Baloch nationalists pessimistic about government package

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Baloch nationalist parties are skeptical of the federal government’s decision to sideline them in today’s (Monday) consultation with the Balochistan governor, chief minister and the entire provincial cabinet to finalize the much-hyped Balochistan package. They insist that a constitutional or economic package formulated while excluding the “genuine Baloch representatives” in the consultative process is doomed to failure.

According to former senator Tahir Bizenjo, the central secretary general of the National Party (NP), Baloch nationalist parties and the armed groups are two important stakeholders of the Baloch crisis. The government has cleverly snubbed them while seeking advice to resolve the turmoil in Balochistan. The current Balochistan Assembly, in his views, does not represent the real aspirations of the people of Balochistan.

“Baloch nationalist parties have been disappointed from the Pakistan People’s Party government because it has taken no confidence building measures to provide the actual Baloch leadership a chance to sit on the negotiation table,” Bizenjo told this scribe, “ We have been demanding via media that the government should win the Baloch confidence before opting for an economic package.”

Bizenjo doubts PPP’s intentions and expresses pessimism about the prospects of success for the forthcoming Balochistan package by insisting that to bring the armed groups to peace position and grant them general amnesty is the first thing the government should do.

“The government will achieve no progress if it deliberately sidelines the National Party, the Balochistan National Party and the armed groups fighting in the mountains,” he predicted, “when President Asif Zardari took over as the president, we suggested him to take a few tangible measures to develop a conducive atmosphere for dialogue in Balochistan.”

Disclosing the details of the demands put by the Baloch nationalist parties before the ruling Pakistan People’s Party to bring peace in the province, the former senator said they had recommended the president to ensure the recovery of all the missing persons as this issue had remarkably alienated the Balochs. In addition, they demanded the rehabilitation and provision of compensation to the Bugti and Marri tribesmen who had been drive out of their homes and inflicted huge economic losses due to the military operation carried out in their area during the Pervez Musharraf regime.

“We also asked the government to withdraw all the politically motivated cases against the political workers of various nationalist parties. Furthermore, our demands also included the withdrawal of the Frontier Corps (FC) from the city and district headquarters and its redeployment on the bordering areas of Balochistan. The FC has been humiliating and harassing our people, causing more public distrust and sense of oppression,” he said.

The National Party (NP) secretary general says if the government had complied with these primary demands earlier, tremendous progress would be made in resolving the Balochistan vendetta.

“There is no change in the government policy,” he asserts, “what we are seeing at the moment under the PPP rule is a continuity of the Musharraf regime’s antagonistic Balochistan policy.”

Likewise, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) is disapproving of the government’s approach towards Balochistan and believes that the Baloch issue does not revolve around grants and packages but is a matter of right of ownership and full control on the natural resources of the province.

A former member of the national assembly from the BNP, Rauf Mengal, who resigned from the previous National Assembly in protest against the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006, told this writer that the Balochs had been fulfilling the energy needs of the country for the past many decades but the province got military operations and repression in return from successive rulers.

Mengal does not regret quitting the country’s national assembly saying that these bodies are powerless to provide relief to the smaller provinces, particularly the Balochs.

“The government is fooling itself by merely consulting the provincial ministers on the Balochistan package. Who is going to mitigate the frustration of the Baloch families whose members were killed or subjected to enforced disappearances during the military operation? We view all economic packages as “charity” given to us by Islamabad. Charity is not what we demand. We seek ownership on our own coast and resources,” he said.

Balochistan’s weariness with packages has not only irked the opposition parties sitting outside the Balochistan Assembly. Even a few ministers serving in Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani’s current cabinet are cynical about the government’s policy of providing packages rather than inducting permanent constitutional relief to Balochistan.

Mir Asadullah Baloch, Balochistan’s agriculture minister, says the “civil and military bureaucracy in Islamabad” is trying to bluff the Balochs once again with the help of packages in an effort to divert the Baloch attention from seeking complete provincial autonomy.

“There is consensus among all political parties of Balochistan that the real issue of the province is political and economic. We want the federal government to concede our right of ownership on our natural resources. Islamabad should devolve all subjects to the provinces expect defense, foreign affairs and currency,” he recommends, “we can hardly afford to waste much time Balochistan where the situation is rapidly getting out of control,” he stated.

The ruling Pakistan People’s Party says its weeks away from tabling the Balochistan package in the lower house of the parliament. Balochistan has recently witnessed a resurgence of target killings of Punjabi professionals by Baloch armed groups who hold the Punjabi-dominated center for their woes.

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