochistan, are believed to be nationalists in their thought and actions, and this affiliation led them to become a target by Sardar.
THE RISE AND FALL OF NAWAB SIRAJ RAISANI
Besides the cluster of the four districts in south-west mentioned above where the insurgency is the strongest and therefore countered with death squads, military operations and Islamization, another district where there is heavy presence of such private militias, is Mastung district. Here Nawab Siraj Raisani, the brother of the former chief minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani, ran a death squad until his recent killing, according to South Asia Press investigations.
Siraj launched a group called Balochistan Muttahida Mahaz (BMM) in 2010 in Mastung district but it is said to also have had influence in the city of Kalat and Quetta.
Like other private militias, Siraj’s BMM was also accused of kidnapping and killing Baloch separatist and activists in the Mastung region.
Family insiders say that Siraj did not get along with his brother Aslam Raisani, who opposed his alliance with the military. This rift also became quite visible during the last general elections in 2018 when Siraj announced that he would be contesting against his older brother on the ticket of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a newly formed political group, believed to be launched by the country’s military establishment to counter Baloch ethno-nationalist groups.
Siraj had announced the merger of his BMM with BAP (Balochistan Awami Party) a few months before elections but days before the vote in July 2018, Siraj was killed in a suicide bombing. It was claimed by the so-called Islamic State but Baloch sources dispute this saying Siraj was actually killed in a revenge bombing by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an off-shoot of the state-aligned extremist group ASWJ, which as reported earlier is known to be close to many of the private militias, including that of Shafiq Mengal.
LeJ started as militant wing in the 1990s for the Sunni extremist group (known as Sipah e Sahaba at that time) but went rogue subsequently. It also recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK).
Siraj, who was close to such Sunni extremist groups used his links to reportedly pass confidential information to the Pakistani military about Mohammad Usman alias Saif Ullah Kurd, a leader of the rogue LeJ. A Baloch journalist claims that Siraj, who was a friend of Kurd, trapped him by calling him to a hotel in Quetta. Soon after Kurd’s arrival, the military reached the spot and gunned him down. In retaliation to this killing, LeJ ordered a hit on Siraj and may have asked the Islamic State to claim it.
To many’s surprise, Siraj’s funeral was attended by the current Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa who declared Siraj Raisani a ‘Soldier of Pakistan’. Siraj who was not that well known before his killing became an overnight hero with Pakistani media running special segments in his memory, showing his photos and videos of organizing pro-Pakistan events in Mastung where he was also seen tarnishing Indian flags.
His open hate for India is said to be one of many reasons why he became close to the Pakistani military establishment, that tries to paint the indigenous Baloch rebellion as Indian-sponsored.
Since his killing, the private militia he ran has gone dormant as it appears the rest of his family members want to stay away from such activities.
MAINSTREAMING THE DEATH SQUADS
Although the Pakistani military continues to provide support to many of these death squads in the province, journalists, activists and political sources South Asia Press interviewed say there has been a gradual policy-shift in the last few years.
“In the past paramilitary Frontier Corps trained and armed notorious criminals to fight against Baloch insurgents. But they [the intelligence agencies] have made a few changes in their old policies now. They are now converting the death squads into political parties in the region to prevent Baloch ethnic nationalists from winning the polls. Same old notorious Islamist militants are also being washed to head the political parties,” says a Baloch politician from Makran division of the province. [The division comprises of three districts, Kech, Panjgur and Gwadar].
The politician seems on point as there are already signs of this and once again Shafiq Mengal seems to be at the center of this new policy being tried out.
He contested the last polls after returning from Afghanistan some time before the 2018 general elections but did not succeed. And recently, in January 2021, he has announced the launch of his own political party, while there are also reports to suggest that he may join the Pakistan Army-backed BAP (Balochistan Awami Party) which currently leads the Balochistan government. Many of BAP members recently met with Shafiq Mengal in Islamabad last month, reportedly to discuss his entry into politics.
But analysts say this new policy of mainstreaming death squads is destined to be unsuccessful too.
“The state’s policy to run death squads, introduce Islamization and engineer political manipulations – all of it has failed in Balochistan,” says Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, a veteran of the 1970s Baloch insurgency, and a newspaper columnist.
