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Overreaction to posters

September 23, 2017

THE issue over the ‘Free Balochistan’ posters put up in an area of Geneva some weeks ago apparently by Baloch separatists has been dialled up a notch. A day after Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani — a legislator otherwise known for a considered approach to various issues — demanded that the Swiss ambassador to Pakistan be expelled, the upper house on Thursday suspended its Pakistan-Switzerland friendship group for an indefinite period. Tempers have been running high in parliament even since the matter came to light a few days when Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN drew the attention of his Swiss counterpart to the display of the offending banners, and asked that the matter be investigated. Legislators in Pakistan have alleged that the Swiss government, by allowing its soil to be used by Baloch separatists to instigate violence in Pakistan, is acting in violation of UN Security Council resolutions to curtail the activities of terrorist groups.

Surely our rulers cannot believe that anything can be achieved by this brouhaha, which has the potential to earn Pakistan the derision of the international community. Freedom of speech is a legally protected right in many Western countries; it forms the bedrock of their society and politics. The Swiss government cannot bend the law to its will, or make exceptions at its convenience for those who protest loudly. Perhaps that is where our legislators’ bewilderment at such ‘inaction’ comes in, because they are so accustomed to curtailing the right to freedom of speech in Pakistan whenever it suits them. Also, many organisations — however legitimate the state’s reasons for banning them, given their record of violence against innocent civilians in this country — are not on the UN list of designated terrorist groups. Switzerland is thus not violating international law in the matter. Instead of reacting in a fit of pique, and creating unnecessary rifts with a friendly country, Pakistan would do better to let this matter subside quietly.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2017