Balochistan remains home to more than 100,000 refugees

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Seventeen thousand, one hundred and fifty-one Afghan refugees, sheltering in the well known Jungle Pir Alizai refugee camp in Qila Abdullah, a district of Balochistan, have not registered with the Pakistani government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Currently, there are 113,655 unregistered Afghan refugees in Balochistan.

Skirmishes between Afghan refugees and Pakistani security forces broke out last week in the refugee camp at Qila Abdullah, killing four people. Where have 17,152 refugees gone from Jungle Pir Alizai since those clashes?

The Government of Pakistan and the UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on December 17, 2004 to carry out a detailed census of the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan since December 1, 1979. The criteria fixed for registration made it mandatory for the Afghans to register in the presence of their family heads and from the district where they had been counted in the census.

The six-million-dollar census, conducted in February and March 2005, counted 3.04 million Afghans living in Pakistan, out of which 769,268 (25.2 percent of the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan) were found to be living in Balochistan.

According to the census, the number of refugees taking shelter in Jungle Pir Alizai, located 63 kilometers away from Balochistan’s capital of Quetta, was as high as 35,000. However, when the government and the UNHCR decided to register Afghan refugees living in Balochistan, as they had done in other parts of the country, a sharp decline was witnessed in the number of refugees. The registration process, which began on October 15, 2006 and went on till February 12, 2007, counted only 17,848 people in a camp of 2,569 households.

Daily Times spoke to an official of the UNHCR to ask why enough Afghans had not turned up for the registration process. “Many of them had gone to Iran, Afghanistan, the UAE or to other countries for business. Interestingly, others had gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj,” said the official.

Who granted permission to these Afghan refugees to move out of Pakistan? Who gave them valid traveling documents? How had they managed to obtain fake national identity cards (NICs) and Pakistani passports? “You had better put these questions to the government,” said another UNHCR official. “Obviously, some government department is overtly or covertly involved in this fraud.”

When Daily Times contacted government officials, none from the Balochistan Government, including the Home and Tribal Department and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), had answers.

The total number of refugee camps in Balochistan is 12, of which two camps, Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle are still in place despite the government’s decision to close them down by June 20, 2005. The other ten camps are Posti, Lejay Karez, Chaghi, Malgagai, Katwai, Gahzgai Minara, Zar Karez, Surkhab, Saranan and Mohammad Kheil. According to the census of 2005, the total number of refugees in all these camps was 231,960. The registration process, however, only recorded 118,305 people. Duniya Aslam Khan, media officer of the UNHCR’s Balochistan programme, told Daily Times that her organisation established and closed refugee camps while considering the plight of the refugees. “The UNHCR moves to the people’s aid if they are in bad conditions, but camps are shut down as soon as the situation is normal,” she said.

Refugees living in these camps were given two options. They either voluntarily agree to be repatriated to Afghanistan, in return for which, the UNHCR would provide them US$ 1,000 per individual and free transportation facilities, or they should consent to be relocated to Mohammad Kheil camp (in 2005-2006) and now in Gahzgai Minara camp.

Refugee elders and some nationalist political parties resisted the government’s move to close these camps. They demanded that the official deadline be extended, as leaving the camps overnight was not possible for them. After all, they argued, they had been living in these camps for the past thirty years.

The government extended the deadline for Jungle Pir Alizai camp thrice, from June 2005 to July 31, 2005, from then to April 30, 2006 and then June 2006 were fixed as dead lines but to no avail. “The recent clash between the security forces and the Afghan refugees indicates that the task of eliminating these camps is not a bed of roses for the government,” stated an observer.



Baloch not getting due share of radio jobs

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: The Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) is moving its Balochistan-based posts to other radio stations across the country and appointing non-locals to these posts, Daily Times learnt on Sunday.

Following an official order issued on April 24 by Muhammad Tufail, PBC Islamabad administrative manager (personnel), the PBC promoted 45 sub engineers to the post of broadcast engineers (BE). Twelve of the promoted officers, who were meant to serve in radio stations in Balochistan, have been transferred to other provinces. This has not only deprived the province of its actual posts, which have been entirely filled with non-Baloch, but also created a scarcity of working staff in many Balochistan radio stations. According to the list of promoted engineers, sub engineer S Haider Shah of HPT-II (High-Power Transmitter), PBC Peshawar, has been posted back to HPT-II, PBC Peshawar, at the post of broadcast engineer, though the post was meant to be filled in PBC Khuzdar, Balochistan.

