Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say
Policemen patrol near the Pakistan Stock Exchange building following an attack by a group of gunmen in Karachi on June 29. (Files/AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say
  • Follows little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army carrying out attacks

KARACHI: Investigations into a spate of recent attacks in southern Sindh province have led Pakistani officials to believe there are growing links between Sindhi separatists and militant groups from the insurgency-racked Balochistan province, officers with knowledge of the investigation have told Arab News.

However, experts warn that it may be too early to assume a “nexus” between the groups.

Late last month, gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four attackers.

Counterterrorism officials said that the attack had been claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group from the southwestern province of Balochistan, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

Just weeks earlier, three consecutive explosions killed four people, including two soldiers in Sindh. A shadowy secessionist organization, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), which wants the province to break away from the Pakistani federation, claimed responsibility for the attacks. This week, SRA also claimed a grenade attack on a Karachi bakery in which a retired paramilitary Rangers official was killed. 

SRA and two other Sindhi groups were banned by the government in May this year. 

Speaking to the media after the attack on the stock exchange building,  Sindh Rangers  chief  Major General Omer Ahmed Bukhari said that the attacks proved that “hostile intelligence agencies” were working to forge a “nexus” between Sindhi and Balochi insurgent groups, adding that he believed current investigations would establish this beyond doubt. 

In a statement emailed to the media after the stock exchange attack, the BLA admitted that it had “complete support” from Sindhi groups. 

“Today both the nations (Baloch and Sindhi) are fighting for the independence of their homelands against Pakistan,” the BLA statement said. “We had the complete support of the Sindhi nation in today’s attack, and it shows a strong brotherly bond between both the nations.”

Separatists have been fighting security forces for years in Balochistan over what they see as the unfair exploitation of the province’s vast mineral wealth. Insurgents are also opposed to — and attack projects linked to — China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in the resource-rich province. 

Pakistan has regularly blamed India for supporting Baloch separatists, a charge that Delhi denies.

Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament that he had no doubt India was behind the attack on the stock exchange building, which India promptly denied. Khan offered no evidence for his allegation, but he said that there had been intelligence reports warning of attacks in Pakistan and he had informed his Cabinet about the threats.

Sindhi separatists such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army have carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks. Their attacks, however, have been less violent than that of neighboring Balochistan where separatists have attacked a Chinese consulate, a leading hotel chain and on many occasions killed security officials patrolling a coastal highway.

Now, officials fear that Sindhi groups might be able to enhance their capacity to carry our deadlier attacks with help from Baloch militants and other hostile groups. 

“It can be a source of lawlessness in the future if this nexus is not broken,” said a police officer involved in investigating a “possible nexus between Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups, backed by India.” He requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

The police official said that Baloch groups already had “some capability” to launch damaging attacks, “but once there is a nexus, it can also be helpful for Sindhi nationalists, and that’s worrisome.”

A senior intelligence officer, who also declined to be named, said there had been a noticeable increase in the frequency of attacks by Sindhi groups, which pointed to the fact that they might have more experienced helpers.

“Increase in capability (through a nexus with Baloch groups) will only be proved if they launch more sophisticated attacks,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies are absolutely aware and alert to the dangers posed by the growth of this nexus.”

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism officer in Karachi, said that while teaming up with other groups might enhance the capacity of Sindhi nationalists, he did not see the nexus posing a significant threat in the near future. 

“The nexus can supplement the capacity of Sindhi sub-nationalists,” Khattab said, “but they will not be able to create any big law and order situation due to the preparedness of the law enforcement agencies.”

Sindh’s chief of Rangers has also said that Baloch and Sindh separatists were cosying up to the London faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Pakistani political party whose leader Altaf Hussain lives in exile in London. 

“Hostile intelligence agencies strive to make a nexus of the cells, sleeper cells and facilitators of the remnant terrorist organizations (separatists), which include the remnants of the MQM,” Bukhari said during a press conference after the stock exchange attack.

The MQM, one of Pakistan’s most prominent political parties, is mostly comprised of descendants of Muslim Urdu-speaking people who migrated to Pakistan around the time of the partition of India in 1947. 

Once able to control Sindh province with an iron grip, the party’s fortunes have waned in recent years, particularly since 2013 when the military launched a crackdown against criminal groups and militants as murder rates soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily. Many saw the operation, centered in Karachi, as a pretext to wrest control of the port city from the MQM, an accusation that security forces deny.

While Karachi crime rates have dropped sharply and many local businesses have welcomed the operation, allegations of brutal and illegal methods have remained. 

