WASHINGTON: The United States has assured Pakistan that it does not support any group threatening the country’s territorial integrity, a traditional US position re-emphasised following a recent advertising campaign targeting Islamabad.
“We took it up with the State Department and they assured us that they continue to support Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as strongly as they always have,” said Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary.
He noted that during a recent visit to Islamabad, US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells gave a similar assurance to Pakistani officials, telling them that the “US considers Pakistan’s enemy as its own enemy”.
The ambassador said that some “negative posters and billboards” had appeared in New York, including some on cabs and were removed when Pakistan protested. Similar signs appeared on a few cabs in Washington, “but only for a short while”, he added.
Pakistan reacted strongly to the campaign, raising it with the State Department as well as with other US government agencies that assured Pakistan that the groups behind these campaigns had no support from any US agency. They were using the space provided by US freedom of expression laws to propagate their views, US officials added.
‘FreeKarachi’ media drive under way in America
Similar advertisements had appeared in London and Geneva and Pakistan was able to get them removed.
Ambassador Chaudhary said people behind such campaigns had “no support, no voice”, either in Pakistan or abroad. “But there are unknown hands behind it, having their own agenda,” he said.
“[These] forces [are] not in this country [the United States] but linked to our eastern neighbours, as we saw in the recent past,” said Mr Chaudhary when asked to identify the hidden hand.
The ambassador pointed out that Balochistan had an elected government and there had been “unprecedented economic development” in the province, which “exposes the hollowness of the propaganda” conducted by these tiny groups on outside encouragement.
But a recent, anti-establishment campaign shows that the ongoing tension between the United States and Pakistan has created new space for such groups, who are now putting up billboards, posters and newspaper ads to project their views.
The campaign began with “Free Balochistan” signs on a number of yellow taxicabs — 100 according to the World Baloch Organisation — in New York last month. And it came to the US capital this week when “FreeKarachi” signs appeared on some Washington cabs.
On Thursday, a local newspaper — the Washington Times — distributed a wrap with its regular edition, repeating the demand for a “Free Karachi”.
The “Free Balochistan” campaign, which came to US cities from London and Geneva, was handled by a private advertising agency called Clear Channel Outdoor. But it’s not clear if the agency is also involved in the Karachi campaign.
“It’s very disturbing. Obviously, hiring a mainstream advertising agency requires a lot of money and somebody is providing that money,” said M. Ali, a Pakistani-American businessman who has been involved in charity campaigns.
“Charities are fine. But turning political grievances into a commercial campaign is dangerous. Anyone with funds can start a campaign. There’s no end to it,” he said. “There are many financers with grievances against various states.”
The advertising agency, when contacted by Dawn, refused to respond.
A press release from the so-called Free Karachi campaign claimed that Nadeem Nusrat, the US-based former convener of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London is the main spokesperson for this campaign.
The group said it launched the campaign on Jan 15, when America observes the Martin Luther King Jr Day, to link it with the human rights champion.
The Washington Times wrap called for ending disappearances of political activists and alleged abuses of human rights in Pakistan. It also demanded justice for Prof Hasan Zafar Arif, identifying him as an MQM leader.
Talking to Pakistani journalists in New York, Nusrat said they were not demanding Karachi’s separation from the Pakistani state. “The campaign is against atrocities and abuses,” he claimed.
“We want this campaign of terror — not just against Muhajirs but [also] against the Baloch, Sindhis and other ethnic and religious minorities — to end.”
He claimed that if the rulers stopped terrorising people, “all groups, including Muhajirs and the Baloch, can be reunited with the mainstream”.