On November 9, the Swiss government put a “lifetime ban” on Baloch nationalist leader Mehran Marri, barring him entry into Switzerland.
Senior Pakistani officials said that the ban was requested by Islamabad as follow up to the take down of the ‘Free Balochistan’ banners that appeared in Geneva. Similar posters also emerged on London taxi cabs and buses, with Transport for London taking them down following the Pakistani High Commission’s request.
Mehran Marri shares his thoughts about the Swiss ban and the Baloch nationalist movement in an exclusive interview with Asia Times.
Could you please share any details as to why the Swiss authorities detained you?
I’ve been going to Switzerland since 2001. Since 2006 they’ve started interrogating me, whether or not I have another passport, where I was born – blatantly foolish questions the answers to which they
can find on my passport. This is because the Pakistani consulate there has provided them details of somebody with my credentials – but no picture – that claim that I’m a Pakistani citizen. I am a British
citizen, not born in Pakistan.
The Swiss authorities have been harassing me with these questions for the past 10 years, but this was the last straw. Pakistani authorities obviously have got very desperate since our campaigning in Geneva and elsewhere in Europe has intensified over the past year. Pakistan’s desperation led to the arm-twisting of the Swiss authorities and they succumbed to the pressure. They deported me and put a 10-year ban on me, but I’m taking them to court.
What are the charges to justify the ban?
The whole document is in German – I can’t read German. I’m getting them all translated – there’s a big bunch of them. Obviously, I believe I have been accused of supporting terrorism and that I’m involved in militant activities, which is basically the line that the Pakistani establishment toes.
But Pakistan is often accused of harboring terrorism, how do you think they managed to pressurize Swiss and British governments?
Pakistan has always been great at blackmailing the Western countries. But what is shocking is that Switzerland, a neutral country, the home of UN Human Rights Council, is falling into the trap. This is why humanitarian groups are absolutely shocked by the developments.
Or maybe it’s a case of the Baloch freedom movement not resonating with enough people for there to be sufficient resistance in action against Baloch nationalists?
Not at all. If that were the case Swiss flags wouldn’t have been burned in Balochistan. My struggle for the past 17 years is evidence that there is actually an increase in awareness of the Baloch cause. If anything, the fact that Pakistani establishment is acting in desperation shows how big a thorn in the backside we are for them.They’re clearly getting paranoid. They’re vowing on national television to crush the Baloch nationalists – this is basically a continuation of the Musharraf policy.
Do you think Baloch nationalist leaders like yourself need to think of a different strategy to get more people in the West on your side? It would be hard to imagine #FreePalestine posters being taken down with such ease.
Of course. There have been weaknesses on our part, and reluctance on the part of Western nations. But now the movement has taken its roots and is forming a proper shape. From being taken up in the US Congress to the British House of Commons to the European parliament, we are clearly moving forward. This is precisely why the Pakistani authorities are feeling paranoid about our presence abroad and our movement abroad.
So why do you think more people know about the Baloch separatist movement than they might’ve a decade ago?
First of all, I’d like to make a simple correction here. The word separatist here is wrong. We are demanding the restoration of our sovereignty – separatist makes it look a bit radical and militant. We
just want independence, which is a basic human right. Every nation has that right and that is what is mustering worldwide support.
And you have no affiliation with the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the United Baloch Army (UBA) or any militant organization?
Absolutely not. I live in the West. I’m an average Londoner – an average person here is under the surveillance of 350 cameras. Living in Europe, doing any kind of illegal activities, let alone supporting militancy, is impossible to get away with considering the current high alert. There are baseless allegations. Pakistan has been framing Baloch nationalists from day one. We have been dubbed Iraqi agents, Israeli agents, Russian agents, Indian agents. Today they’re accusing us of being affiliated with BLA and UBA, tomorrow it’s going to be ISIS and al-Qaeda.
So would you condemn these Baloch groups who have taken up arms and are involved in militant activities?
I am in no position to condemn them or support them. If I condemn them – with their brothers and sisters and families have been killed, their mutilated bodies thrown on the ground – they’ll tell me, listen
if you want to condemn what we are doing then first get us justice at the United Nations. So I’m in no position to tell them what they’re doing wrong. What I believe in is informing the world, international organizations, to the best of my abilities and asking them to rescue us as soon as possible, before things get out of proportions.
What then is your course of action to ensure that? Is the final goal the creation of an independent Balochistan state?
Our goal wasn’t the creation of an independent Balochistan to begin with. To be honest, my father and all Baloch nationalist leaders all tried to work out a union within Pakistan. But they were all disappointed since Pakistan cannot exist as a union, because of the hegemony of Punjab of every other nation. So now we’ve reached the conclusion that we need to struggle for our rightful independent state of Balochistan. And we’ll get it, I’m sure of that, not just because of successful diplomacy and lobbying, but also because Pakistan would self-implode.
You mentioned the Punjabi hegemony, with the advent of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) isn’t there now a case of Chinese hegemony in Balochistan?
To be honest, it’s much worse than the Punjabi hegemony – I’ve said that on many occasions. In fact, the Punjabis should start fearing the Chinese as well. These guys will eat your children. Beware of the Chinese.