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has in the past referred dozens of cases of illegal abductions of MQM workers to the Pakistan government, concluding a “pattern of specific targeting” of the MQM by Rangers, which the paramilitary force denies.

Before the 2013 operation, law enforcement agencies and many Karachi residents accused the MQM of racketeering, the abduction, torture and murder of opponents and holding the city to ransom by calling mass strikes at will.

On Wednesday, the MQM’s Qasim Ali Raza denied that the party had any links to separatists or attacks in Sindh and urged the state to stop the “blind and fraudulent” process of blaming the party. 

The Karachi-based political analyst, Mazhar Abbas, said that a nexus between the MQM and separatist groups, if it existed, would not work. 

“The workers of MQM neither accepted the alliance with Sindhi nationalists (in the past),” he said, “nor will they subscribe to the current idea of a friendship.”

Other analysts said that there was as yet no “solid” evidence to claim the nexus existed. 

“Politically, there has been some closeness between Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, but speaking about a military nexus, one needs to have solid evidence at hand,” said Sohail Sangi, a Karachi-based analyst who closely observes separatist groups.

However, Anwar Sajjadi, a Quetta-based security analyst, said that he believed a growing nexus was a possibility, adding it was no coincidence that Sindhi groups had recently started voicing opposition to Chinese projects being built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) umbrella, which Baloch groups have long opposed.

“We have seen uniformity in their stances,” Sajjadi said. “Same stance on CPEC and other (rights) issues is bringing all these groups closer.”


Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council

Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council
Updated 2 min 9 sec ago

Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council

Grave concerns raised about China at UN rights council

GENEVA: More than 40 countries led by Canada voiced grave concerns at the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday about China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet — triggering a fierce backlash from Beijing.
The widely anticipated joint statement had been in the pipeline for several days and was delivered on day two of the 47th session of the council in Geneva.
“We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” Canada’s ambassador Leslie Norton said.
The statement was backed by Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States, among others.
Beijing must allow UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet and other independent observers “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to Xinjiang, and end the “arbitrary detention” of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, it said.
“Credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and that there is widespread surveillance disproportionately targeting Uyghurs and members of other minorities and restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Uyghur culture,” it said.
The statement cited reports of torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children from their parents.
The number of signatories is an increase from the 22 ambassadors who wrote to Bachelet in 2019 condemning China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.
China denies mistreating the Uyghurs, once a clear majority in their ancestral homeland until the state helped waves of ethnic Han Chinese migrate there. Beijing insists it is simply running vocational training centers designed to counter extremism.
Bachelet told the council on Monday she hoped at last to visit Xinjiang this year and be given “meaningful access.”
Tuesday’s statement was bound to further enrage Beijing, which decries what it says is the interference by foreign powers in its internal affairs.
The joint declaration also expressed concern over the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet.
The move came after US President Joe Biden’s first foreign trip, in which he garnered G7 and NATO unity in pushing back against Beijing, with Washington identifying China as the pre-eminent global challenge.
The statement “sends a crucial message to China’s authorities that they are not above international scrutiny,” said Agnes Callamard, head of the rights group Amnesty International.
But countries “must now move beyond handwringing and take real action,” she added.

Aware that the statement was coming, China had responded before it was even delivered.
Beijing’s representative read out a statement on behalf of a group of countries “deeply concerned about serious human rights violations against the indigenous people in Canada.”
Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Venezuela were among the co-signatories, according to the United Nations.
“Historically, Canada robbed the indigenous people of their land, killed them, and eradicated their culture,” the statement said.
It referenced the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in western Canada — one of many boarding schools set up a century ago to forcibly assimilate Canada’s indigenous peoples.
“We call for a thorough and impartial investigation into all cases where crimes were committed against the indigenous people, especially children,” the statement said.
The representative of Belarus read another joint statement on behalf of 64 countries, supporting China and stressing that Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet were Chinese internal affairs.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada had acknowledged and was seeking to make amends for wronging its indigenous peoples.
“In Canada, we had a truth and reconciliation commission,” he told journalists. “Where is China’s truth and reconciliation commission. Where is their truth?
“The journey of reconciliation is a long one, but it is a journey we are on,” he said. “China is not recognizing even that there is a problem.
“That is a pretty fundamental difference and that is why Canadians and people from around the world are speaking up for people like the Uyghurs who find themselves voiceless, faced with a government that will not recognize what’s happening to them.”

