August 20, 2017

FBM delegation, Khan of Kalat meet U.S. Congressman Rohrabacher in London

ANI | London [U.K.] Aug 19, 2017 10:07 AM IST

A delegation of the Free Balochistan Movement along with the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud, met with American Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in London on Thursday and discussed American foreign policy, Islamic terrorism and Balochistan issue including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Congressman, who was on a visit to London, met with several political figures including the founder of the Wikileaks, Julian Assange.

The FBM delegation also delivered a message of the leader of the Free Balochistan Movement, Hyrbyair Marri, to the American Congressman.

Mir Suleman Daud and FBM delegation emphasised that the U.S. approach towards the Afghanistan issue should be geopolitical-centric, and instead of chasing shadows, Americans should focus their attention on Pakistan which is training, financing and facilitating the Taliban and other religious extremist groups.

The delegation hoped that the administration of President Donald Trump changes the American foreign policy towards Afghanistan and puts pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting the Jihadist groups that have been disturbing the peace in Afghanistan for last several decades.

The Baloch delegation told Rohrabacher that the sudden withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan will create a vacuum only to be filled by the Taliban, the ISIS and other Pakistan-backed Jihadist extremist groups.

They said that the U.S.A. should support the Baloch freedom struggle and other secular nations like the Sindhis and Pashtuns, who are striving against Pakistan.

"The Baloch, like the Kurds, are natural allies of the United States and rest of the civilised world in the war against religious terrorism," the FBM delegation said.

This is because the Baloch believe that they share many values with the western world. The belief that one must respect other people and their culture is one that is deeply embedded in the Baloch social fabric.

The FBM delegation also said that the Chinese presence and its growing expansionist designs in the region, especially, at the Gwadar port are a threat for the Baloch people. As they are working with the occupiers of Balochistan and have no regard for the Baloch people and threaten their very existence. The Chinese projects in Balochistan will also be harmful towards the interests of America in the long run.

The Khan of Kalat and the FBM delegation also raised the issue of ongoing human rights violations by the Pakistani forces in Balochistan and appreciated Dana Rohrabacher's efforts to highlight Balochistan's issue and Islamabad's atrocities against the Baloch people.

Congressman Rohrabacher, a supporter of Free Balochistan cause, vowed to continue his efforts to raise Balochistan issue at all forums in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. The Baloch delegation thanked him for his time and effort and look forward progress and future meetings on this subject

August 18, 2017

Finland at "elevated" threat level after Barcelona attack


Finland's Security Intelligence Service (Supo) says the agency has not received any indication which would lead them to believe that Thursday's terror attacks in Spain had any links to individuals in Finland. The agency also says it has not raised Finland's threat assessment level following the attacks.

File photo of crowds alongside the Aura River in Turku during July's Tall Ships Races. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle

Following the terror attacks in Spain on Thursday, the security service Supo said on Friday that Finland's threat assessment level remains at level two, meaning that according to the agency there continues to be an "elevated" risk of a terror attack in the country.

The security agency uses a four-tiered terror threat level assessment scale:

1. Low

2. Elevated

3. High

4. Severe

Pekka Hiltunen, a research specialist at Supo, says the agency uses three main factors in determining the level of danger posed to the country.

"Our assessment of the threat level is always based on three factors: the operative information we have, how radicalised elements view Finland, and current trends in terrorist incidents," Hiltunen explained.

"At the moment we do not see a change which would make it necessary for us to change our overall assessment," he said.

On the other hand - pointing to this week's terror attacks in Spain which claimed 13 lives and injured more than one hundred - Hiltunen says that the threat posed to Europe as a whole remains acute.

He said the terrorists in those incidents were aimed at targets similar to attacks in the recent past; such as places filled with tourists and large public events.

Hiltunen says that Spain has long had a relatively high threat level. In 2004, train bombings in Madrid killed 192 people.

Too early to draw conclusions

"The country has been attacked before. It's also been widely known that threats have been directed towards tourist destinations," he said.

Hiltunen said that people should not be making any far-reaching assumptions about the attacks at this time.

"We still don't know if the [attackers] were from two different groups - where one group's [attempted] attack was triggered by the other attack, or they may have attacked earlier than originally planned. Or they may have been coordinated attacks," he said.

The terror group IS has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Spain, but Hiltunen said that Spanish officials need to complete their investigation before any conclusion that the group was actually behind the attacks

Finnish intelligence warns foreign powers targeting young politicians

The Finnish Security Intelligence Service Supo says foreign powers are intensifying efforts to recruit young Finnish politicians and businesspeople before they reach positions of power. In its 2016 report the agency says that the terror threat has also increased as the flow of jihadi fighters to and from conflict zones stepped up.