Mohammad Rashid Ahmed of the PBC Lahore has been posted to PBC Lahore at another post in PBC Khuzdar. Qazi Hidayatullah of the PBC Peshawar has been posted back to Peshawar on a vacant post for broadcast engineer in Turbat.

Mohammad Roohul Amin of HPT II, PBC Peshawar, has been posted to another Balochistan post, which was supposed to be filled at PBC Quetta.

The PBC has also ordered shifting of a post in PBC Turbat to the PBC headquarters in Islamabad and appointed Shaukat Iqbal. A vacant BE post at PBC Quetta has been moved from the provincial capital to PBC Multan through the appointment of Abdul Waheed.

PBC Khuzdar has been deprived of another BE post. The post has been shifted to HPT, PBC, Multan, with the appointment of Muhammad Younis Bhutta.

PBC moved another Balochistan-based BE post to the federal capital when it decided to appoint Muhammad Siddique at the PBC headquarters in Islamabad. M Tahir Mahmood of PBC Faisalabad has been appointed to a post that is fixed for PBC Khuzdar. The BE post of PBC Quetta has also been moved from Balochistan to Lahore with the posting of Abdul Latif.

The official order, which has been sent to station directors, controllers and deputy controllers of all PBC stations, also deprives Balochistan of another BE post by moving a similar vacant post at PBC Quetta to PBC Khairpur with the posting of M Qasim Jalbani.

Sources at PBC Quetta complained that in past they used to grumble that non-Baloch were being appointed to various posts at the nation’s foremost broadcasting corporation. “The PBC now even has started moving the posts from Balochistan to other provinces,” they said. “This is unethical and unacceptable. We will raise the issue on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly,” Balochistan leader of the opposition Kachkol Baloch told Daily Times. He said the government was “pleasing” other provinces at the cost of Balochistan and its people.

Officials working with PBC at various radio stations in Balochistan complain that the government is doing nothing to improve their stations. For instance, at PBC Turbat, a 0.25-kilowatt transmitter is being upgraded to 100kw. The station, however, remains understaffed. While one post each of producer and news producer, two each of sub engineer and broadcast technician and one of chief security officer have not been filled to date in Turbat PBC, the posts of gardener and messenger have been finished and shifted to Islamabad.

Another source, while disclosing the irregularities in the appointments at PBC, alleged that Inyat, a former station director of PBC from Sindh at Turbat, made a fake local certificate for one of his close relatives and got him appointed as a lower-division clerk.

When the Sindhi station director was transferred to Hyderabad, the LDC post was also moved.

It is learnt that the local educated youths had been ignored for appointment against the post of a producer in October 2006. Shaheen Ismail from Dera Ghazi Khan, whose father had been working with WAPDA in Turbat for 10 years, was appointed to the post allegedly with the help of a fake certificate.

“It was mandatory for a local producer to be acquainted with the Balochi language and remain a local resident. But all these rules were utterly violated and a non-local female was appointed,” a PBC official said while requesting anonymity. “It seems there is no one to check these mass injustices and irregularities at PBC being committed against the Baloch,” he added.

You didn’t care for us … so we won’t for you

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: While Chief Justice-turned-crowed-puller Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has overnight emerged as an icon of resistance against dictatorship across the country, his popularity among the Baloch population in the country’s largest province remains as high as that of General Pervez Musharraf.

Despite the strident hullabaloo in the principal cities of the country against the filing of a presidential reference against the CJP, Balochistan – the home province of Justice Chaudhry – has, surprisingly, remained indifferent and largely quiet over the ongoing crisis.

Political parties, lawyers’ bodies and civil society in Quetta in general and elsewhere in the province in particular have not stringently protested in favour of the ‘suspended’ CJP.

“Balochistan’s calmness and indifference over the current crisis is significant,” a veteran journalist, requesting anonymity, told Daily Times. “The Baloch are neutral on the issue, which largely translates into a lack of support for both the president and the CJP. Yet again, this is a grave indication that the Baloch consider themselves irrelevant and snubbed over decisions of national importance made at the federal level,” he said.

Barring a few protest rallies, nowhere in the resource-rich, yet conflict-ridden, province did people decide to come on the roads in support of the chief justice.

