Following last month’s arrest of Muhammad Gohir Khan in London, who was charged with conspiring with other unknown individuals, to murder an exiled Pakistani blogger and political activist, Ahmad Waqas Goraya in Netherlands, the Metropolitan Police have warned other Pakistani dissidents living in the UK of plots against them aimed at committing serious harm. The Met police has reportedly told Pakistani exiles who have been criticizing Pakistan’s all-powerful military, that there is a credible threat to their lives. A comprehensive report published by the Guardian which enumerates the various episodes of attacks against Pakistani exiles in Europe, certainly has raised fresh concerns over authoritarian regimes targeting foreign dissidents. These factors point to the fact that Pakistan has now developed a ‘hit list’, targeting dissidents living in Europe.
Pakistan has had a long history of silencing its journalists who dared to speak against the military or the government. Although they had restricted themselves to journalists and activists living within Pakistan, a new trend has emerged of them seeking to silence its dissidents who are living abroad. The recent deaths of Pakistani dissidents Karima Baloch in Toronto, Canada, and her friend Sajid Hussain in Sweden, both under mysterious circumstances, had already raised the level of concern among Pakistani dissidents living abroad. Karima was a prominent Baloch activist who campaigned for an independent Balochistan. Similarly, Sajid Hussain was a journalist who had also been covering the extensive and brutal human rights violations committed by the Pakistani military in Balochistan. It is hard to rule out their deaths as mere accidents. Given the recent arrest of Gohir Khan, the possibility of foul play has once again come to the fore. It was only last year that a Pakistani government memo was leaked which accused several journalists living in Europe and the US of writing “anti-state content” for foreign media under pseudonyms, as per the report in the Guardian. Such memos show how committed Pakistan is in its attempts at silencing dissent of any form, virtually anywhere in the world.
However, the government in Islamabad has vehemently opposed the Guardian report, calling it “unsubstantiated allegations” and that these are part of the “blatant on-going misinformation campaign against Pakistan.”
But international human rights groups and media watchdogs disagree. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there have been numerous cases where journalists have been threatened and that “it’s widely understood that these types of threats could only come from Pakistan’s military or intelligence service”.
In the Guardian report, Ayesha Siddiqa, a political scientist based in London has also claimed to have received an ‘Osman warning’ (Threat to Life Notice) from the Metropolitan Police.
She and many Pakistani intellectuals like her, had fled their homeland owing to the imminent threat to their lives and their loved ones in their home country. They continue to do their intellectual work in Europe and North America believing that they were now safe from the tyranny back home in Pakistan but it appears that is no longer the case.
What is further worrying, is how there are reports of these Pakistani loyalists who have infiltrated the dissident community living abroad and sharing names and information back home. The mysterious deaths of Karima Baloch and Sajid Hussain could well be the doing of such infiltrators and Muhammad Gohir Khan could well be a part of such a network too. It has become hard to ascertain how many more Gohir Khans are out there, threatening the lives of the Pakistani dissidents in exile.
While speaking to the Guardian, former UK High Commissioner to Pakistan, Mark Lyall Grant, who was also UK’s former National Security Advisor said that, if there was definite proof that members of the Pakistani Military and its intelligence wing ISI, had been threatening exiles living in the UK, the matter would be taken seriously by the British government and appropriate actions would be taken. He said, “If there is illegal pressure, in particular on journalists in the UK, then I would expect the law enforcement agencies and the British government to take notice of that and to make an appropriate legal and/or diplomatic response.”