What lies behind Pakistani charges of Indian 'terrorism'

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Rebels in Balochistan (picture from 2006)Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Baloch separatists have been waging a bitter war against the Pakistani army for years (image from 2006)

Why would Pakistan's army accuse Indian intelligence of "whipping up terrorism" in Pakistan?

The accusation levelled at India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) came in a statement issued by the army's media wing. There was no mention of any specific incident, but privately military officials have been blaming India for involvement in a separatist insurgency in Pakistan's south-western province of Balochistan.

Many say it is probably the first time a Pakistani authority outside political or diplomatic spheres has publicly named an Indian institution in this manner.

They see this assertiveness as a sign of the Pakistani army's growing willingness to be seen to be dictating the country's foreign and national security policies.

It comes as the army tries to face the triple threat of the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch insurgents and a complicated mix of urban crime, ethnic, linguistic, religious, sectarian and political rivalries in the country's biggest city, Karachi.

It also indicates a toughening of Pakistan's position against India at a time when the Pakistani army is emerging as one of the chief guarantors of peace in Afghanistan, in partnership with China.

Any failure to deliver on this score is likely to weaken Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, an apparent ally of Pakistan, and strengthen pro-India forces in Kabul.

Conversely, any arm-twisting by the military to force the Afghan Taliban to the dialogue table may antagonise them and thereby deprive Islamabad of a proxy to check the spread of Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Image source, Facebook
Image caption,
Abdul Qadeer Baloch campaigns for the families of those who have disappeared in conflicts

Pakistan has long accused India of fuelling insurgency in Balochistan. Officials say Indian spies are operating through a network of Indian missions dotting southern and eastern Afghanistan, where most Baloch insurgents are also based.

The military believes India also has involvement in Karachi, Pakistan's largest and most volatile city. This suggestion comes from a recent claim by a senior police officer - believed to be the mouthpiece of the military - that RAW helped a Karachi-based party.

Observers say the Pakistani army has been soft-pedalling in the fight against the Afghan Taliban as well as anti-India militant groups based in Pakistan, but it has come down hard on Baloch insurgents and political activists.

Over the years, hundreds of Baloch activists have gone missing, most of them turning up dead on the streets or across the vast wilderness of the province. Locals blame all these disappearances and killings on the army and its surrogate groups, a charge the army denies.

More recently, however, it has moved more openly to curb movement and debate by Baloch rights activists.

In March, authorities at Karachi airport stopped three Baloch activists from proceeding to New York to participate in a seminar on human rights violations in Balochistan and Sindh province.

One of them was Mama Qadeer, a 70-year-old Baloch rights activist who shot to fame when he walked 3,000km (1,860 miles) from Quetta to Islamabad last year to protest over killings in Balochistan.

In April, two men introducing themselves as ISI operatives handed a written "order" to the management of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), asking it to cancel a talk which featured Mama Qadeer.

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The murder of Sabeen Mehmud provoked outrage from civil society

While LUMS gave in, on 25 April a similar talk went ahead at The Second Floor (T2F), a tea house-cum-book store in Karachi, despite what some activists claim were "warnings" not to hold the event.

Within an hour, the moderator of that talk and head of T2F, Sabeen Mehmud, 40, was shot dead by unknown gunmen while driving home in her car.

The incident sparked protests across the country, with civil society groups and several newspaper columnists accusing the ISI directly or more subtly for the murder.

The pressure grew so much that the army had to issue a separate statement condemning Ms Mehmud's murder, apparently to distance itself from the incident.

Many believe the army's latest statement about RAW may be equally meant to deflect this wave of public criticism.