“Despite these crackdowns, the resistance of the Baloch continues and the alienation of the Baloch people vis-a-vis the state is only increasing,” he concludes.
FATF MUST BLACKLIST PAKISTAN AND NOT COME UNDER PRESSURE OF CHINA
JOINT PROTEST AND CONFERENCE BY EXILED DISSIDENTS BELONGING TO BALOCH, PASHTUN, UYGHUR, TIBETAN AND HONG KONGER COMMUNITIES OUTSIDE THE FATF HEADQUARTERS IN PARIS ON 2OTH FEBRUARY, 2021.
As members of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meet from 22nd February to 25th February to decide the fate of Pakistan, dissidents of Baloch, Pashtun, Uyghur, Tibet and Hong Kong origin organized a protest outside the FATF headquarters urging the international monitoring body to blacklist Pakistan and deliver on its mandate of stopping terror financing and sponsoring from Pakistan.
TERROR NETWORKS CONTINUE TO OPERATE FREELY IN PAKISTAN
While Pakistan has been repeatedly adopting the tactic of showcasing taking action against terror financing by placing senior terror group leaders under arrest ahead of FATF plenaries, these UN listed entities, like the Lashkar e Taiba (now rebranded as Jamat ud Dawa -JuD) and Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) continue to function freely in the country including collecting funds.
The charity front of JuD, the Falah e Insaniyat Foundation (FeF) has continued to collect funds. FeF chief Hafiz Abdur Rauf has remained active including openly delivering sermons. Similarly, Talha Saeed, son of Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed and a designated a terrorist by the US Treasury dept, has been active and addressed gatherings in recent months. Similarly, JuD offices including the Markaz Al Quds in Lahore are able to raise funds to meet their monthly expenditures. The JuD’s social media team functions unhindered advertising their fund collection drives.
Jaish e Muhammmad (JeM) has also been openly collecting funds, often to support families of ‘martyrs’ or jihadists killed during operations.
In order to avoid detection by FATF, Pakistan has moved JeM training camps and fighters to Afghanistan.
The recent acquittal and orders of release of known terror operative Ahmed Omar Saeed Shiekh, who was sentenced for the abduction and killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl, is also an indication that the deep links between the terror groups and the Pakistani State remains in place.
Moreover, Pakistan has allowed militants in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to openly collect funds and regroup, as reported by mainstream media in recent months. Even Pakistani parliamentarian Mohsin Dawar warned of militants regrouping in the tribal belt, in a recent interview.
Also, recently Nobel Peace laureate and girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai received public threats on social media by the former spokersperson of the Pakistani Taliban Ehsanullah Ehsan, who mysteriously escaped from military custody recently, and has become active in the field again. Fingers point to Pakistan military’s complicity in the escape of this high profile terrorist.
CHINA’S ROLE AT FATF
China, a close strategic partner of Pakistan, has been defending and often covering up for Pakistan’s links to terror groups. It has stood by Pakistan in the UNSC and other multilateral forums on this issue.
For instance, China, for a decade, blocked the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the United Nations sanctions regime. Though Beijing repeatedly asserts that it is against terrorism, but it justified its UNSC vote against putting Azhar on the list by saying there wasn’t enough evidence against Azhar and citing “procedural problems”.
This lack of Chinese commitment to counter terror is also expected influence China’s diplomatic support in the FATF, where China is likely to shield Pakistan from accountability. It may be noted that the success of the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project where China has huge strategic and economic stake, will depend on Pakistan escaping accountability of the FATF.
We call upon the FATF member nations not to be pressurized by China into letting Pakistan off the hook. This should not be allowed especially because it will not only embolden Pakistan to carry on using terror groups as strategic assets against its adversaries, but also use them against their own people like the Baloch and Pashtuns, who are already facing grave human rights violations.
FATF has in the past, during its review on China, noted the lack of transparency in China sharing data on money laundering and terror financing cases. FATF has also noted that China’s rack record on targeted financial sanctions related to both terrorist financing and proliferation financing is poor, and China should fundamentally strengthen its legal framework and the implementation of these United Nations-mandated sanction regimes and work with financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions to achieve implementation without delay.
China’s support to Pakistan in overlooking its sponsoring terror groups, is reciprocated by the latter in completely ignoring China’s human rights repression in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. If the FATF succumbs to Chinese pressure and does not blacklist Pakistan, it will indirectly be responsible for the continued abuses against the people of these regions.
