Monday, April 24, 2017

Herald op-ed April 24, 2017

The Uzair Baloch conundrum Rashed Rahman Uzair Baloch has been revealed as being in the custody of the army and is going to be tried by a military tribunal on charges of espionage, according to a tweet by DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor on April 11, 2017. This development is seen as connected with the death penalty awarded to Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav by a Field General Court Martial a day earlier on charges of fomenting sabotage in Balochistan on the orders of the Indian RAW. The Joint Interrogation Team comprising both military and civilian officials investigating Uzair Baloch’s case claims he was involved in providing information on sensitive military installations and officials to Iranian Intelligence. Uzair Baloch is reported to have escaped to Iran after the crackdown on criminal gangs and the erstwhile PPP-supported People’s Aman Committee in Lyari, Karachi in 2012. He reportedly found refuge in Chahbahar where Jadhav is alleged to have set up an intelligence network. But the reports are not clear how and when the alleged Uzair Baloch nexus with Iranian Intelligence transmogrified into cooperation with Jadhav’s network. Nor is it clear how Uzair Baloch was reportedly arrested and brought back to Pakistan from the UAE where he was picked up a year ago. The Rangers claim, however, that he was arrested by them outside Karachi. Uzair Baloch was once the blue-eyed boy of the PPP in Lyari. But differences with the PPP resulted in the rupture that saw the then PPP-led government turn on their former protégé as well as all rival gangs in Lyari. In the process the People’s Aman Committee disintegrated. From what has emerged from Uzair Baloch’s statements in the media, he has claimed that he did whatever he is charged with in the context of Karachi on the behest of PPP co-chairperson and former president Asif Zardari. Amongst such activities are counted murders and seizing properties in the city. Whether there is any truth in this assertion or not, Uzair Baloch’s statements have proved embarrassing for the PPP, which has furiously denied all such charges and distanced itself even further from Uzair Baloch (if that is possible). The matter of Jadhav and the death penalty awarded to him for espionage has raised the temperature of already fraught ties with India. On the other hand there is no dearth of sceptics who question the veracity of the story around Jadhav and his claimed ‘confession’, not to mention the ‘convenient’ conflating of Uzair Baloch’s past to link it with Jadhav’s alleged activities. This is not to say that Pakistan and India do not spy on each other as a matter of routine. But it is difficult, in the absence of transparency about the Jadhav-Baloch nexus to simply swallow the officially certified truth in this regard without question. Jadhav may be a RAW agent as claimed, but Uzair Baloch was a PPP-supported gang leader in Lyari till he fell out with his mother party. How he made the transition from that avatar to a Jadhav operative is neither known nor believable in the absence of any information/evidence. Sceptics see these developments as killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand, the conviction and death penalty awarded to Jadhav reinforces the narrative about India’s alleged involvement in the troubles in Balochistan, while on the other, linking Uzair Baloch with Jadhav could prove to be another convenient stick to beat the PPP and its leadership with. Given the cloak of lack of information and the possibility of ‘spin’ around the whole affair, the truth, as often happens in such grey areas, may well never be satisfactorily known.

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