RAW’s hijacking plans

By Malik Siraj Akbar

A state of “high alert” was declared in all airports of Balochistan, including Quetta, after intelligence reports provided to Airport Security Force (ASF) suggested that the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was planning to hijack a plane of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The security was further beefed for the second day on Monday as it seemed that the threat was still not over.

While much has been said in the past about alleged Indian involvement in the prevailing unrest in Balochistan, it was the first time that a prior warning was issued by the authorities of a possible airline hijacking sponsored by the Indian intelligence agency. It was a clear and loud message delivered to a vast audience. Officials have not disclosed much about the authenticity of the intelligence information provided regarding such an unpleasant development. However, the declaration of a state of ‘high alert’ has surely scared the citizens, mainly the passengers traveling by air from and to Quetta and different destinations in Balochistan.

Earlier on January 1st this year, Pakistani officials had claimed they have captured an “Indian agent” from Qila Saifullah district of Balochistan. They identified the suspect as Abdul Salam, an Afghan national, and added that they had also recovered important documents and maps from the Afghan refugee’s custody. Lahore-based Daily Times quoted an official as saying, “we believe he works for RAW. He entered Pakistan via Afghanistan and hid himself in a refugee camp.” What happened to him? Nobody knows.

The issue of Indian involvement in Balochistan has been broached by country’s big guns like Interior Minister Rehman Malik, federal minister Humayun Aziz Kurd, Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and former prime minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. On the other hand, the governor and chief minister of Balochistan have refrained from making such allegations on India. Similarly, the inspector General of Frontier Corps Major General Saleem Nawaz has time and again held “India-sponsored nationalists operating from Kabul” responsible for the ongoing armed resistance movement. All these officials have had one thing in common: Allegations sans evidence.

When former education minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan was killed in Quetta city by the shadowy outfit Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), the provincial chief of Pakistan People’s Party Senator Lashkari Raisani had publicly stated that the minister had been shot dead because of his vocal anti-India stance. Thus, he tired to argue that the education minister was “punished” for speaking against India. If what Senator Raisani said was true then it was safe to conclude that India had (literally) reached our doorsteps. (Shafiq was killed outside his home).

The issue of alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan was also raised by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani with his Indian counterpart in July last year during their meeting at Egyptian resort Sharm-ul-Shiek. Though there was an outcry in India by the media and political pressure groups about the Indian PM’s willingness to allow Balochistan to be mentioned in the joint declaration, pressure groups in Pakistan, on the other hand, considered it as a major foreign policy success to convince India to agree to talk about its alleged role in Balochistan.

Since Islamabad has not made public any kind of evidence, fear and speculations about the nature of Indian involvement are continuously increasing. The Baloch nationalists have ruled out the possibility of Indian support as many times as these allegations were repeated from the official quarters. The Balochs insist that they are fighting an indigenous struggle without any foreign assistance. Political pundits insist that there may not be sizeable Indian involvement in the province at the moment. But flawed and oppressive government polices in Balochistan make the province vulnerable to such exploitation by foreign forces, including India.

If Indian intelligence agency was truly planning to hijack a PIA airline from Balochistan then it is definitely a matter of concern. This will not only awfully impact the already aloof relationship between the two countries but will also engulf the innocent civilians. People on both sides of the border want improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries. They are opposed to the ongoing cold war between Islamabad and New Delhi. Nonetheless, public opinion regarding improvement of relations may drastically shift if rivalries between the arch rivals culminate into a hijacking of an airline carrying civilian passengers from either of the countries.

In a highly politicized culture of Balochistan, people have by now learnt to question every government statement and policy. Many in Balochistan may not blindly digest the official stance. This rationalist school of thought believes that the government is trying to divert attention from the recent killing of two Baloch political activists in Khuzdar reportedly by the Frontier Corps (FC) by staging such dramas from time to time.

If this assumption is correct, which sounds convincing too, then the government should stop holding foreign hands for its own weaknesses. The government must improve the performance of its intelligence agencies and security forces to professionally perform their jobs rather than always putting the blame on RAW, Blackwater or CIA for every violent case reported in the country.

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