NOTE FROM THE ORGANIZER:
The protest was planned and organized by The Dissident Club which has brought together the Pakistani and Chinese dissidents for the first time in France. Post the protest, the participants met for a conference at The Dissident Club and vowed to continue their peaceful struggle through a joint action forum to continue to raise awareness about Pakistan-China nexus in France and in Europe and remind the West of its commitments of eradicating all kinds of terrorism and ensuring human rights globally. The community organizers will soon meet for another virtual conference to finalize the future course of action.
The Dissident Club is an intellectual space co-founded by Taha Siddiqui, an award-winning Pakistani journalist in exile.
Protesters hold placards saying “China get out Balochistan” and “Why did Pakistan acquit Daniel Pearl’s murderer and known terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh?
STATEMENTS BY COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS
DISSIDENTS FROM PASHTUN REGION: As representative of Pashtun Nation, I would like to request International community particularly FATF to take tougher action against Pakistan which is responsible for terrorism financing, terrorists training not only International region but all around the world. Recently, China has also entered into this dirty business by supporting terrorist states like Pakistan on one hand on international fora and directly supporting some terrorist groups in Afghanistan on the other. The release of Omar Sheikh, the killer of Daniel Pearl by the Highest court of Pakistan clearly indicates the non-seriousness of Pakistan to combat terrorism and terror financing: FAZAL-UR REHMAN AFRIDI, Pashtun Human Rights Activist
DISSIDENTS FROM BALOCH REGION: Balochistan is an occupied territory by Pakistan and now it is being colonized by China. There is a nexus of Pakistan and China. In Balochistan there are many Chinese projects which are currently ongoing in the name of development – but these projects are only to benefit the elites of Pakistan and China. There is no gas, no hospitals, no schools in the area where this development is happening. They are making roads to connect Balochistan to China but why cannot they build schools, hospitals, etc.? There is massive financial corruption in these projects. We reject Chinese imperialism and this forceful marriage between the Baloch region and China. Balochistan is an occupied territory and China must directly talk to the Baloch if it wants to do so-called development in the region. Currently, Pakistan has forced the Baloch to migrate from the regions where China is investing through military operations. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor has displaced thousands of Baloch and forced them to become refugees on their own land: Dr. Naseem Baloch – Victim of enforced disappearance in Pakistan, 7 years in exile in France, Diaspora Community Organizer Baloch National Movement
Today our one of the utmost objective of protesting in front of the FATF headquarters is to ask from this Global organization is to take action against Pakistan which is continously violating the International laws in various aspects. As for as FATF mandate is concerned Pakistan is using local people deposits and international various funding amounts to finance International and local Terrorist Organizations. Particularly in Balochistan Quetta Shura Council is still operating and working as a head quarter for various religious terrorist organizations, by the financial and logistic support of Pakistan and I. S. I.
Kesh Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tahaffuz Balochistan, Lashkar-e-Khurasan and many religious terrorist organizations have penetrated deeply inside Balochistan Which Pakistan Army is using as force to combat Baloch National struggle whom are struggling to end occupation of their Land by the Islamic state of Pakistan.
Pakistan is using these organizations to attack, humiliate, abduct and loot people. Just take a look of only one example of seven-years-old Bramash Baloch. Pakistani goons attacked her home, looted valuable materials and killed her mother in front of her eyes. She also received was shot and injured.
Baloch Zikri community and Hazara community, people, religious worship places, and even tombs have been attacked by these state-backed groups.
Pakistani authorities intentionally allow these organizations and finance and support them to threaten secular lifestyle of the Baloch. Working Baloch women have been attacked at various places by acid to force them to remain indoors. Many schools have been burned and threatening messages have been left by these organizations, many at times using Pakistani Army Helicopters to terrorize the Baloch people and particularly women.
Secondly another objective of FATF is to stop financing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Balochistan is under occupation of Pakistan and Pakistan is using Baloch land for testing its nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. Recently Pakistan claimed testing of Ghori 6 ballistic missile. The missile reportedly fell in Balochistan’s Dera Bugti area and more then twenty people lost their lives with scored injured.
