An Interview With Sana Baloch
* Senator Sanaullah Baloch says BNP-M welcomes reconciliation efforts, but stresses reservations of Baloch nationalists must be addressed
* Notes parliament unable to deliver on Baloch autonomy since itself is striving to gain powers from ‘establishment’
By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: After ending two years of self-exile, Balochistan’s nationalist firebrand Senator Sanaullah Baloch has returned to politics as much as he has to the country. The past few years, which have seen a ‘deadly military operation’ in Balochistan and hundreds of people subjected to ‘enforced disappearances’, have also entailed immense personal suffering for Sanaullah. The government froze his bank accounts, put his name on the Exit Control List and ‘kidnapped two of his younger brothers to coax him into giving up his anti-government stance’. Where does Sanaullah stand now? He shares his views with Daily Times in an exclusive interview.
“I never wanted to go into exile, but the government had shut all the doors of democratic struggle for us. We could not move, speak or present our democratic demands freely,” says Sanaullah, who is the youngest-ever member elected to the Upper House of Parliament and secretary general of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal).
According to Sanaullah, things started to go wrong in Balochistan in the latest phase in 2003, when the federal government launched a few major projects in the province. Baloch nationalists predicted then that the projects would lead to a deadly confrontation between the government and the Baloch people. The reason for such bitter predictions was understandable, he says: the Baloch were not taken into confidence as far as launching these projects was concerned. Neither were our views taken onboard in the planning of the projects nor were we made a part of the implementation process, he says.
“The mega projects were so alien to the people of Balochistan that no one owned them. We told the government that the strategy, not the mega projects, was faulty. Let’s sit and talk about the reservations of the nationalist forces. On the other hand, the government viewed us as a minority ethnic group and initiated a military operation which led to unprecedented and irreparable losses in the province.”
Asked what the Baloch actually want from the federation, Sanaullah replied: “The Baloch demands are crystal clear: we demand ‘respect’ and ‘ownership’ in this country. We refuse to be treated like slaves.”
According to him, Islamabad controls Balochistan’s economy, culture, history, education, politics and administration. The unchanged ‘discriminatory attitude’ of the federal government has led the Baloch to conclude they are being ‘racially discriminated’ against, he contends.
“I know ‘racial discrimination’ is a very strong and harsh word which may irk some of our friends, but if the Centre is not racially discriminating [against] us then why does it not give us respect? Why does it not give us ownership of our land, coast and resources? Why doesn’t Islamabad clarify, why is it is afraid of the Baloch people?”
One district of Balochistan alone, Dera Bugti, generates gas worth Rs 85 billion a year, but this very district is ranked lowest in the Human Development Index. “The same goes for all parts of the province. The areas which do not have the Sardari system are equally hit by poverty, illiteracy, poor health facilities and unemployment.”
Reconciliation: Sanaullah says his party, the BNP-M, welcomes the reconciliatory process initiated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). But, he says, the PPP must not falsely believe it is doing a ‘favour’ to the Baloch leaders by releasing some of them, including BNP-M President Sardar Akhtar Mengal. Rather, the Baloch leaders have attained their just rights by rendering sacrifices, including imprisonment and going into exile, he says.
Sanaullah, who participated in a previous attempt by the Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain government to settle the Balochistan issue via two parliamentary committees, hopes the PPP will refrain from repeating the mistakes made by the previous committees.
“Although the Baloch leadership, including late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, wholeheartedly co-operated with the committees headed by Mushahid Hussain and Senator Wasim Sajjad, it was a ‘fake process’ with ‘fake committees’. Both committees were tasked to submit their reports in 90 days, but they failed to do so even after 900 days had lapsed.”
In order to avoid past mistakes, Sana recommends that this time a selective process should be adopted for talks. First of all, he says, the government should own up to the conflict and accept that a problem does exist in Balochistan.
“Both the government and the armed groups should [agree to a] ceasefire to pave the way for peace in Balochistan. A ceasefire should, subsequently, lead to the withdrawal of forces from the province,” he says.
Next, he says the government should identify the key actors of the Balochistan conflict. These players include the political parties and the Marri and Bugti families, who have been driven out of their homes.
Establishment: The Baloch leader says it is the ‘establishment’ that has to relinquish its powers so that a political solution can be hammered out. It is not the parliament, he remarks candidly, which is going to give powers to the Baloch because the parliament is itself striving to gain powers from the ‘establishment’.
“If there is someone who can give us autonomy it is the ‘establishment’. Although I am not very optimistic that the ‘establishment’ will empower us, this is the only formula that would leads to peace,” he says.
“And peace must be restored in Balochistan,” says Sanaullah, “because everyone in the province has suffered immensely from the ongoing conflict”.