Malik Siraj Akbar speaks to the former senator and the central secretary general of the Balochistan National Party, Habib Jalib Baloch about Balochistan's grievances and the federal government's response.
The Balochistan National Party (BNP) is the largest opposition party in Balochistan which came under severe fire during the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. The party’s chief, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan, was arrested and literally put into an ‘iron cage’ for more than one year. Hundreds of NBP leaders were arrested, their names were put on the Exit Control List (ECL) and bank accounts were frozen.
The BNP quit its seats in the Balochistan Assembly and both houses of the country’s parliament in protest against the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former Baloch governor and a chief minister, in a military operation on August 26, 2006.
Later on, the BNP boycotted the general elections of 2008 and adopted a hardliner approach towards the country’s polity. A party known for its demand for maximum provincial autonomy to the smaller provinces of Pakistan, BNP today stands for the right of self-determination for the gas-rich Balochistan province.
BNP has rejected the recently announced Balochistan package announced by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. I spoke to BNP’s central secretary general and former senator Habib Jalib Baloch about his party’s stance on the political situation of Balochistan.
What is your party’s response to the constitutional package on Balochistan?
We have read about the recommendations proposed by Senator Raza Rabbani only through the media. We believe these “limited recommendations” are made by a group of extremely powerless and disorganized people. All these recommendations comprise of requests and suggestions rather than demonstrating any practical measures.
The present government in the center as well as in the province is too powerless to resolve Balochistan’s quest for right to self-determination. We have to firstly know whether or not the current parliament is powerful enough to curtail the powers of the president, give powers of money bill to the Senate of Pakistan and empower it to debate the country’s defense budget on the floor of the upper house of the parliament? If the answer to these questions is in negation then it means that the government is not in a position to gain the trust of the Baloch nationalist parties to sit and negotiate.
But such ideal circumstances, as demanded by you, did not exist even when yours as well as other Baloch nationalist parties agreed to participate in the parliamentary committee headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed in 2004 to address the Balochistan crisis. Why are you setting such preconditions now for negotiations with the government?
When we agreed to cooperate with a committee formulated by the parliament back in 2004, the situation in Balochistan was not as bad as it is today. During the last days of Pervez Musharraf, the situation in Balochistan was pushed to such a state where we lost trust in each other and animosities reached their nadir. When we had agreed to cooperate and negotiate with the parliamentary committee, the number of troops in Sui had not been increased nor had the military operation been unleashed in Dera Bugti.
More importantly, at that time Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Balach Marri had not been assassinated. The killing of these two top Baloch leaders changed the overall situation in Balochistan and public anger reached at an irreversible level. Today, the Balochs are deeply wounded after a deadly military operation was carried out against them. Thousands of our people have been injured, arrested or disappeared by the state apparatus. There is no respite in these cases up till now. Our cities have been handed over to the Frontier Corps (FC) which is directly engaged in assaulting our people’s homes and regularly humiliating them. Amid all these brutalities, we see no grounds to negotiate with the government.
So are you trying to say that the Balochistan government is powerless and the affairs of the province are being run by the country’s military?
Exactly. The Balochistan government is absolutely powerless. Negotiations are a gimmick on the part of the government merely to divert public attention towards the real problems of the province. The government is trying to give a cover-up to its own failures in meeting the public expectations in the province. We wonder if this government has got the power to recover all the missing persons, cancel the “mega frauds” (referring to the mega projects such as Gwadar Port). Balochistan’s issue has gone far beyond constitutional packages or formation of committees. These measures are only meant to divert public attention and waste more time.
Did the government ever contact you while preparing the Balochistan package?
I am the secretary general of my party and I can tell you responsibly that neither I nor any other senior member of my party was ever been contacted for any kind of consultation.
What if the government approaches your party again for cooperation?
Any such offers by the government to participate in the negotiation process would be tabled in the Central Committee meeting of the Balochistan National Party. It is for the Central Committee to make a final decision. However, let me tell you that our Central Committee had already passed a unanimous resolution in the past which said that our party would not become a part of any negotiation process with the government until the military operation is completely ended in Balochistan, security forces are withdrawn and all missing are recovered. In addition, we demand that the Pakistani forces involved in naked aggression should be withdrawn and replaced by the United Nations peacekeeping forces.
We have seen a paradigm shift in BNP’s policy. While your party has been asking for more autonomy within the framework of the federation of Pakistan, now you are asking for the right of self-determination. What caused this change in the party policy?
Seeking right of self-determination is a big democratic demand which is mentioned in the charter of the United Nations for the oppressed, suppressed and colonized states of the world. According to the UN charter, all oppressed and suppressed people of the world are entitled to use their right of self-determination to seek separation from one state and form their separate state. They have also been given the right to seek independence through plebiscite administered by the United Nations to seek the people’s choice whether they would like to remain independent or live in another country where they have dwelled in the past.
Despite the presence of this option, many countries, oppressed states and marginalized people of the world, including Balochistan, have not used this right to ask for plebiscite and form their separate country. We Balochs realize that the time has come for us to exercise this right and demand complete right of self-determination. The circumstances have fully changed for us. We believe that state of Pakistan has worsened the situation to such an extent where our coexistence is almost impossible. Therefore, a referendum should be held under the auspices of the United Nations to see what the Balochs demand.
You see differences and hatred between the Balochs and the people who consider themselves as the sole custodians of the Pakistani state have intensified and now it is not possible for us to live as slaves in this country any longer.
It seems that you are very disappointed with the Pakistan People’s Party government.
Yes. The PPP has gone much down from the program it had inherited from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. It is unfortunate that the PPP could not arrest General Pervez Musharraf in connection to the murder of Benazir Bhutto despite remaining in power. Baloch children are being regularly arrested and thrown inside torture cells and jails under MPO3. Nawab Bugti and Balaach Marri were killed during the Musharraf regime, so was Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf’s autocratic rule widened the gulf between the provinces and the center. He should have been brought to justice but the PPP government, unfortunately, gave him a safe passage. In my opinion, the PPP has distracted from its original program of Roti (bread), Kapara (clothe) and Makan (home). Now, it is giving hunger in place of roti, coffin instead of clothe and jail in return of makan.
Do you see any improvement in the issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan?
No. I am a lawyer by profession and I get to meet so many people on regular basis who come to me and complain about the disappearance of their beloved ones by the intelligence agencies. The number of disappearances is increasing rather than decreasing. A few days ago, the members of a family came to me and said six people from one family were whisked away by the intelligence personnel when they were traveling in a truck. There is no information about their whereabouts up till now. I am surprised why the human rights groups are so quite on the issue of missing persons of Balochistan. We expect them to take the issue more seriously and speak for the people of Balochistan.
Some pro-independence forces in Balochistan have been requesting for international mediation. Do you support such a demand or you believe that the Balochs can sort out their issues with Pakistan without any foreign interference?
In fact, BNP was the first party that appealed to the United Nations to take notice of the grave violation of human rights in Balochistan and send its peace-keeping forces in Balochistan. Because we do not trust the Pakistani government and its forces. In addition, it should also conduct a referendum to ascertain the Baloch demands. Unless, this is done, the situation in Balochistan will not improve. We have fully lost faith the Pakistani antagonistic forces which must be withdrawn from Balochistan at once.