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash
Updated 5 min 19 sec ago

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash

Kobe Bryant’s widow to settle lawsuit over deadly crash
  • The former NBA star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020
  • The settlement agreement would end legal action against the pilot's estate and the helicopter company

LOS ANGELES: Kobe Bryant’s widow has agreed to settle a lawsuit against the pilot and owners of the helicopter that crashed last year, killing the NBA star, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Vanessa Bryant, her children and relatives of other victims filed a settlement agreement notice Tuesday with a federal judge in Los Angeles but terms of the confidential deal weren’t disclosed.
If approved by the court, the settlement — first announced by KABC-TV — would end a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed against the estate of the pilot and the owner and operator of the helicopter that crashed into a hillside on Jan. 26, 2020.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six other passengers were flying from Orange County to a youth basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy in Ventura County. The helicopter encountered thick fog in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.
Pilot Ara Zobayan climbed sharply and had nearly broken through the clouds when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter banked abruptly and plunged into the Calabasas hills below, killing all nine aboard instantly before flames engulfed the wreckage.
The others killed were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach his daughter’s basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report in February that blamed pilot error for the crash. The NTSB said a series of poor decisions led Zobayan to fly blindly into a wall of clouds where he became so disoriented he thought he was climbing when the craft was plunging.
The agency also faulted Island Express Helicopters Inc. for inadequate review and oversight of safety matters.
The settlement agreement would end legal action against Zobayan’s estate, Island Express Helicopters Inc. and its owner, Island Express Holding Corp. The suit alleged the companies didn’t properly train or supervise Zobayan and that the pilot was careless and negligent to fly in fog and should have aborted the flight.
Island Express Helicopters has denied responsibility and said the crash was “an act of God” it couldn’t control. It countersued two Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, saying the crash was caused by their “series of erroneous acts and/or omissions.”
The settlement agreement wouldn’t include the countersuit against the federal government.

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo police hold off supporters of Donald Trump who tried to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

US House Speaker Pelosi signals new panel to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot
  • A new select committee would put majority Democrats in charge of the investigation

WASHINGTON: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling that she is poised to create a new committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, pushing closer to a partisan investigation of the attack after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of an independent probe.
A person familiar with the matter said after a meeting with Democrats that Pelosi had told her colleagues that she would create a select panel. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private remarks. But Pelosi later denied that, telling reporters, “No, I did not make that announcement.”
The new committee would come after the Senate voted earlier this month to block legislation to form a bipartisan, independent commission investigating the attack by former President Donald Trump’s supporters. Pelosi said afterward that the House would step up investigations of the riot, in which a violent mob overran police, broke into the building and hunted for lawmakers to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
A new select committee would put majority Democrats in charge of the investigation. More than three dozen Republicans in the House and seven Senate Republicans said they wanted to avoid a partisan probe, and they supported the legislation to form a commission, which would have been modeled after a similar panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Still, those numbers weren’t strong enough to overcome GOP opposition in the Senate, where support from 10 Republicans is needed to pass most bills if all Democrats vote yes. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he may hold a second vote after the legislation failed to advance last month, but there’s no indication that Democrats can win the necessary support from three additional Republicans.
Pelosi said earlier this month that the House “can’t wait any longer” and would proceed with a probe. She said then that she was considering a select committee or having an existing committee conduct the investigation.
Many Republicans have made clear that they want to move on from the Jan. 6 attack, brushing aside the many unanswered questions about the insurrection, including how the government and law enforcement missed intelligence leading up to the rioting and the role of Trump before and during the insurrection.
Some Republicans have gone so far as to downplay the violence, with one suggesting the rioters looked like tourists and another insisting that a woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed that day while trying to break into the House chamber through a window was “executed.”
Last week, 21 Republicans voted against giving medals of honor to Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police to thank them for their service that day. Dozens of those officers suffered injuries, including chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones.
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including Babbitt, three other Trump supporters who died of medical emergencies and two police officers who died by suicide in the days that followed. A third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, left, with former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah during a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 23 June 2021

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit

Kashmiri politician urges India to hold talks with Pakistan ahead of crucial summit
  • ‘If New Delhi can talk to the Taliban, they can talk to us, too,’ says former chief minister

NEW DELHI: Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti has called on New Delhi to launch discussions with Pakistan to resolve issues in the disputed region, likening the move to India’s reported role in the intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar.

