Who killed Sabeen Mahmud? Why did she have to die? Is she just another casualty of multiple wars raging in Pakistan today? Did her assassins try to kill two birds with one stone? Amplify the Baloch insurgency coverage and demonize the ISI? These and other questions are being asked by many who loved and supported her and miss her badly. Will these questions ever be answered? I wouldn’t hold my breath given Pakistan’s history of high-profile assassinations since its birth. I’ll still try and put some context around this tragedy.

Sabeen Mahmud

The ink on China-Pakistan agreements was barely dry when western media and foreign-funded NGOs in Pakistan started playing up the Baloch insurgency. Is it a mere coincidence? Or a well thought-out plan to try to sabotage Pak-China alliance and massive Chinese investment in Pakistan?

Two key events have made headlines in Pakistan and elsewhere to coincide with President Xi Jinping’s Pakistan visit. First, “Un-silencing Balochistan” gathering took place in Karachi at T2F NGO headed by Sabeen Mahmud after it was cancelled at LUMS. Second, an interview of Bramdagh Bugti, the man who is running the insurgency in remote parts of Balochistan from a Swiss hotel room, was widely published by western media.

Un-silencing Balochistan

It is unfortunate that the tragic assassination of Sabeen Mahmud, a sincere and dedicated social activist, has served to divert public attention from the real issue of western-funded NGOs pushing foreign agendas to conspiracy theories about ISI plotting her assassination. Instead of discussing the reason for the Un-silencing Balochistan event coinciding with the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan, the discussion has turned to demonizing the “big bad ISI”.

Bramdagh Bugti Interview

Bramdagh has been running a low-level insurgency in Balochistan from a Swiss hotel room for several yeas now. He was interviewed there by a German Deutsche Welle reporter and the interview was widely carried by multiple western news organizations. As expected, Bugti claimed that recent multi-billion dollar economic corridor “deal between Pakistan and China is aimed at colonizing the Balochistan province, and must be resisted”.

Foreign-Funded NGOs

There has been extensive documentation of US government funding of NGOs for the purpose of pushing US agenda around the world. The most detailed description of it became public with revelations contained in “Who Paid the Piper” by Frances Stonor Saunders. More recently, an investigative reporter Robert Parry has documented the role played by US-funded National Endowment for Democracy in destabilizing Ukraine in a piece titled “A Shadow of US Foreign Policy”.

In “The Mask of Pluralism”, author Joan Roelofs describes certain CIA-designated organizations, using the funds from the “dummy” foundations, funding pro-American NGOs to advance US policies.

Many countries, including India, have made several attempts to regulate foreign funding of NGOs. Just recently, Modi government has frozen the accounts of Green Peace India and put Ford Foundation on its watch list.

There are hundreds of foreign-funded NGOs operating in Pakistan. Many of them provide much needed service but some are likely being used as cover to push foreign agendas. It has been established that the CIA used one such organization to fund a fake polio vaccination campaign in Abbotabad as part of its hunt for Usama Bin Laden.

The Clinton Foundation, headed by former US Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary, the former secretary of state, has come under severe criticism for accepting millions of dollars from foreign contributors. American media are demanding full disclosure and transparency from the couple. Shouldn’t it also apply to foreign donations flowing into NGOs in Pakistan?

Baloch Insurgency Facts

Balochistan insurgency is much bigger phenomenon in the media than its reality on the ground in Pakistan. In spite of well-known foreign funding and support, the fact is that Baloch insurgency is made up of a few insurgents who are deeply divided among themselves. So far, it’s been little more than a nuisance for Pakistani military, according to Col. Ralph Peters, a US intelligence operative who has worked closely with BLA leadership.

Here’s an excerpt of a Huffington Post Op Ed on Baloch insurgents:

According to Peters, one of the most serious issues with the Baloch independence movement is “deeply troubling” infighting. In fact, he is emphatic in his condemnation of such bickering; going so far as to assert: “they are quickly becoming their own worse enemies.”