Suojelupoliisin päällikkö Antti Pelttari Supon tiedotustilaisuudessa
Supo Director Antti Pelttari Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Finland's Security Intelligence Service, better known as Supo, says in its annual report that Finnish politicians and decision-makers are under pressure from foreign intelligence agencies at ever-younger ages.

Supo only mentions Russia once in the report, at the start, where it says that "especially Russia sees Finland as an interesting intelligence target but also other major powers find our country important".

The agency says young people in Finland in particular are the target of foreign intelligence recruiters, especially those that are expected to rise to prominent positions in commerce and politics.

"This is an example of state-run intelligence activity having long-term horizons," according to the Supo report. Supo noted that it had "been forced to interfere" in the activities of certain intelligence agencies.

In a step-by-step guide to recruiting agents, Supo explains that intelligence officers first carry out a thorough analysis of their needs, after which they select a target with access to information. Next, that person is assessed according to their strengths and weaknesses to determine the likelihood that he or she could be persuaded to work for the benefit of a foreign state. When this stage is completed, they establish contact and build up a friendship, leading to the last phase: recruitment.

Pelttari would not comment on how many cases of this kind there have been in recent years.

"I won't take a position on the details, but it is an on-going operation on the part of intelligence services of foreign governments," he told Yle.

Cyber espionage a major concern

There have been no espionage convictions in Finland for years, nor have any spying investigations been conducted - as far as anyone knows.

Supo's 2016 Yearbook also devotes a chapter to the spread of cyber espionage, noting a "sharp increase" in visible activity against Finland's foreign and security policy, comprehensive espionage priorities and the abuse of Finnish data networks in espionage targeting third countries. The agency says the most observations were linked to the APT28/Sofacy attack, which made no effort to cover its tracks. They say more "key people" are also at risk in Finland of illegitimate intelligence gathering.

The leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported more on the Sofacy connection, saying that the report was the first time the Finnish Security Intelligence Service had of its own initiative spoke of Russian cyber espionage directed at Finland.

Sofacy also operates under the names Fancy Bear and Strontium, and the APT28 software Supo names is the same that was found in the US Democratic Party networks in May 2016 ahead of the presidential elections. The emails and voicemails that were retrieved – most of which dealt with the Clinton campaign – were then forwarded to Wikileaks.

Systematic cyber espionage via APT28 has been linked by US intelligence to Russian interference in the elections in the US, along with the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and additional sanctions on Russian intelligence services, says HS.

Terrorist attacks and jihadist fighters

Although there have been no terrorist attacks in Finland, Supo says structures supporting terrorist activity have emerged in Finland, and breaking the links to young potential movers and shakers is one way to prevent this.

The agency reports that over 80 adults and dozens of children travelled to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq in 2016, and this problem too is expected to grow, as jihadist fighters from Finland have given the radical Islamists a better knowledge of Finland. 

A textbook example

The tabloid Iltalehti reports on Friday about one specific incident of targeting, as young Finns Party firebrand Sebastian Tynkkynen responded to a Suomen Kuvalehti story in which he said he was "very aggressively pursued" by Russian intelligence.

He clarified for the tabloid that he never specifically said that the foreign country applying the pressure was Russia, and asked the SK reporter Pekka Ervasti to correct his Thursday story accordingly.

"When I saw the story, I asked that the error be corrected before it was published, but he refused to fix it. I don't know why; perhaps he had such a strong preconceived notion about what country it could be. It feels wrong that he put the words in my mouth," Tynkkynen said.

A former Finns Party youth branch chair, Tynkkynen told SK that he attended an Arctic camp organised by Russia a few years ago.

"We were in Tver [northwest of Moscow], and I was the only participant from Finland. There were plenty of others from Sweden, Norway, the US and Canada. We discussed topics like the future of the Arctic Sea, and the pros and cons of oil drilling in the region," he said.

He would not confirm to Iltalehti if his trip to Russia was connected to the supposed foreign connections he discussed with Supo. He was tight-lipped about the Supo encounter in general, but praised Finland's intelligence agency for the work it does.

"I'm worried about how weak Supo's operational resources are in light of what they could be doing, especially when we know that there have been attempts to influence Finland's youth politics. Supo has done extraordinarily good work for the amount of resources it has," Tynkkynen told the tabloid

Radical Islamic networks have an increasingly strong presence in Finland, Jyri Rantala, the head of communications at the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo), estimates in an interview with Talouselämä.

“We could even say that a ‘jihadist underworld’ is emerging in Finland. These networks have ties to all key terrorist organisations,” he said.

