London’s taxis have found themselves in the middle of a political storm thousands of kilometers away in Pakistan due to a series of political ads posted on their sides.
The Pakistani government was irked after “Free Balochistan” slogans appeared on taxis in the British capital on Friday, referring to Pakistan’s southwestern province, which has been engulfed in a wave of violence blamed on anti-state and separatist elements.
The Pakistan Foreign Office summoned the British High Commissioner in Islamabad, Thomas Drew, to protest over the territorial integrity issue that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the past attempted to internationalize.
Pakistan says the separatists in Balochistan have support from its eastern neighbour, India.
The Pakistan government has also blamed New Delhi in the past for contributing to anti-Pakistan promotional campaigns like the one in London.
Summoning Drew to the Foreign Office on Friday, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua called the London ads a direct attack on the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“The high commissioner was informed that Pakistan, in line with the UN Charter, rejects actions and advertisements with malicious content that impinge on our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” read a statement from the Foreign Office.
“Pakistan is aware of the intentions of such sinister and malicious campaigns, which should not be allowed on the soil of a friendly country,” it added.
The Foreign Office said Pakistan is also raising the issue with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Not the first time
A similar campaign had appeared earlier this year in the Swiss city of Geneva during the UN General Assembly meeting, much to the chagrin of Pakistan’s government.
“Any notion of ‘Free Balochistan’ is a flagrant attack on [the] sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan,” the country said at the time in a complaint to the Swiss authorities.
A Foreign Office spokesperson blamed India for the Geneva posters, linking them to to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which he said, is a “listed terrorist organization under the laws of Pakistan and other countries, including the United Kingdom.” Pakistan also accuses Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) of aiding the separatists.
India’s Modi has been championing the cause of Baloch separatists, using an August 2016 Independence Day speech to accuse Pakistan of rights abuses in the province.
He said people in Balochistan had thanked him for raising the issue, but his remarks drew angry reactions from Islamabad, which accused Modi of crossing a “red line”.
Pakistan said Modi’s remark proved RAW has been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan.
It also drew the attention of the US State Department, which distanced itself from the Indian premier’s controversial stance.
“The US government respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan and we do not support independence for Balochistan,” a State Department spokesman said during a September 2016 news briefing in Washington, DC.