In his view, individual Baloch simply don’t understand that their personal feuding undermines the larger movement: “Certain Baloch fail to understand that their only hope in gaining independence is if they put their own egos and vanity aside and work together. This is the cold hard fact. They are already outgunned and outmanned. Pakistan will continue to to exploit their differences until they realize this.”

So long as the Baloch continue to engage in “petty infighting,” including “savaging each other in emails,” (Ralph) Peters is pessimistic they can garner widespread support in the West. In fact, he warns that such infighting could eventually put off even their staunchest supporters.

As a result, he recommends that the Baloch leadership and activists set the example and halt their public bickering: “The Baloch leaders need to stop their severe personal attacks on each other and others. In the military, we say that you don’t let an entire attack get bogged down by a single sniper. But, there are individuals out there who are causing divisions and attacking people. They tend to look at the debate as if you don’t agree with me completely then you’re my enemy. This undermines their cause.”

Until these leaders and activists “support the big picture,” Peters offers little hope that the broader Baloch nation will be able to “work together, put aside their deep divide, and unify.” This troubles Peters as he confides: “At this point, do I believe they have a good chance of achieving independence? No. But, it would be much higher in the future if they just start working together. It’s frustrating that the leaders can’t unite.”

Peters is also bothered by the Baloch tendancy to blame such infighting on covert operations by Pakistan’s military and security services: “The region as a whole tends to blame conspiracy theories. But, I have come to believe that you never accept conspiracies when something can be explained by incompetence…”

Balochistan East Pakistan Comparison

Balochistan is sometimes compared by some with East Pakistan. Balochistan has nothing in common with East Pakistan.

1. Only a third of the population of Balochistan is Balochi speaking. The Baloch Nationalists are too few in number, highly disorganized and deeply divided among themselves.

2. Almost as many ethnic Baloch people live outside of Balochistan province (in Sindh and Southern Punjab) as in Balochistan, according to Anatol Lieven (Pakistan-A Hard Country). They are quite well integrated with the rest of the population in Pakistan. Asif Zardari, the last president of Pakistan, is an ethnic Baloch, as was former President Farooq Laghari and recent interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. Pakistan’s COAS Gen Musa was a Hazara from Balochistan.

3. In East Pakistan, there was an election won by Sheikh Mujib with heavy mandate. Nothing like that has happened nor likely happen with a bunch of fractious Baloch tribesmen who represent only a few districts in Balochistan. They have no political party nor do they participate in any elections as the Awami League in East Pakistan did. Even if they do so in the future, they are unlikely to win a majority in the provincial legislature given the demographics of Balochistan.

4. Former US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a speech that “India has always used Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. India has over the years been financing problems in Pakistan“. BLA is being armed, trained and funded by India’s RAW just as Mukti Bahini was in East Pakistan. But the creation of Bangladesh required an outright Indian invasion which is highly unlikely to happen to nuclear-armed Pakistan.


Indian and western spy agencies will try and ratchet up the pressure on China and Pakistan by further fueling the insurgency in Pakistan. The issue will be played up by western and Indian media and some foreign funded NGOs in Pakistan as the work on China-Pakistan corridor proceeds and Chinese investment in Pakistan materializes. This cynical effort could claim more innocent and well-meaning victims like Sabeen Mahmud who get caught up as pawns in the cross-fire of international geopolitics. Pakistani leaders and people need to be aware of it and be prepared to deal with it intelligently.

Related Links

Haq’s Musings
Pak-China Industrial Corridor
American Hypocrisy on Dr. Afridi’s Sentence
Post Cold War World: Pakistan-China-Russia Vs India-US-Japan
How Strategic Are China-Pakistan Ties?
Alaska Permanent Fund: A Model For Balochistan?
Has Modi Stepped Up India’s Covert War in Pakistan?
Serious Issues Undermining Baloch Insurgency

NOTE: This post was originally published on RiazHaq.com