“Baloch have lost faith in the judiciary as it has failed to play its due role in preventing mass violation of human rights in the province by the security forces in Balochistan,” Amanullah Kanrani, former Balochistan Bar Association vice chairman, said, adding that the Baloch saw the current turmoil as the culmination of the “judiciary-military nexus”.

“Around 4,000 Baloch students and political activists have gone missing at the hands of state intelligence agencies. A full-fledged military operation was carried out in the province and the towering leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was brutally killed by the state. But Justice Chaudhry remained supportive to the policies of the president. Why should Baloch support him when he is in trouble?” he added.

Kanrani said Justice Chaudhary did not deserve the sympathies of the Baloch people because he was the first and the only chief justice in the history of the country who “willingly” went to Army House to present his performance report to a “uniformed resident”., a leading website in the country, earlier held a discussion as to why Balochistan decided to remain calm and neutral over the ongoing crisis. The website quoted former Balochistan Bar Association president Wasey Tareen as saying, “I appreciate the president’s move (of filing a reference) against Justice Chaudhry. This step should have been taken much earlier. He used to act autocratically when he was the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court. He overtly formulated and backed a lobby of privileged lawyers against former Baloch Chief Justice Amir-ul-Mulk Mengal. He was not free in making decisions. He used to take dictations from politicians.”

Tareen said he himself had been sacked from the post of sessions judge in Noshaki district by Justice Chaudhry. “I was then a member of the Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, dictated Justice Chaudhry to fire me,” he added.

Baloch lawyers in the province are skeptical of Justice Chaudhry. They regret that Justice Chaudhry promoted an anti-Baloch lobby in the provincial judiciary.

“The settlers constitute a minor proportion of Balochistan’s population but they hold 90 percent posts of judges and lawyers in the province. They don’t tolerate the Baloch. Even when 10 Baloch sessions and additional sessions judges were recently inducted, Justice Chaudhry billed it intolerable and demanded an inquiry into the matter by Justice Javed Iqbal and Justice Raja Fayyaz,” alleged Sadiq Raisani, the Baloch Bar Association president.

A Baloch nationalist leader said he believed the judicial crisis had been deliberately orchestrated by the military regime to divert the attention of the national and international media and human rights’ organisations from the Balochistan crisis that, according to him, is of more importance for the national integrity. “People in Balochistan have more pressing issues to be bothered about than a mere change of guard at the Supreme Court. No one is addressing our genuine complaints. The Baloch would have rushed to the streets in support of the judiciary if they had received justice from the courts of law,” he remarked.

The missing people issue has also disillusioned the Baloch. For instance, a leader of the Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO) said the judiciary had taken no action against the kidnappers of Munir Mengal, managing director of the Baloch Voice, the first to-be-launched Balochi television channel, who was whisked away last April from Karachi airport, presumably by intelligence personnel. “How can people in Balochistan march in support of the judicial system when a former chief minister (Akhtar Mengal) is produced before a court in an iron cage?,” asked Agha Hassan Baloch, labour secretary of the Balochistan National Party (BNP). He is currently observing a huger strike against the detention of Sardar Akhtar Mengal.

Though around 2,000 lawyers are working across Balochistan, hardly more than 50 of them turned up in the protest rallies in support of Justice Chaudhry. An observer said it is unlikely that the CJP will experience a Lahore-like rousing welcome in his home province on his forthcoming trip to Balochistan.

Baloch nationalists reject Musharraf’s talks offer

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Baloch nationalist leaders on Thursday rejected President Pervez Musharraf’s ‘offer’ of talks on the Balochistan issue.

President Musharraf invited Baloch leaders to talks on issues facing the province during his visit to Dera Bugti and Sui districts earlier on Thursday, but Baloch leaders said the offer was “fraudulent and insincere”.

Talking to Daily Times, Kachkol Ali Baloch, the leader of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly, said that the inauguration of a military cantonment in Sui despite a unanimous resolution in the provincial assembly against cantonments in the province was “a violation of people’s wishes”. He said that the president’s repeated assurances to Balochistan’s people about the development of the province were “misleading because none of the development projects are actually meant to improve people’s socio-economic conditions”. The government promised in the past to include Baloch people in the Pakistan Army and other national institutions, but did not do so, he claimed.