We request this august international organization to keep a check on China also. Unfortunately, China for its strategic designs and to gain strategic depth in Balochistan is financing Pakistan in name of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to eliminate Baloch people from their land. We have reports that China is not only exploiting resources of Balochistan but it is also extracting Uranium from the mountains of Balochistan namely from Koh e Suleman and Koh e Murdar.
Pakistan has already been using US military aid to run its campaigns against the secular Baloch people besides funding religious terrorist organizations. Now similarly the borrowings and financial aids by China are also being used by Pakistan against the Baloch people. The designs of Pakistan and China towards the Baloch land and Balochistan are not hidden from anybody. This CPEC is a colonization project locally and internationally will be used as a launching military pad to terrorize regional and international communities.
At the end I request from this international organization to take action against Pakistan and China for violating the FATF and international laws and norms with respect to financial and mega projects. Munir Mengal President Baloch Voice Association.
DISSIDENTS FROM HONG KONG: Beijing’s strategy allows regional dictatorships (no matter in Pakistan, Africa or in other Asian regions) to rebuild a rent-based economy based on the massive exploitation of raw materials without any real transfer of wealth or know-how to local populations. As a result, the pressure to improve governance and for the democratization of existing regimes have become much less effective. China proves to be able to expand its imperialism through the economic colonization in the developing countries. The Jiwani and Gwadar ports in Pakistan are the good examples. We, the Comité pour la Liberté à HK and AHKF, oppose such kind of economic and cultural imperialism, which hinders the regional democratization and political reforms.
DISSIDENTS FROM TIBET REGION:
The Beijing authorities have eyes on the rest of the world. Its expansionism knows no borders. The method is well known. An economic conquest by China becomes a debt trap for its partners, who ultimately lose their independence under the weight of Chinese debt. The case of the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka is emblematic. Pakistan or Nepal can no longer contest Chinese decisions. Dictatorships repressing their people in Burma or North Korea have the assent of Beijing, anxious to broadcast a system of values not respectful of human rights. And this is problematic when we know that the the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants to remake a global “multi-lateralism” in its own way, with its phagocytosis of UN institutions, for example. The Himalayan region has its own strategic challenges, but which have implications for the rest of the world. The Silk Roads project which will redraw the map of the world thanks to Chinese infrastructure projects, anti-ecological, is also one of the causes of the genocide of Uyghurs. In Tibet, hydraulic dams built by China endanger survival populations downstream, nearly 3 billion people, and a tool of the Sino-Indian Cold war. This Sino-Indian war results in Tibet as an over-militarized place, obviously at the opposite end of the peaceful vision (from the Buddhism) of the Tibetan people. We remind here that we want the independence of Tibet. What Tibet has experienced in 60 years of occupation, other countries, others peoples are now experiencing: Students for a Free Tibet / SFT France
DISSIDENTS BELONGING TO UYGHUR REGION: As Uyghurs from East Turkistan (Xinjiang by the communist Chinese regime) who are experiencing the harshest oppression by China-Pakistan cooperation, using the excuse of anti terrorism, we want to tell the whole world: China, you must immediately stop the cultural genocide that you are conducting in East Turkistan. Uyghurs are never terrorists. In fact, in that region (Pakistan, Afghanistan and etc.), you are the one who funded terrorism. Then, you blame, torture and diminish the innocent Uyghurs for all the crimes and terrorists attacks that you financially helped. Your evil purpose of this is just to wipe out the Uyghurs. China, who is locking up and oppressing millions of innocent Uyghurs is actually the real terrorists – Adil Kasim, Representative France Uyghur Association.
Taha Siddiqui, one of the organizers of the protest, gives an interview to the news channel France24, which covered the protest.
Joint conference at the DISSIDENT club in Paris, post the protest to chart out future course of action.
We discuss Balochistan and Pakistan army, the issue of missing persons, suspicious death of Karima Baloch and much more. Guest: Akhtar Mengal, Pakistani parliamentarian and Chairperson BNP-M. Moderated by Taha Siddiqui, Editor-in-Chief South Asia Press:
Turkey-backed mercenaries are being enlisted to join Pakistan-backed militants in Kashmir: Reports
By Taha Siddiqui
A new pan Islamic-alliance is emerging between Turkey and Pakistan with the two countries fostering stronger economic, military and cultural ties, as Pakistan re-aligns itself in the global geopolitical arena especially that of the Muslim world.