“If they (Indian officials) can go to Doha and talk to the Taliban, they should have a dialogue with us and with Pakistan, too, to bring about a resolution,” Mufti, who is also president of the People’s Democratic Party, told a press conference on Tuesday.
Local media reports on Monday quoted a senior Qatari diplomat involved in the Afghan peace process as saying that Indian officials were engaged in talks with the Taliban.
Mufti’s remarks came ahead of a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, summoning major parties from the region to discuss the political roadmap of Jammu and Kashmir.
Seven leading pro-Indian Kashmiri parties, under the banner of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declarations (PAGD), accepted Modi’s invitation on Tuesday.
Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah of Kashmir’s oldest political party, the People’s Conference (PC), and Mufti will attend Thursday’s meeting on behalf of the PAGD.
The talks will be the first major interaction between New Delhi and Kashmir-based political parties in the three years since Modi’s government annulled the region’s special constitutional status.
In a dramatic move in August 2019, India scrapped the region’s constitutional autonomy. It withdrew Kashmiris’ exclusive rights before placing the territory under curfew for several months, and detaining hundreds of political workers and activists. Most political activists and leaders, including Mufti and Abdullah, were put under house arrest for more than a year.
New Delhi also divided the state into two federally administered union territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The PAGD was formed ahead of the move in August 2019 to restore Kashmir’s constitutional rights, a condition reiterated by Mufti and other leaders on Tuesday, amid reports that New Delhi might restore Kashmir’s statehood.
“Statehood is the prime minister’s own commitment. They won’t be doing us a favor by giving us statehood back. The PAGD was formed for the restoration of what was taken away from us on Aug. 5, 2019,” Mufti said.
Mufti, who was Jammu and Kashmir chief minister in alliance with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) till June 2018, added that she favored dialogue to resolve the issue before demanding the release of all political prisoners to “create an atmosphere for talks.”
“There are many who are still in jail. We will also seek immediate shifting of prisoners back to J&K jails from various Indian prisons,” she added.
There is no declared agenda for Thursday’s meeting. However, Kashmir’s political parties said they would voice “concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”
“Our concerns are constitutional rights which have been arbitrarily withdrawn and the downgrading of Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory,” PAGD spokesperson Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami told Arab News.
“What New Delhi did with us was not necessary and has proved counterproductive,” he added.
Abdul Ghani Bhatt, leader of the Kashmir-based pro-freedom alliance the All Party Hurriyat Conference, declined to comment on the meeting when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.
However, political experts are pessimistic about the outcome of the talks.
“What can New Delhi offer to the political parties in Kashmir now?” Subhash Chander Gupta, a Jammu-based lawyer and political analyst, said.
“New Delhi’s decision to disturb the status quo in Kashmir was not well thought out. The reality is that people in Jammu feel lost and without any power after the loss of Kashmir’s special status,” Gupta said, adding he doubted Kashmir’s special status will be restored.
“The ruling BJP will have to pay politically if they go back on their stand on Kashmir. They will lose the rest of India if they do that,” he said.

Mauritanian ex-leader facing graft charges jailed

Mauritanian ex-leader facing graft charges jailed
Updated 23 June 2021

Mauritanian ex-leader facing graft charges jailed

Mauritanian ex-leader facing graft charges jailed
  • Aziz ruled the conservative West African state from 2008 to mid-2019
  • He claims he is being persecuted in a bid to keep him out of politics

NOUAKCHOTT: Mauritania’s former president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was jailed on Tuesday after a judge in charge of a corruption probe ordered his incarceration, his party and prosecutors said.
A prosecutor speaking on condition of anonymity and the spokesman of the former president’s party Djibril Ould Bilal confirmed his detention without citing the reason.
Aziz has twice gone before a magistrate investigating the case since the charges, including money laundering, were brought in March.
The move comes days after the former leader refused to continue reporting to police after being put under house arrest.
Aziz ruled the conservative West African state from 2008 to mid-2019, when he was succeeded by his former right-hand man and ex-defense minister, Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani.
The ex-president has said he is being persecuted in a bid to keep him out of politics, but has vowed he will not go into exile.
Aziz joined a small opposition party, Ribat National, in April in an attempt to salvage his political career after being expelled from the ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) party, which he had founded.
The 64-year-old former general who came to power in a coup already had to report to police three times a week and to seek approval before leaving the capital.
The charges followed a year-long probe initiated by parliament into the handling of oil revenue, the sale of state property, the winding up of a publicly owned food-supply company and the activities of a Chinese fishing firm.
A state prosecutor involved with the investigation in March said cash and assets worth the equivalent of about 96 million euros ($115 million) had been seized.