I was the first chief minister to address the existence of death squads in Balochistan: Abdul Malik Baloch
Law and order in Balochistan has been bad recently. Last month, the bullet-riddled bodies of at least 20 young men were discovered in Kech district, near the Pak-Iran border. They were passing through the province apparently on their way to Europe as illegal migrants when unknown gunmen killed them. They all came from various districts in central Punjab.
More recently, on November 25, a suicide bomb attack in Quetta targeted a Frontier Corps convoy, leaving at least five people dead and injuring a further 26. The police in Balochistan have also found themselves under renewed attack. Since October, at least 10 policemen have been killed in and around Quetta alone. Two senior officers, an additional inspector general and a superintendent of police, were among the dead. The Hazara community, too, is facing a new wave of violence. At least 13 members of the community have been killed since June this year. Many more have been injured in targeted attacks.
All this while there have been rising concerns that Balochistan’s resources are not benefitting its own people. In October, the government signed an agreement with a Chinese firm, extending its lease till 2022 to mine gold and copper from Saindak in Chagai district. Though the company shares 25 per cent of its profit with Pakistani authorities, only a fraction of it goes to Balochistan. Later, on November 24, Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Bizenjo informed the Senate that 91 per cent of the income to be generated from Gwadar port would go to China. The remaining amount will go to the Gwadar Port Authority.
Abdul Malik Baloch is well-placed to make informed comments on such developments. A senior member of the National Party, which is one of the constituents of the coalition government in Balochistan, he also worked as the province’s chief minister from 2013-2015.
Unlike many senior Baloch politicians, he comes from a middle-class family from Turbat in southern Balochistan. An ophthalmologist by training, he started taking part in politics when he was studying medicine. In 1988-1990, he served as Balochistan’s minister for health and then as provincial education minister for a year in 1993. He was a member of the Senate between 2006 and 2012 and has played a major role in the drafting of the landmark 18th Constitutional Amendment that was passed in 2010, which increased the level of provincial autonomy in the administrative, financial, social and economic sectors. Here, he shares his views with the Herald on a range of issues facing Balochistan.
Shah Meer Baloch. Your critics say you did not fight for Balochistan’s rights the way you should have when you were chief minister. What do you say?
Abdul Malik Baloch. That is not the reality. Baloch identity, Baloch survival and control of Baloch coasts and natural resources are the goals that have always driven our politics. I do not like confrontation without good reason but I do want the rights of the Baloch to be given to them. The federal government should give us our rights because in the 21st century the Baloch cannot live in darkness. This is the position I took whenever I felt the need to talk about the rights of the Baloch — whether it was the issue of [gold and copper mines] at Reko Diq, or the census or development funding for the province.
I stopped the land mafia in Gwadar to a large extent and also returned land to its original owners who were poor and needy. Approximately 100,000 acres of land were transferred to the Balochistan government [from the federal authorities]. The problem over Gwadar port’s [ownership] has been long in the making. In the era of Pervez Musharraf, the port was given to Singapore. Then during the government of the Pakistan Peoples Party, its ownership shares were sold to the Chinese. All this happened before my term in office began [and I could not undo it].
I tried my best to save the mineral reserves of Reko Diq safe [from outside interests] for two-and-a-half years — until the case was shifted to the International Court of Arbitration. When it comes to missing persons, we already know that their number is reported to have greatly decreased even if the issue is not completely resolved.
I appealed twice to the Council of Common Interests to resolve the issue of Afghan immigrants and made it clear that they must not be counted in the census. Since it is an international matter, the federal government extended [their stay] but we succeeded in [ensuring] that Afghan immigrants were not counted in the recent census. The fear of the Baloch majority becoming a minority in its own province vanished when the National Party took lead on the issue.
Only during my term in office, the federal government gave Balochistan all its rightful share in the federal funds. Earlier, if the federal government talked of giving 500 million rupees, it released only 100 million rupees. I ensured that all designated funds were received and spent on their intended purposes.
Shah Meer Baloch. During your tenure as chief minister, you started a dialogue with Baloch separatist activists living abroad. What happened to that?
Abdul Malik Baloch. When I took office, I made it clear to the federal government and the military establishment that the issue of insurgency in Balochistan could only be resolved through political dialogue. I had full support of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment. The dialogue I started received a positive response from exiled Baloch leaders. I met Mir Suleman Dawood Jan Ahmedzai, the Khan of Kalat, and Brahumdagh Bugti. Both agreed to come back [to Pakistan] after putting their demands on the government’s table. But I do not know what happened to the dialogue after I left office.
Shah Meer Baloch. The Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) claims that it is targeting your party because of your association with death squads set up to counter Baloch insurgents. How do you respond to this claim?
Abdul Malik Baloch. This is totally false. I was the first chief minister to address the existence of death squads. I retracted many identification cards issued to members of death squads. I believe I have greatly succeeded in this.
The National Party does not have any kind of connection to death squads. The BLF said this only to hide its own nefarious acts. All these militant organisations fighting in the name of freedom have promoted the idea of a civil war in the Baloch society. They should stop this now. They have been killing Baloch civilians and political workers in the name of countering the military establishment or security agencies.
Shah Meer Baloch. Will your party join hands with the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-Mengal) to work for the interests of the Baloch together?
Abdul Malik Baloch. My party has always wanted good ties with BNP-Mengal but this has never been reciprocated. We need good ties between the two parties so that we can solve such issues as the presence of Afghan immigrants in Balochistan with mutual understanding.
Shah Meer Baloch. The madrasa system is said to be penetrating your home division of Makran. Do you see this as a threat to nationalist politics?
Abdul Malik Baloch. Baloch society, as a whole, used to be secular and liberal. But for the last 30 years, the Afghan war and other ill-fated policies have affected Balochistan very negatively. As a result, religious extremism came to the province in the form of Shia-Sunni conflict. Extremism has been instilled in Balochistan since the time of Ziaul Haq in a very conscious and pre-planned way, although its strength has waxed and waned with the passage of time.
Shah Meer Baloch. The presence of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group is a new major threat to Balochistan. How do you view it?
Abdul Malik Baloch. Religious extremism in Balochistan has taken the form of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and al-Qaeda, etc. Now IS poses a bigger threat than other militant groups. I cannot say if it already has its organisational setup [in the province] but it is not difficult for extremists to establish their networks in Balochistan because members of extremist groups keep moving from one place to another.
This article was published in the Herald's December 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.