This has come in the wake of growing distance between long term allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, mainly due to the Kashmir dispute. Islamabad has been pushing the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), led by Saudi Arabia to recognize Kashmir dispute as one of its main agendas. However the OIC has been not responsive to the pressure, irking Islamabad and even prompting the country’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quershi to openly criticize the Saudi regime recently.
Experts say this growing gap between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is being capitalized by Turkey, with Ankara providing Islamabad the diplomatic support it needs especially on the Kashmir issue.
But it appears that the Turkish regime maybe going a step further than just providing solidarity to Pakistan when it comes to the Kashmir dispute.
A recent news report by journalist Bêrîtan Sarya in Firat News Agency reveals that Turkish-backed mercenaries in North-East Syria are being asked to head to Kashmir to fight the conflict there.
“The commander of the Syrian National Army (SNA) militia “Sulayman Shah Brigades”, Muhammed Abu Amsha, announced […] to members of his militia in the occupied city of Şiyê near Afrin that the Turkish state wanted to relocate some units to Kashmir,” the December 2020 report highlights, further alleging that Turkey had asked Abu Amsha and other SNA commanders to provide a list of the names of such volunteers.
The Syrian National Army (SNA) is also known as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army is a coalition of armed Syrian opposition groups with backing from the Turkish state.
“Those who would agree to go would get USD $2,000 initially. Sources report that there was similar recruitment activity for a Kashmiri operation in Azaz, Jarablus, Bab and Idlib. The volunteers would then be secretly taken out of the country,” the report adds.
Although the Firat News agency report is not independently verifiable, analysts point out that there is strong possibility of it being true, especially given that it will not be the first time Turkey will be using its mercenaries in a dispute beyond its regional conflicts.
“Turkey is a multi-ethnic country. It hosts sizeable immigrant populations from Balkans, Caucasia and Eastern Turkistan (the Uighurs). These ethnic groups have been involved in conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnia in the past. They were provided Turkish passports, health care and occasionally light weaponry. This was done through so-called humanitarian aid organizations,” says Kerim Balci, a well-known Turkish journalist and academic, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom.
But when the conflict in Syria began, “what was till then a semi-official policy of Turkey became state policy,” explains Mr. Balci. According to him, after Syria the same mercenaries were sent to Libya and recently to Nagorno-Karabagh (Armenia vs. Azerbaijan conflict). “It appears now that the Turkish intelligence officers are also accompanying them on the ground sometimes, as we saw documented in the case of Libya,” he adds.
Reportedly, during the recent Armenia vs. Azerbaijan conflict, Armenian authorities also alleged that Turkey deployed Syrian mercenaries to bolster Azerbaijani forces, as pointed out by Balci. Turkey has denied these claims.
“Turkish military experts are fighting side by side with Azerbaijan, who are using Turkish weapons, including UAVs and warplanes,” said the Armenian Foreign Ministry. “According to credible sources, Turkey is recruiting and transporting foreign terrorist fighters to Azerbaijan,” the ministry further added.
According to a recent report in Deutsche Welle (DW), a leading German news outlet, these Syrian mercenaries have served Turkey’s interests well as they offer a way to shore up its foreign policy objectives without mobilizing national assets such as the armed forces.
“They are an effective means to an end in providing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a military force that could be discarded once its usefulness has been completed,” said Noah Agily, a Washington-based independent researcher focusing on militia recruitment and formation in Libya, in the DW report. “In the future, these mercenaries will allow Turkey to continue positioning itself geo-strategically without incurring domestic blowback,” Mr. Agily added.
TURKISH MILITANTS AND THE AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN CONNECTION:
The origins of these mercenaries can be linked to Islamic State and before that to al-Qaeda, according to the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The SOHR claimed that the Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries were former militants who fought for the likes of “Islamic State” and al-Qaeda affiliated militant groups before. Reportedly, there al-Qaeda affiliation began in the Afghan war, and can be traced back to Pakistan.