Supo estimates in its official terrorist threat assessment that the risk of an individual attack carried out by a lone-wolf terrorist or a small jihadist organisation has increased in Finland. Rantala reveals that the risk has risen partly as a consequence of the so-called foreign fighter phenomenon, which has contributed to the country’s recognisability among terrorist organisations.

Supo has urged decision-makers to enhance the ability of security authorities to obtain information crucial for preventing possible attacks.An estimated 80 people are believed to have travelled from Finland to conflict-ridden regions in Iraq and Syria, primarily to participate in the hostilities. More than a dozen of them have later returned to Finland, according to Supo.

Rantala reminded on Thursday that while international intelligence co-operation also yields information concerning Finland, activities concerning the country are not the top priority for any other country.

He concedes that in spite of the efforts to combat terrorism, identifying and arresting individual suspects is extremely difficult. The so-called Islamic State, for example, has instructed its sympathisers to resort to measures that do not require painstaking planning or preparations, such as the lorry and knife attacks that have recently occurred around Europe.

*This is June Report,*

Supo raises terror threat level in Finland


Finland remains one of the safest countries in the world despite the heightened terror threat, reminded Antti Pelttari, the director of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo).


The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) has raised its terror threat level to the second lowest level of elevated.

Supo on Wednesday estimatedthat the threat of a terrorist attack is higher than ever before in Finland due to the country’s increased visibility in jihadist propaganda and the ever-closer ties of counter-terrorism persons of interest to terrorist activities.

The threat, it reminded, continues to be posed primarily by lone-wolf terrorists and small terrorist groups influenced by radical propaganda or larger terrorist organisations.

Supo said it has identified approximately 350 individuals as counter-terrorism persons of interest, a number that represents an increase of roughly 80 per cent since 2012 and that is projected to continue growing as a consequence of radicalisation and the emergence and detection of new terrorist networks.

Such persons of interest are believed to have more direct and serious links to terrorist activities and include a growing number of people who have either participated or expressed a willingness to participate in armed conflicts, or participated in terrorist training.

Supo’s updated threat assessment indicates that some of the people who have left Finland to participate in armed conflicts in Iraq and Syria have risen to influential positions in, especially, the so-called Islamic State.

Supo also revealed that is has become aware of more serious terrorism-related plans and projects in Finland.

Finland’s position has changed substantially, Pekka Hiltunen, a special researcher at Supo, summarised in a press conference according to Helsingin Sanomat.

The country, he pointed out, was previously regarded as neutral and remained relatively unknown among terrorist organisations. Today, however, it is portrayed in jihadist propaganda, which is also disseminated in Finnish, as a country that is hostile towards the so-called Islamic State – a fact that has increased the likelihood of an attack in Finland.

Another factor contributing to the heightened threat level is the fact that terrorist organisations have widened the range of their possible targets. “Efforts are made to direct attacks against all states and groups that are regarded as hostile. This increases the threat of attacks in Finland,” writes Supo.

The new four-tier terrorist threat scale was adopted to reflect the continuing changes in the operating environment of counter-terrorism, told Antti Pelttari, the director of Supo. The new scale, which measures the threat of a terrorist attack on a scale ranging from low to severe, will according to him enable Supo to inform people of the current threat level more clearly than before.

“Finland remains one of the safest countries in the world. We’re doing everything we can to make sure the situation stays unchanged,” he reminded on Wednesday.

Supo issued its previous terrorist threat assessment in November, 2015. It at the time estimated that the threat of an isolated violent attack had increased but that the threat of an organised attack by a terrorist organisation remained low.

August 16, 2017

Number of deals by Chinese companies targeting the Belt and Road countries are 109

The number of deals by Chinese companies targeting the Belt and Road countries are 109 this year.

The Dollar Business Bureau

Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) by Chinese firms in nations which are part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are rising, even as the Government cracks down on acquisitive conglomerates of China to limit capital outflows.

The acquisitions by Chinese firms in 68 countries that are officially linked to the foreign policy of President Xi Jinping totaled around $33 billion till August 14, exceeding the $31 billion total count for the entire 2016, as per the data by Reuters.

The BRI project, unveiled in 2013, is aimed at creating a modern-day ‘Silk Road’, which connect China by sea and land to Pakistan, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, and further to the Europe, Africa and Middle East. President Xi has pledged around $124 billion for the initiative in May.

The increase in acquisition-linked investment by Chinese companies in the Belt and Road region comes as the size of all outbound M&As from the country has declined 42% year-on-year till August 14, the data showed.

With China’s move to strengthen the currency - Yuan by limiting the capital flow outside the country and to put a stop on the debt-fuelled acquisitions for ensuring financial stability, it has become tough for the buyers to get approvals for outside deals.

