Image courtesy: Event page

Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) had today arranged a session titled ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ meant to highlight the human rights issues in Pakistan’s largest province. The session was called off after the university administration was allegedly pressured by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to call off the session.

Taimur Rehman, a LUMS faculty member, commented on the issue, “A delegation from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) visited LUMS in the evening and presented a letter calling for cancellation of the talks. They said that Balochistan is a sensitive issue and that the moot could be used to malign Pakistan.”

Soon after the session was cancelled, a concerted social media campaign was launched under the hashtag ‘#ShameonLums.’ The tweets on the hashtag spin off the long-time conspiracy theories about Baloch activists being backed by foreign elements, trying to portray them as anti-Pakistan. Naturally, none of the vociferous declarations were accompanied by any proof whatsoever and the hashtag is meant to mull support for the army’s arm-twisting and unconstitutional methods curbing free speech in an academic institution.

This tweet, for instance, claims that Mama Qadeer is an agent of the Indian intelligence agency, RAW:

Another user puts up image of Baloch separatists and tries to equate them to Baloch activists who believe in peaceful protest against human rights violations:

The panel featured notable human rights activists and academics who are concerned about the situation in Balochitan. One of the panelist is Mama Qadeer, a 72- year old Baloch activist who was part of 700 Kms long-march on foot from Balochistan to the capital to raise the issue of missing persons. Qadeer was recently barred from leaving Pakistan to attend an international conference on human rights. At the time, he had vowed that he would take the legal course to ask the state why it did so.

The panel also featured Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, one of the leading Baloch rights activists. Other academics and activists invited to the talk included Farzana Majeed, Aasim Sajjad and Sajjad Changezi.

Commenting on the cacellation of the event, Sajjad Changezi tweeted:

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur tweeted:

As part of LUMS Department of Humanities and Social Sciences’ “Remapping Justice: On Human Rights in Pakistan”, the session was meant to be an academic discussion seeking to understand the Baloch issue and address it.

Commenting on the incident, Rehman further said, “The talks were aimed at understanding the Balochistan issue and discussing ways on how to resolve the longstanding problems of the Baloch people. It was supposed to be an academic discussion, which was muzzled for no good reason.

“This is violation of academic freedom and a curb on freedom of speech. The Baloch also have a right to express their reservations, which would help us in reaching a logical solution to the issues facing the province.”

It is sad to see the army stepping up to curb any constructive discussion on the Baloch issue. There have been various allegations of Baloch activists being anti-Pakistan and anti-establishment and this is not the first time these claims have been made, but the army and intelligence agencies have failed to provide any proof to that end in any court of law.

Moreover, the present tactics deployed by the establishment to force the Baloch issue out of the mainstream narrative, is unconstitutional and directly in variance with Pakistani law. It is this that is detrimental to the national security of Pakistan since it puts the key to the Baloch problem in the hands of Pakistan’s military, and not the people.