“Turkish militants have fought alongside Osama bin Laden and other Afghan, Arab and Pakistani jihadis for long in Afghanistan, but they have been in limited numbers. Initially they went as individuals but later the Turkish intelligence agencies got involved in the process too,” says Ahmet S Yayla, a Washington D.C. based Turkish academic who served as a counter-terrorism police chief in Turkey,
Then in 2002, ties between the Turkish origin militants and the Pakistani militants strengthened further with the formation of Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in the tribal belt next to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. IJU was a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and affiliated with al-Qaeda. Recruits in IJU were mainly Turks both from Turkey and the Turkish communities in Western Europe. The IJU later went on to become Taiftaul Mansura, according to Pakistani intelligence assessment.
In 2010, a Pakistani official told the news agency Reuters that jihadis living in the tribal belt who did not fit easily into South Asian or Arab militant camps gravitated to groups like Taifatul Mansura which was made up of Turkic-language speaking Central Asians, as well as Turks and European Muslims, notably from Germany.
Over the years, such Turk-origin militants have not limited themselves to fighting in Afghanistan alone. A 2019 report by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) revealed that they also made their way to Syria where they fought under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Syrian jihadist group that has close affiliations with SNA (Syrian National Army).
TURKEY – THE NEW LEADER OF THE MUSLIM UMMAH?
Reacting to the report in Firat News Agency, the Turkish academic Mr. Yayla feels that there needs to be more investigation into these claims. “Currently there is no such official policy by Turkey that we have heard of but it is possible that Erdogan may want to get involved in this dispute on behalf of Pakistan, given the past trends we have seen of Turkish-backed militants being sent abroad,” Yayla adds.
He further explains that the Turkish President is increasingly portraying himself as a the leader of the Muslim world, and Turkish involvement in any conflict Pakistan is involved in could be connected to that positioning.
“Since last many years, Turkey is trying to become the leader of the Sunni Muslim world or the Ummah as its called and replace Saudi Arabia, its chief rival. And to achieve this, the Turkish government is increasingly getting involved in Muslim and Islamist activities around the world, and the strengthening of relationship with Pakistan on different fronts is part of that agenda too,” he adds.
Veteran journalist Terry Milewski’s report released by Macdonald-Laurier Institute titled “Khalistan: A project of Pakistan” probes the Khalistan movement and discovers its reality as a geopolitical terror project nurtured by Pakistan. South Asia Press interviews Mr. Milewski who takes us through his investigation into the role of Pakistan in Khalistan Movement especially on Canadian soil, the possible impact it can have on Canada, and what is being done to stop this terror group?
It has been a week since Karima Baloch, an exiled Pakistani human rights and political activist, was found dead in Toronto. Known for her political resistance against militarisation, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killing, she had fled from Balochistan in 2015 when the Pakistani government accused her of terrorism. Unyielding in calling to attention the serious human rights violations in Balochistan, Baloch continued to receive threats in exile.
On December 23, the Toronto police termed the death of Karima Baloch as “non-criminal”. But her death demands a more thorough investigation. Even in exile, Pakistanis face threats to their life. Threats that may have been carried out after Baloch was last seen on December 20.
Hammal Haidar, the husband of Karima Baloch and her brother Sameer Mehrab have rejected these police findings and are calling for further police investigations. Along with them, more than a thousand concerned citizens including prominent Pakistani parliamentarians, and activists, academics and intellectuals from around the world have also come together under a “Justice for Karima Baloch collective“, and have endorsed a joint statement calling for the Canadian police to resume their investigations. Another online petition has also gathered over 3000 signatures asking for the Canadian authorities to look into her death, and not close the investigations.
Karima Baloch’s death needs further inquiry. My wife was an immensely courageous and spirited person. Her work as an internationally prominent activist speaks for itself. 1/1
This is not the first time a Baloch activist has been found dead in mysterious circumstances. In May, the body of the journalist Sajid Hussain was found drowned near the Swedish city of Uppsala, after disappearing for two months. Hussain had written about human rights violations in Balochistan before seeking asylum in Sweden in 2017 following threats to his life in Pakistan. Although circumstances were suspicious, local police stated it was difficult to tell from the autopsy if his death had been the result of a crime, an accident or a suicide.
Karima Baloch’s family has already been targeted. When she refused to stop her activism, her family received the mutilated body of her uncle; her parents’ siblings were abducted and killed in Pakistan.
Seeking to kill dissidents abroad has also been contemplated by previous Pakistani authority figures, namely General Pervez Musharraf, the former dictator. The current government’s unofficial “Kill and Dump” policy shows that hostile tendencies are already in full effect in Pakistan itself. It is probable that they are likewise envisioned beyond borders.
