Pakistan’s ISI is a past master at political assassinations!
The end-November 2023 acid attack on former Shehzad Akbar at his London home by suspected ISI agents is a stark reminder that Pakistan’s military does not tolerate those who question the deep state. Soon after the incident a senior Tory MP claimed that the attack was carried out by an agent of the ISI. Shahzad Akbar, who sought refuge in the UK after leading Pakistan’s efforts to combat corruption and was an outspoken opponent of the government, said he was saved by his spectacles, which were badly damaged. Akbar described how the attack was launched in front of his four-year-old daughter and left him with acid burns on an arm and the top of his head. David Davis, a Tory MP and former cabinet minister said foreign secretary Lord David Cameron should summon Pakistan’s high commissioner over the incident. While Pakistan has promptly denied any role in the incident, a perusal of their record shows that the hands of the deep state are not all clean when it comes to political assassinations and killings.
“The circumstantial evidence that this attack was conducted at the behest of the ISI is persuasive,” Mr Davis said. “The Pakistanis have to understand that whatever the standards of law at home, they cannot be allowed to attack British residents on British soil. “The foreign secretary should summon the high commissioner and demand an explanation.” Likening the incident to the poisonings of Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018, he said such behaviour would be “no more acceptable from the Pakistanis than from the Russians”. Akbar, who read law at Newcastle University (UK) and is a member of the English bar, was appointed head of the Asset Recovery Unit by former Prime Minister Imran Khan when he became Prime Minister in 2018, spearheading high-profile attempts to investigate officials and politicians suspected of stealing millions and aiming to return the money to the Pakistani treasury.
At a recent Pak MoFA media briefing, Farhan Ali of Public News raised a question about the acid attack in London on Shahzad Akbar. Akbar, according to the journalist, also made allegations of involvement of Pakistani institutions. The MoFA spokesperson, inter alia, responded to this query by saying that “We reject any insinuations of Pakistan’s involvement and that of Pakistani agencies in such a heinous attack. It is not our policy to target our own nationals abroad. Many political dissidents have sought political asylum and have been living in the United Kingdom and other countries around the world for several decades and they have indulged in vitriolic and often undue criticism of Pakistani government and institutions. Many of them have had links with terrorist entities inside Pakistan. Pakistan has not engaged in any extra-territorial attacks against such individuals”. To say the least this was only diplomatic answer that one could have expected from Pakistan! The reality as the world knows is quite the opposite.
To stay on the Shahzad Akbar case, it would be recalled that in May 2023, the ISI kidnapped his brother Murad from his home in Islamabad and held him without charge at an undisclosed location. For a few days, officials insisted falsely in court that they knew nothing about it, until an assistant to the prime minister told a press conference that he was “inviting” Shahzad to come back to Pakistan, whereupon his brother could be freed and even given his medication. Murad was finally freed on 27 August after prominent figures including David Davis and the Labour MP Chris Bryant wrote an open letter to then-foreign secretary James Cleverly, saying he was “at risk of torture, disappearance and death”, and asking him to do all he could to secure his release.
The ISI’s famous for assassinations and targeted killings. The examples of Karima Baloch and Sajjid Hussain in Canada & Sweden respectively in 2020 and more recently, that of Arshad Sharif in Kenya in 2022 are telling. Both exiled dissidents were found dead in or near a body of water. Baloch was discovered near a lake in Canada on 22 December. Hussain was found in a river in Sweden in May Pertinently, both Karima Baloch and Sajjid Hussain were from Pakistan’s ethnic Baluch minority and had sought asylum in the West after threats to their lives from the Pakistan establishment. Both were vocal critics of Pakistan’s powerful military and its alleged abuses in the province of Baluchistan, the scene of a separatist insurgency and a brutal state crackdown that has witnessed the death killed thousands of people and scores of disappearances since 2004. According to Pakistani dissidents, both were murdered on direct orders from the Pakistani Army and ISI, institutions that are often accused of crushing political dissent.
In both cases, local authorities in Canada and Sweden said there was nothing to indicate foul play but have revealed few details about their deaths. The body of Karima Baloch was found in Toronto in 2020. She had been living in exile for five years due to terrorism charges in Pakistan. A vocal critic of the Pakistani military and the ISI. Karima Baloch hailed from the region of Baluchistan in western Pakistan. Her husband Hammal Haider recently claimed (30 September 2023) that Karima’s assassination was part of the ISI’s plan to get rid of Baloch activists abroad. Another instance is that of prominent Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui who had left Pakistan in 2018, shortly after armed men beat, threatened, and attempted to kidnap him in Islamabad. He blamed the attack on the ISI.
Sajjid Hussain, had fled into exile in 2012, after reporting on human rights abuses in Balochistan. Pakistani police had raided his residence and questioned family members. He had continued to run an online newspaper, the Balochistan Times, from abroad. Hussain was from a prominent political family in Balochistan. His uncle, Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, was killed in 2011 while leading a nationalist movement. Similarly, Pakistani journalist and independent broadcaster Arshad Sharif was killed under mysterious circumstances in Kenya in October 2022. The 49-year-old journalist was living in exile after he fled the country in August 2022 to avoid arrest in the wake of multiple cases, including sedition charges, slapped against him for making comments on his show deemed offensive to the military. This makes it clear that Pakistan’s ISI is not averse to targeted killings. Therefore, for the Pak MoFA spokesperson to claim that they had no hand in the acid attack on former Special Assistant to the Prime Minister in London is a cliché that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. While it is accepted today that all nations engage in covert action including political assassinations, Pakistan is a past-master at this game. For all we know, the ISI could well be behind the killings of several prominent terrorists who were linked to attacks on India. The series of recent killings in Pakistan could well be the handiwork of the ISI as the dead tell no tales.