It has been revealed that Uzair Baloch is 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 Major General Asif Ghafoor, director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, written on April 11, 2017.
This development is seen as connected with the death penalty awarded to Kulbhushan Jadhav by a Field General Court Martial a day earlier on charges of fomenting sabotage in Balochistan on the orders of Indian intelligence.
The Joint Investigation Team comprising both military and civilian officials that investigated Baloch’s case claims he was providing information on sensitive military installations and officials to Iranian intelligence. Baloch is reported to have escaped to Iran after a crackdown on criminal gangs and the erstwhile Peoples’ Aman Committee in Lyari, Karachi, in 2012. He reportedly found refuge in Chabahar where Jadhav is alleged to have set up an intelligence network.
But the reports are not clear how and when the alleged Uzair nexus between Baloch and Iranian Intelligence transformed into cooperation with Jadhav’s network.
In a press conference on April 14, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz laid out the charges against Jadhav. They centre on him sponsoring and directing attacks in Gwadar, Turbat, Jiwani, Sibi, Sui, Quetta, Panjgur and Pasni. In the process, radar stations, civilian boats, gas pipelines and electric pylons were attacked and in some cases destroyed. Jadhav is also charged with abetting attacks against law enforcement agencies, the Frontier Corps and Frontier Works Organisation. However, Aziz did not present evidence regarding any of these charges.
The matter of Jadhav and the death penalty awarded to him for espionage has raised the temperature of our already fraught ties with India. Within Pakistan, however, there is no dearth of sceptics who question the veracity of the story around Baloch and his claimed ‘confession’, not to mention the ‘convenient’ conflation of his 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 accept the officially certified truth in this regard without question.
Jadhav may be an Indian agent but Baloch was a Lyari gang leader supported by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), until their falling out. 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 reinforce the narrative about India’s alleged involvement in subversive activities in Balochistan, while on the other, linking Baloch with Jadhav could prove to be another convenient stick to beat the PPP and its leadership with.
Given the cloak of secrecy and the possibility of ‘spin’ around the whole affair, the truth, as it often happens in such grey areas, may well never be satisfactorily known.
This article was originally published in the Herald's May 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is a veteran journalist who has held senior editorial positions at a number of daily newspapers.