Canadian authorities should take this highly sensitive context into account and resume investigation into Karima Baloch’s death, including Pakistan embassy officials, especially Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agents. Investigations should not discount the possibility that she was murdered by a private person commissioned to do so, which is a common method used by intelligence agencies.
The situation in Balochistan is very volatile. Karima Baloch’s death adds to the casualties of Balochistan’s ongoing insurgency, where Pakistan state forces and various nationalist and separatist groups have engaged in armed conflict in the past decades.
Amid this explosive situation, innocent citizens pay the price. Pakistan state authorities conduct the “Kill and Dump” policy in the region. Voice for Baloch Missing Persons claims that since 2000, some 55 000 people have been kidnapped and 18 000 bodies later found. According to a recent federal government inquiry, 155 people are missing in Balochistan. Akhtar Mengal, a Pakistani lawmaker, found the findings “insulting” in an interview to the media. His party withdrew from Imran Khan’s ruling coalition this year to protest against the lack of action on disappearances.
A United Nations report from June highlights the systematic targeting of “human rights and minority defenders critical of the government and the military, as well as persons suspected or accused of involvement in the opposition,” by the State of Pakistan. Despite its natural resources, Balochistan is a poor region. Its inhabitants are marginalised from economic development. Resentment has been fuelled by billions of dollars of Chinese money flowing into the region through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a key part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative – which locals say gave them little benefit as most new jobs went to outsiders.
Owing to these grievances, the province has seen a Baloch rebellion and insurgency for the last many decades which has intensified its attacks against Pakistani security forces and other targets in recent years. In response, the Pakistani authorities have also intensified their crackdown, not just against the separatist groups but increasingly against innocent and peaceful Baloch people, who are only raising their voice for the rights of their people.
Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence, particularly of terrorist attacks, in recent months as the Afghan government and Taliban hold talks to find an end to the country’s almost 20-year-long war. These negotiations are happening following the peace agreement Taliban signed with the United States, earlier this year in February in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.
But this current spike in terrorism acts in Afghanistan are not being claimed by the Taliban. Instead, the terror group “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIL or more commonly referred to as ISIS) is increasingly claiming responsibility for these attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan, including for one of the recent deadliest attacks on an educational institution, that killed 50 people, mostly students.
In Afghanistan, ISIS claims to operate through its local branch called the Islamic State Khorasan Province, known as ISKP or IS-K which came into existence around 2015. Since then it has been carrying out acts of terrorism in the country but counter-terrorism experts in Afghanistan view these claims of ISIS with suspicion and believe that such statements are nothing more than just attempts by the global ISIS network to appear stronger than they are.
ISIS IN MIDDLE EAST AND AFGHANISTAN – ARE THEY CONNECTED?
“There has been no solid links between fighters from Middle East and Afghanistan so ISIS and ISKP/IS-K are not as interlinked as they may try to show. Most of the ISKP/IS-K fighters are from Pakistani Taliban cadres belonging to the tribal belt in Pakistan,” says Habib Khan Totakhil, an Afghan journalist who works with international media and focuses on terror networks in Afghanistan.
“Most of the time ISIS news agency Amaq takes responsibility of the attacks in Afghanistan but its like what the Taliban used to do before – claiming any and every terror attack in Afghanistan to appear more threatening than they are,” Mr. Totakhil further adds.
In August this year, Masoud Andarabi, who was then the acting minister of interior of Afghanistan, had also claimed that Shahab al-Muhajir, the newly appointed leader of ISKP/IS-KP in Afghanistan, was a member of the Haqqani Network, a group known to have close ties to the Pakistani military establishment.
Shahab Almahajir, the newly appointed leader of Islamic State of Khorasan Province-ISKP is a Haqani member. Haqani & the Taliban carry out their terrorism on a daily basis across Afg & when their terrorist activities does not suit them politically they rebrand it under ISKP.
Before Shahab al-Muhajir, a Pakistani national Maulvi Abdullah, who was earlier associated with Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT) used to head Islamic State Khorasan faction. Abdullah was arrested in April this year by Afghan authorities. His past links with LeT raise further suspicion of ISKP/IS-K infiltration by Pakistan-aligned groups.