The stricter regulatory scrutiny of acquisitions abroad comes after the *Chinese firms spent a whopping $220 billion last year, buying up overseas everything from football clubs to movie studios.*

However, the strict regulatory scrutiny has not affected the pursuit of Chinese companies for acquisitions along the BRI corridor, as these investments are considered as strategic for both the companies and the economy.

*The number of deals by Chinese companies targeting the Belt and Road countries are 109 so far this year, as against 175 in the entire 2016 and 134 in 2015,* according to the data given by Reuters.

*The biggest deal so far this year in a Belt and Road country was the $11.6 billion buyout by a Chinese consortium of the Global Logistics Properties of Singapore.*

August 15, 2017

Spiral into chaos

Muhammad Akbar NotezaiAugust 16, 2017

1he writer is a member of staff.

HISTORICALLY speaking, Balochistan in general and the Baloch community in particular are secular. Even in traditional Baloch society, the mullah is not a revered figure. Instead, he is merely a functional figure. But this is now changing.

There are two dominant forces in the province: the state and the Baloch. The perennial conflict between these two has had dire consequences. Extremism is one of them. During the Afghan war, money was pumped into Balochistan, especially central Baloc­histan, which led to a breakdown of the social fabric. Before, the Baloch were not aware of differences between Shia and Sunni. Today, they are divided on the basis of sect and creed. Wahabism was alien to Balochistan but, largely through preaching activities, it is influencing increasing numbers of people, especially the youth.

While the seeds of extremism in Balochistan were sown during Gen Ziaul Haq’s time, they birthed different forms of extremism in the post Zia-period. Adherents of the Zikri sect, largely settled in Makran, became a target of religious fundamentalists. The Baloch progressive leader Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, whose tribe comprises many Zikris, began to offer prayers during the last years of his life because he feared being labelled Zikri if he did not do so, although he did not belong to the sect.

Then there is the mushroom growth of madressahs and tableeghi activities, which are an extension of religious extremism in the province. This is very dangerous because Balochistan’s population is far smaller than that of the other provinces.

Moreover, communities in Balochistan are disconnected from one another, so much so that development in the society happens at a slow pace. With religious extremism having taken root, people are expected to be more and more compartmentalised. Each and every group’s mosques and followers in the near future will be further compartmentalised. This will inhibit Baloch nationalism, liberalism and social development. In a nutshell, the mindset in the province is becoming stunted, aggressive and intolerant.

The mindset in Balochistan is becoming stunted and intolerant.

This explains extremist attacks against civilians, state installations and security forces. Although sectarianism is not native to Balochistan, today there is not a single district where sectarian groups do not have at least a symbolic presence. Moreover, sectarian groups have also made inroads into some bordering areas of Sindh where Sufism has traditionally held sway, and many sectarian attacks in that province are said to have been planned from Balochistan.

The banned Baloch separatist outfits, reportedly weakened, have been losing ground to sectarian groups. For example, Mastung district, once an epicentre of Baloch separatists, has to some extent been taken over by sectarian groups who are organising themselves under the platform of the militant Islamic State group. The recent killing of 12 IS militants by security forces in Mastung is evidence of this development.

There are two reasons for sectarian groups to have successfully put down roots in Balochistan. Firstly, unlike in the past, political activities in the province have dwindled drastically because of the crackdown on separatist groups that has driven them underground. A space thus opened up for sectarian groups — not least by the involvement of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat in political activities in Quetta and elsewhere in the province.

Secondly, in the 1990s, when Punjab police began ruthlessly targeting sectarian elements in Punjab, many of them fled to Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan where they went into hibernation, only to emerge later as a powerful force. Their resurgence was marked by horrific murders of Hazara Shias in the province. Incidentally, the perception that the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is a Pakhtun phenomenon, is incorrect: the LJ is predominantly a Baloch phenomenon.

In the past, it was in the secular nature of Baloch society to safeguard minorities’ rights. With the introduction of the madressah culture, this is also changing. Religious minorities have also been kidnapped for ransom by extremist groups. And if their family members failed to pay the ransom, they have also been killed.

Baloch nationalist parties, including the Balochistan National Party-Mengal and National Party, claim to be on one page when it comes to extremist forces. However, it does not seem they can counter them, because Baloch political parties, much like mainstream political parties, revolve around personalities and a few families.

Balochistan’s huge black economy is also a source of funds for extremist outfits. If unchecked by the state, religious extremism in Balochistan can overtake Baloch nationalism, and that will have terrible repercussions. For the extremist groups can pose an even bigger threat to the state because of their transnational agendas.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @Akbar_notezai

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2017