EXCLUSIVE: Another Interview with Balochistan Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani
E X C L U S I V E:
By Malik Siraj Akbar
This Blog spoke exclusively to Balochistan Governor, Owais Ahmed Ghani, on the Balochistan issue. Excerpts
One year down the line, does the government now realize that killing Akbar Bugti was a blunder?
Let me clarify that Bugti was not target-killed. Had the government wanted to kill him, it would have done this much earlier when fighting between security forces and Bugti tribesmen was at its highest level. At that point, it would even be easier for the government to kill him in open fight. However, the biggest concern of ours during this whole conflict was that nothing should happen to the Nawab.
Were foreign weapons used in the fight against Bugtis?
Yes. Since it was an open fight, we had to use those [foreign] weapons. The universal law very simply states that anybody who violates that law will immediately lose the protection of the law. When Bugti himself opened hostilities against the government, he lost the protection of the law. Throughout the conflict, the government did not give up the pace of dialogue.
We tried our best to ensure Bugti’s safety. His death was a very sad event. Because by that time Nawab Bugti had emerged as the sole spokesperson of Balochistan while negotiating with the Parliamentary Committee. We were glad to have him on board. His death was a great loss. It was a very unfortunate incident.
Do you still have faith in the Parliamentary Committee, which many believe is dead by now?
The parliamentary committee is still working behind the scene on provincial autonomy and other issues.
Why did the committee fail to come up with its recommendations in the given time frame of 90 days?
I think the 90-day timeframe was too short a period. At that time, I told the concerned government officials that they had made a mistake. Because the committee was entrusted the responsibility of discussing very complicated issues. Matters pertaining to provincial autonomy, natural resources, distribution of resources between the provinces and the federation have been there for the past sixty years. Obviously, all these matters could not be sorted out in a period of 90 days.
I kept on telling all the parties involved in the process that the timeframe was too short and it would take the committee a longer time to accomplish its task. We are working on all substantial matters. Much work has been done so far, though behind the scene. I think we must go towards higher degrees of provincial autonomy. Everybody, from Islamabad to here, understands that there should be more decentralization. However, one needs enough time to work out the details of all these issues because there are highly technical matters involved. We will have to make changes in the constitution. Within the constitution, some existing laws have to be changed. Furthermore, we will have to create new departments at the provincial level once the powers are transferred from center to the provinces. Once that is done, the provinces will require more financial resources to bear the expenses. Thus, I believe more time is required to sort out these issues.
The nationalists argue that the government itself sabotaged the parliamentary committee by launching operations in certain parts of Balochistan and arresting a large number of political activists.
The whole world knows that President Musharraf was going to announce a Rs. 1.5 billion development package for Kohlu. One night before the President’s visit to Kohlu, he was attacked with rockets, with one rocket missing him narrowly when it landed just 200 meters away in the Garrison Mess. Despite this, he did not postpone his trip. The next morning when the President went there, he was attacked again.
Does an attack on President Musharraf justify a military operation in Balochistan? Attacks on the President in Rawalpindi and Karachi weren’t after all responded with similar military operations in the Punjab and Sindh?
The extremists launched the attack on President. The government has already launched an operation against them in Waziristan. It is still continuous. The attack was not launched in Pindi simply because the attackers were not hiding in Pindi. They were sitting somewhere else. You have to understand my point. The operation against the extremists is much bigger than the operation in Balochistan.
Secondly, when it was launched here, it was just against the Marri terrorist camps. That operation was not against the late Nawab [Akbar Bugti] . But he himself jumped into the conflict. What could the government do amid such circumstances?
Some people say that the attack was conducted against the Baloch. I assure you that if a rocket is launched by a Punjabi Chaudhary, which amounts to breaking the law, we will certainly take action against him. Saying that the operation was meant to punish the Baloch is mere political rhetoric.
Why does Balochistan face military operations after every ten to fifteen years?
In Sindh, the MQM says they faced a military operation during Benazir government. In NWFP, there is one operation going on. They [the Baloch leaders] say Balochistan is an exceptional. It is not.
The recent murder of Balochistan government spokesperson, Raziq Bugti, indicates that violence in Balochistan has not decreased yet. How would your respond to it?
Well, such isolated acts of terrorism are difficult to stop. But why don’t you go to Dera Bugti and Kholu districts to see the development that has taken place there? Before October 1999, not a single blacktop road was there in Kohlu. Today, things have greatly changed there. Too much development has taken place in the tribal areas of Balochistan. The media need to look at the positive side of the picture.
Do you think things in Balochistan are heading towards the right direction?
During my stay in Quetta as the governor, I have seen a few very positive happenings here.
Firstly, for the past 15 to 20 years, there is a rising middle class in Balochistan which is increasingly empowered by education and trade. This has granted them financial freedom from the old feudal system. The old tribal elites face a serious challenge by this rising educated middle class. This class has not only outdone and outnumbered the tribal elites in the political sphere but also in trade unions, lawyers’ and farmers’ communities.
Secondly, this transitional change in the Baloch society is followed by a class conflict in the province. I consider Raziq Bugti, who came from a middle class family, a brave man who fell victim of this internal class conflict. He was an educated middle class man. Similarly, late Justice Nawaz Marri became a victim of class conflict. Violence is involved in this transitional change but the change is inevitable.
The government is neutral but its development is favoring and strengthening the middle class of Balochistan. This middle class is soon going to overpower the tribal elites. The challenge before the government is to nurse this society with minimum pain. Let’s be clear that this change cannot be completely painless. In fact, this social change is the most exciting thing to see in today’s Balochistan.
On one hand, there is the tribal elite trying to maintain the status quo while on the other hand there is this strong middle class which is persistently pushing this positive change. Therefore, some pain would be there before this social change fully matures.