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Murtaza Ali Sha

Wajid Ali Syed

January 15, 2018

LONDON/WASHINGTON: Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's close aide and Bhartiya Janata Party's New Delhi spokesperson has eerie links to the expensive advertisements that sprung up in two major international cities across the world to malign Pakistan.

The so-called 'Free Balochistan campaign' adverts appeared one after another in London and then New York bearing similar language, content and graphics on billboards and messages splashed across taxicabs. The malicious campaign, apparently, started off in New Delhi, where a group led by Modi's aide Tajindra Pal Singh Bagga defaced walls around the Pakistan High Commission and pasted posters demanding an end to the alleged human rights violations in Balochistan. Around that time, Tajindra Bagga was appointed as spokesperson of the ruling BJP in New Delhi.

A Baloch source familiar with the campaign says that Bagga has links with the campaign's international advertisements. Bagga owned up the New Delhi vandalisation. "Even my name was up there on those posters," he said, adding that the international advertisements might just have been inspired by his campaign, now that he has managed to get prominence.

Bagga denied having any contacts with Baloch separatists or separatist organisation in this regard while also boasting that he has been campaigning for the last five years and held a seminar on Balochistan as well.

Bagga has Narendra Modi as one of his followers on Twitter. The Indian prime minister had even hosted Bagga along with other pro-right media influencers at his official residence in an event called '#super150.' He and his colleagues claim credit for attacking Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani and Arundhati Roy for speaking up for the rights of Indian-held Kashmiris. Bagga has been supported in such campaigns by the Hindtva groups and leadership of the BJP. Dozens of social media posts were run by the BJP leaders for several days to popularise the campaigns. Some exiled Baloch activists also supported Bagga's campaign and congratulated him on initiating anti-Pakistan campaign.

The campaign on London streets and its transport network was rolled out by the World Baloch Organisation. The WBO's Bahawal Mengal, nephew of Baloch nationalist leaders Mehran Marri and Akhtar Mengal, and son of Javed Akhtar Mengal, has publicly owned the international advertisements stating that he was doing so to highlight the "case of Balochistan".

When the Transport for London (TfL) suspended some of the advertisements after a strong protest from Pakistani authorities, the WBO and Bahawal Mengal issued several statements and condemned the TfL for overturning the campaign. He also announced that he was funding and publicising the campaign in New York.

Massive billboards at the New York's Times Square and advertisements on local transport vehicles sprung up towards the end of December. The Pakistan Embassy officials were expecting this campaign, and they said they had notified the State authorities in advance but were helpless to respond effectively.

"The embassy came to know about the campaign which appears to be a continuity of the malicious stratagem that was on display in other cosmopolitan cities across the world a few months back," one of the high-level officials told The News hoping that the campaign will miserably fail just as before. "We have been in contact with the State Department and other subsidiaries to limit the campaign and not let it expand to other cities," the official said, adding, "Our stance is absolute that in the garb of freedom of expression, American land should not be allowed to use against Pakistan's autonomy and territorial integrity."

After enormous haggling from the Pakistani side, the UK Foreign Office and TfL ordered the removal of the advertisements, but the Pakistani officials could not convince the Americans to stop the ads. The US laws strongly believe in the freedom to voice your concerns, and it works like a charm if the said concern is paid to be displayed as an advertisement.

The Pakistani consulate in New York backed the position of its Embassy in Washington that the US authorities were engaged in advance to curtail the campaign. A high level official at the consulate confirmed that his office had a meeting with the Office of Foreign Mission and an investigation into the matter has been promised. The official, requesting not to be named here, maintained that the OFM was also asked to inquire why such a campaign was allowed. The consulate official says that his office wants to meet up with the mayor of New York City, as well as the governor of the New York state to raise the issue. The consulate also plans to hold a meeting with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a city government's agency that deals with licences and regulates taxis and for-hire vehicles industries.

Mehran Marri, who was recently denied entry in Switzerland, has denied having any links with this campaign and sources close to Akhtar Mengal have said that the Baloch politician has nothing to do with these activities


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