“We wish the president had inaugurated a university or a technical college for the Baloch people instead of a cantonment. It is ironic that the Baloch Regiment of the Pakistan Army does not have a single Baloch. Similarly, there is no Baloch representation in the Pakistan Navy, Coast Guards and Marine Security Agency,” he said.

Criticising the president’s remarks about the conversion of ‘B areas’ of Balochistan into ‘A areas’, Baloch said the decision had been made against the wishes of the Baloch and Pashtoon people, adding that it was aimed at paving the way for Punjabi officers settled in Balochistan to “intimidate Baloch people”.

Habib Jalib, the secretary general of the Balochistan National Party, said President Musharraf had apologised to the Baloch people twice in the past over successive governments’ injustices to them. “The president never kept his word. Had he not sanctioned a military operation in the province and apologised over Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing, we would have considered resuming talks with him. He has closed all doors for talks with Baloch leaders,” he said.

Jalib accused the government of ‘grabbing’ more land in the name of development and “converting the Baloch majority into a minority”. He said that Gen Musharraf promised to give jobs to thousands of Baloch people, but the government did not hire even five percent of those promised.

Jamhoori Watan Party Information Secretary Amanullah Kanrani said: “It is somewhat impossible to fill the huge vacuum created in Balochistan due to the government’s repeated blunders. Akbar Bugti was the right man to talk to, but the government killed him,” he added.

Hussain – a beacon of hope for troubled Balochistan

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Ravaged by a low-level insurgency and several decades of negligence, Balochistan still houses a few motivated change-makers. Individuals count provided they are taken seriously. Take 37-year-old Zahir Hussain, for instance, of western border town of Panjgur. He has been striving for the promotion of education, particularly that of women’s in a society where educating daughters, like many other parts of the province, is to a large extent, considered incongruous to the entrenched local customs.

The past 14 years have been replete with daunting challenges for a man who single-handedly made up his mind to weed out illiteracy and educational backwardness from his locality. Being billed by the local clergy as a ‘western agent’ and promoter of ‘alien values’ were comparatively minor challenges for young Hussain who was also overtly threatened to stop his ‘objectionable’ educational activities in the Pak-Iran border town, a safe heaven for drug mafioso.

A trip to 100 percent Baloch populated Panjgur, 500 kilometres away from Quetta, on a broken kacha road is grisly. But the aromatic smell of the silent educational revolution that is gradually emerging in the hometown of around 300,000 people is remarkably stirring. Barring the provincial capital, Quetta, Panjgur today has surpassed every other district of Balochistan in the domain of education. The credit for this positive change, the local residents maintain, primarily goes to Hussain, whom they popularly call Sir Zahir Hussain for his educational services.

Starting his educational expedition in a rented building of two rooms, Hussain now runs the Oasis Academy, located in a huge two-storied educational complex. So far, as many as 20,000 boys and girls from this rural district of Balochistan, including other parts of Mekran region, have benefited from the academy where they are taught English, computer training and other science and arts subjects against a nominal fee.

Hussain, who studied in the US for three years under a USAID-sponsored programme in the early 1990s, decided that he would fight ignorance in Panjgur on his return. He realised English was the biggest barrier for students at higher-education level. Thus, he opened an English language centre. Initially, the centre catered to the needs of male students only and, more importantly, it was not taken very seriously. However, when male students of the centre excelled in the language course due to Hussain’s effective teaching techniques, more and more local people rushed to the institute.

Hussain tells Daily Times why he chose to start his mission with English-language teaching. “Even the brightest students used to fail in the competitive civil, medical and engineering exams due to poor command over English. I decided to grapple with challenge of English first,” he said.

Having produced hugely impressive results within a short time period, Hussain, consequently, decided to also open the doors of learning for the local girls. It was not that easy. “Even the local educated lot resisted the idea of their sisters and daughters being taught by a male teacher,” recalled Hussain.

Instead of losing hope, he implemented the proverbial adage ‘charity begins from home’ in practice. “The first class for female students at the institute was only attended by the girls of my own family,” he said. Though the beginning was, understandably, troublesome for Hussain, a lot of success awaited him. Examining the past 14 years, Hussain proudly claims more than 20,000 students, 50 percent of them Baloch girls, have passed out from the Oasis Academy.

The Oasis Academy did start as a language centre but today it entails one of the best English medium schools in Balochistan, a large English language centre, an equipped computer lab and a large library.

