A Free Balochistan ad campaign in Geneva and London that left Pakistan red-faced has now reached the Big Apple.
The ad campaign in New York is sponsored by the World Baloch Organization (WBO), which is headed by Mir Javed Mengal. Mengal is the elder brother of former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal. His father, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, was also chief minister briefly for nine months in 1973.
The timing of the WBO ad campaign is perfect as Wednesday President Donald Trump unveiled his national security strategy in which he said “the United States continues to face threats from transnational terrorists and militants operating from within Pakistan.”
Dawn newspaper also cited the US president as saying, “We have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help.”
According to the WBO, the New York campaign has kicked-off with more than 100 taxis carrying adverts with the slogan: “#Free Balochistan from human rights abuses by Pakistan”.
Javed Mengal’s son Bhawal Mengal, who is spokesperson for WBO, said, “Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan against the people’s will in 1948 and has been under military occupation ever since, with mass kidnappings, torture and executions by the Pakistan army. Pakistan wants to keep this hidden. We are doing this campaign to expose these abuses,” said .
He said thousands of Baloch people have been murdered or disappeared by Pakistani security forces. “The killings are happening right now, the American weapons that were given to Pakistan to use against the Taliban, including F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters, are being diverted and misused to attack the secular Baloch people,” Mengal emphasized.
“We want the US to cut off all military aid to Pakistan and hold it accountable for its crimes in Balochistan,” he said.
In London, despite repeated attempts by the Pakistani government to shut down the #FreeBalochistan advertising campaign, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against Pakistan’s bid to censor the adverts; acknowledging their legitimate, humanitarian and peaceful character.
“Balochistan comprises half the land mass of the current borders of Pakistan. It has fabulous oil, gas and mineral wealth which is being exploited by Pakistan, while the Baloch people live in abject poverty. To keep control, the government in Islamabad is resorting to terror tactics and is giving free rein to religious extremists operate in the region. It is using them as a proxy third force against the nationalist movement, which has a long tradition of democracy and secularism,” added Bhawal Mengal.
“Pakistan’s iron-fisted rule in Balochistan is so brutal that it will not allow journalists, human rights monitors and aid agencies to enter the region. These adverts are much needed to defend the human rights of the Baloch people and to expose the atrocities of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies,” he said.
“We want to alert US public, media and politicians to Pakistan’s secret, dirty war in Balochistan. This war of terror involves the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Baloch villages, and the kidnapping, torture and assassination by the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies of anyone who peacefully opposes the military occupation and human rights abuses by Islamabad,” Bhawal Mengal said.
The WBO spokesperson said Balochistan was previously a British protectorate that was granted independence in 1947. It was forcefully annexed by Pakistan in 1948 and has been militarily occupied ever since. The people of Balochistan have been denied the right to self-determination, contrary to the UN Charter.
“The World Baloch Organisation is a peaceful, lawful lobby against Pakistan’s war crimes and human rights abuses in Balochistan,” said Mr Mengal.
Balochistan is the world capital of enforced disappearances. According to Mama Qadeer, vice president of of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons as many as 21,000 Baloch are victims of enforced disappearances, while another 6,000 Baloch have been buried in mass graves. As many as 35,000 Baloch have been killed by Pakistan army and security forces since the start of a bloody insurgency 2005.
Under Islamabad’s pressure, during the Obama administration Javed Mengal’s eldest son Noordin Mengal, a Briton, was arrested, handcuffed and deported from Newark Liberty International Airport in July 2008. The arrest was strongly criticized by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an advocate for Balochistan freedom. Mengal was also arrested and deported by the government of Dubai, UAE, under Pakistan’s pressure.
Mengals are reputed to be among the wisest politicians from Balochistan. Pakistan intelligence services had used Shafiq Mengal, head of the ISIS in Balochistan, to attack the home of Sardar Ataullah Mengal in 2005 to provoke him into armed action and then crush him. However, Mengal refused to be provoked.
The Mengal home in Wadh was once again attacked in June when Javed Mengal’s younger brother Sardar Akhtar Mengal, president of the Balochistan National Party, was visiting the US. Akhtar Mengal was also poisoned while he was in jail during the military regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Islamabad accuses Javed Mengal, a former Pakistani senator, of leading the now dormant Lashkar-i-Balochistan militant outfit. Mengal denies the charge.
In September, Pakistan had protested to Switzerland when the ad campaign was launched in Geneva by Baluchistan House, which is led by Mehran Baluch, a Briton and Javed Mengal’s brother-in-law. The Express Tribune reported Swiss Ambassador-designate Thomas Kolly got an earful after being summoned to the Foreign Office by Additional Secretary for Europe Zaheer Janjua over the public display of anti-Pakistan posters and “an insidious paid campaign against Pakistan”, by a group in Switzerland.
The Swiss authorities buckled under Pakistan’s pressure and last month clamped a lifetime ban on Mehran Baluch’s entry into Switzerland on a charge he heads the United Baluch Army (UBA). The Swiss authorities also shot down the asylum petition of his brother-in-law Brahumdagh Bugti on a charge he leads the Baloch Republican Army (BRA).
In November when the WBO launched a similar campaign in London, UK, Islamabad strongly protested to London. According to the Daily Times Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua summoned British High Commissioner in Pakistan Thomas Drew over slogans displayed on London cabs “that directly attack Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Janjuas are a Punjabi caste who have a big share in Pakistan’s civilian and military bureaucracy. It was not immediately clear if the two Janjuas who summoned the Swiss and UK envoys were related.
It is also not clear if the Pakistanis will garner the muscles to summon the US ambassador David Hale to protest in the same way they did with the Swiss and UK envoys. However, Monday Pakistan’s national security adviser Lt Gen Naseer Janjua, who was formerly army corps commander of Balochistan, accused the United States of “exporting war” and “perpetual instability” in South Asia, and of “speaking Indian language” in bilateral dealings.
WBO’s Javed Mengal’s eldest brother Asadullah Mengal, along with his friend Ahmad Shah Kurd, was forcibly disappeared by Pakistani intelligence services on February 6, 1974 from Sardar Mengal’s house in Karachi. First two victims of enforced disappearances from Balochistan, their fate to this day is unknown.
The house from where Asadullah Mengal was abducted in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Karachi, was gifted to Sardar Ataullah Mengal by an uncle of this scribe. Sardar Ataullah Mengal was then jailed with other leaders of the National Awami Party by then premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.