ISLAMABAD: The For­eign Office has categorically stated that Pakistan does not attack dissidents residing overseas, in an apparent response to accusations by Shahzad Akbar, former adviser on interior and accountability during the PTI government.

Mr Akbar has initiated legal action against the Pakistan government in the UK — where he now lives — over an acid attack outside his residence in London last year. The att­ack, by an unidentified motorcyclist, on Nov 26 resulted in acid burns to the head and his arm. He had alleged that Pakistani military intelligence officials had orchestrated the attack.

“We categorically reject the allegations made by Mr Shahzad Akbar against the state of Pakistan and its institutions and agencies,” FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday.

She dismissed the allegations as “baseless and politically motivated”.

“It is not the policy of Pakistan to target its own nationals abroad,” the spokesperson clarified, noting that many high-profile dissidents have lived in the UK for decades, including fierce critics and those “maintaining ties with terrorist groups inside Pakistan”.

“Pakistan has not engaged in any extra-territorial acts against these individuals. So, Mr Shahzad Akbar’s claims are simply preposterous.”

Ms Baloch, however, pointed to media reports regarding India’s involvement in killings of dissidents overseas and urged the international community to hold the country accountable.

The spokesperson stated that India’s network, which engaged in espionage, subversion and extra-territorial and extrajudicial killings and remained active in South Asia for decades, has now spread across several continents, raising concerns internationally.

Pakistan has provided solid evidence of Indian agents’ involvement in terrorist attacks within Pakistan and the extra-territorial and extrajudicial killings of Pakistani nationals, she added.

“These acts are illegal. These are a violation of international law, of the UN Charter and the basic precepts of justice and due process.”

‘No plans to offer bases’

Replying to another query, Ms Baloch denied that Pakistan had handed over any bases to a foreign government.

“Pakistan has no plans to offer bases to a foreign government or military directed against anyone,” she said when asked to comment on claims by PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat.

The PTI legislator had claimed that the bases had been provided to the US, following which the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Omar Ayub Khan, sought an explanation from the government during a speech in the house last week.

“This speculation is completely unfounded, and we reject it,” the spokesperson said.

During the War on Terror, Pakistan had permitted the US to use Shamsi Airbase in Balochistan. The airbase remained critical for the US forces’ drone operations.

However, Islamabad asked the US to vacate the airbase in Nov 2011 following an attack by US forces on the Salala border post in which 24 troops were martyred.

Speculations about the US seeking Pakistani bases resurfaced following its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. However, Islamabad has repeatedly asserted that no military bases would be provided to the US for operations.

Pro-Palestine protests

The spokesperson also regretted the heckling of German Ambassador Alfred Grannas during a programme in Lahore last week.

The envoy was addressing the Asma Jahangir Conference on civil rights in Lahore when an audience member interrupted the speech and challenged the German government’s stance on Palestinian rights and accused him of hypocrisy.

“The late Asma Jahangir stood for the freedom of expression and opinion throughout her life,” Ms Baloch noted and underscored the importance of such liberties at an event meant to honour her legacy.

The spokesperson, however, agreed that the ongoing genocide in Gaza “has heightened passions around the world, including in Pakistan”.

She hoped that the incident would “encourage reflection and initiate a constructive dialogue” on the perceived selectivity and double standards in international human rights practices.

When asked to comment on pro-Palestine protests in the US, Ms Baloch refused, stating the policy of not commenting on internal affairs of other countries.

However, she observed that “people of conscience around the world are concerned about the situation and are making their voices heard”.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2024

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