‘Journalists can’t change the world’


By Malik Siraj Akbar

CHENNAI: “We journalists believe we can change the world. We can’t,” said veteran Indian journalist Nehal Singh during a two-week long media forum, ‘The Summer Academy’, organised by the German-based International Institute of Journalism (IIJ) from April 16 till April 28.

“Why did I become a journalist and what happened to my dreams and expectations,” said Singh while addressing the 24 journalists from seven South Asian countries, including four from Pakistan, gathered at the prestigious Asian College of Journalism, in Chennai to learn more about ‘Media Freedom and Responsibilities’. “In our futile efforts to change the world, we often violate our responsibilities and breach the trust society has placed in us,” Singh added.

Although the journalists represented assorted parts of the South Asian region, they shared several identical problems. Abject poverty, ailing health facilities, poor education, ethnic strife, poor governance and restricted press freedom were some of the burning issues discussed by the media of the SAARC countries.

In the midst of the discussion, an Afghan reporter received news that one of his colleagues had been murdered for writing an editorial against the callous murder by the Taliban of another Afghan journalist. This incident cemented the notion that journalists in the region existed in a constant state of insecurity. Considering press freedom in South Asia, all the participants declared that it was currently the most dangerous profession in the region.

Various delegates gave presentations that revealed how hazardous it is for reporters to independently cover the violent movements of the LTTE in Sri Lank, Maoists in Nepal, Taliban in Afghanistan, Balochis in Pakistan, Nagas in the North East of India and the “peacefully repressive” regime of the king of Bhutan. Britta Petersen quoted an Italian writer in her presentation, “In war zones, you can’t afford to make any mistake. Your first mistake may prove to be your last one.” Lectures giving an overview of the Indian media, freedom and responsibility in the media, reporting from the parliament and economic and business journalism were also illuminating.

The intensive Summer Academy session took up 12 hours daily, from 9 am to 9 pm, and while the tedium forced several reporters to fall asleep during later lectures, everyone involved truly appreciated the unique opportunity.

Jochen Gaugele, political editor of Bild am Sonntag, a German tabloid, apprised the participants of the decreasing circulations of newspapers in the West due to a major shift of readers and advertisers from print to the web. He said ‘tabloidisation’ was increasingly popular in western countries to prevent loss of readers. “Tabloid journalism does not necessarily mean sensational journalism,” he said. Indian journalist Sankarshan Thakur of Tehelka argued, however, that newspapers were losing readers because of the low standard of journalism prevalent today rather than the online boom. “Unless journalists stop cheating their readers, healthy journalism can’t be produced,” he said.

Lectures by Premesh Chandran of Malaysiakini, Kuala Lumpur and Nikhil Lakshman, editor of Rediff, an Indian search engine, brought home the point that online journalism could very soon overtake print journalism. However, newspapers in South Asia, where Internet penetration is still not as high as the developed world, still do not take this threat as seriously as their western counterparts. Instead, newspapers in India are steadily witnessing a rise in their circulation due to their cheaper rates.

During a two-day field trip, journalists visited a number of temples and churches in Chennai, including the historic Maylapur Temple. Like several South Indian cities, an IT boom echoes in Chennai. Eating Edili and Dosa, the popular local food, at ‘purely vegetarian’ Vasanta Bavan restaurant, on a banana leaf was a truly unforgettable experience. There was, surprisingly, some trouble encountered when trying to communicate with “we don’t speak Hindi” taxi drivers, however, a few broken sentences of Tamil soon made things bearable. The city also hosts the crowded Marina Beach, which is the world’s second largest beach, and the alluring Basant Nagar Beach. Spencer Plaza, a huge shopping centre located on Mount Road, was a good place to shop but cheaper items were available at Tinagar, Pondi and Burman bazzars.

The Summer Academy was also a great chance for South Asians to learn each other’s cultures and languages. It was an interesting sight to see delegates from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan haggling with shopkeepers over various items in Hindi. The two-week interaction between the journalists served as a reminder that the people of South Asia have more similarities than dissimilarities. People of the SAARC region share a common culture. Their requirements are as much the same as their mutual desire for progress. Thus, the people of South Asia deserve a peacefully happy world of multilateral regional cooperation. Similarly, the media has a key role to play as it dictates the future of the region, one which many believe is going to lead the entire world in the near future.