It is no secret that LeT has had the backing of Pakistani military since its inception and that relationship continues even now, several reincarnations later. From Jamat-ud-Dawa to Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation and recently as Milli Muslim League, LeT has been operating with relative ease in Pakistan, despite claims by Pakistani government of carrying out a crackdown against the terror group.
Following the arrest of the LeT affiliated militant leader Abdullah, Shahab al-Muhajir took over ISKP/IS-K but it appears that he is facing resistance within the group from his own subordinates who have accused al-Muhajir of working for Pakistani and Iranian intel agencies and other hostile militant groups.
CRACKS WITHIN ISIS AFGHANISTAN?
In a latest video obtained exclusively by South Asia Press, ISKP/IS-K fighters have alleged that their current leader and some other fighters have gone rogue and are working as proxies for Pakistan and Iran intel agencies and militant groups.
“We, the Mujahideen of Wilayat Khorasan (WK) would like to inform the Caliph of Muslims Abu Ebrahim Al Qurashi Al Hashmi that the heads of WK have deviated from the right path and they are following the orders of Shias and intelligence agencies,” alleges an anonymous militant in this latest video statement exclusively obtained by South Asia Press. The fighter refers to Islamic State Khorasan Province as Wilayat Khorasan, its original name in Arabic.
The man further makes claims that ISKP/IS-K is collaborating with groups such as Al Qaeda (AQ), Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Afghan Taliban,
“They are only fighting for the sake of power and money and not for the supremacy of the Sharia,” the militant further adds.
According to him, these compromised ISKP/IS-K militants have also been leaking information to the Afghan intelligence agency about anyone in disagreement with them, resulting in the arrest of numerous foreign fighters and supporters by Afghan authorities.
“Some anonymous individuals belonging to the Pakistan intelligence agency and Iran, within the WK project are working to achieve their personal and collective interests. At present, the mujahideen and supporters are living in bad condition. Therefore, I request you to do something to revive the IS’s dominance, and appoint a just and pious man as the head of WK, so that he will become an example for the people not to follow the path of intelligence agent Shahab Al Muhajir,” the video concludes.
See full video here:
South Asia Press could not independently verify this video but security analysts familiar with the Pakistani and Iranian militant proxies operating in Afghanistan say the claims in this video give it authenticity.
“These claims are very much in line with the reality. There is growing frustration since few years among the ISKP/IS-K fighters against their leadership because the top has been infiltrated by Pakistani and Iranian intelligence groups and militant networks. Pakistan has been supporting Afghan militants for long, and Iran’s soil has been used by some Al Qaeda terrorists who fled after 9/11 and found refuge in Iran so both countries have strong linkages among different terror groups operating in Afghanistan,” says Hekmatullah Azamy, Deputy Director at Centre for Conflict & Peace Studies, Afghanistan.
Experts also believe that Iran may have infiltrated ISKP/IS-K to have eyes and ears inside, so as to know what is going on within Afghan terror networks. However, Pakistan has more sinister reasons for infiltrating ISKP/IS-K.
“With the previous proxies of Pakistan i.e. Afghan Taliban now engaged in talks, Pakistan needs an alternative to continue to serve its purpose of unleashing violence in Afghanistan and it can do so through ISKP/IS-K,” Mr. Azamy explains. “The bigger threat are not these groups, but Pakistan that continues to back Islamist militants in Afghanistan. Today its ISKP/IS-K, tomorrow it will be some other group. Pakistan needs to stop this,” he adds.
WHY DOES PAKISTAN SUPPORT MILITANT PROXIES IN AFGHANISTAN?
Since the 1970s, Islamabad has been supporting Islamist militants in Afghanistan to counter ethnic Pashtun nationalist elements within its own Pashtun populated regions and across the border, because Islamabad fears that a strong Pashtun nationalist movement can threaten Pakistan’s territorial claims on Pashtun regions next to Afghan border, and there might be a repeat of what was seen in East Pakistan in 1971 when it broke off from mainstream Pakistan and became independent Bangladesh, after the rise of an ethnic nationalist movement.
“The use of militants as proxies in Afghanistan has not been abandoned by Pakistan. There is no evidence that Pakistan wants to stop that or that it wants a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. The Pakistani government keeps saying it has given up on its so-called strategic depth policy about Afghanistan but on