General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani speaks to Balochistan’s new chief minister Abdul Malik Baloch during a ceremony to mark Defence Day in Sui
Dr Ishaq Baloch and Dr Allah Nazar were both groomed in the student politics of Balochistan in the 1980s. Dr Allah Nazar joined the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), picked up the gun, and eventually surfaced as a symbol of resistance for the disgruntled Baloch against the state of Pakistan. Dr Ishaq Baloch decided to use peaceful political means to further the Baloch cause. He has countless reasons to disagree with the Pakistani establishment and the so-called Punjabi elite, but he never thought secession was the solution to the problem of Balochistan.
“The future of Balochistan is intertwined with the federation”
“The future of Balochistan is intertwined with the federation,” Dr Baloch said in an interview. He is now the vice president of the National Party. “Separation is no solution, and that is why we don’t demand separation, despite severe criticism.”
Dr Ishaq Baloch addresses a Young Doctors’ convention in Quetta
The times were difficult but the people were inspiring when he first joined the Pakistan Progressive Students Alliance in 1984. Many heard him correctly. Among them was Abdul Hai Baloch, who felt he could play a role in his National Movement. Later, he joined the Balochistan National Alliance, beginning a long association with Dr Abdul Malik, who is now the cabinet-less chief minister of Balochistan.
“Since the very beginning, we have demanded maximum autonomy for Balochistan,” he said, driving home from the Balochistan Assembly in Quetta. Like the rest of the peace-loving residents of the city, he lives in danger. There are non-state actors who show no mercy when they silence their opponents. The role of state agencies has been highly controversial. Some local chieftains run their own small but well-organized fiefdoms. Recently, the specter of sectarianism has emerged to haunt the marginalized Shia Hazara community.
“Satisfying the impoverished people of Balochistan by giving them their due rights is the need of the hour,” Dr Baloch said. “The ailing economy of Pakistan can be cured by utilizing the potentials of Balochistan, such as the hidden mineral resources and the coast of Gwadar.” He has so far been disappointed by the effort that Pakistan’s political elite and the establishment have made to end the Baloch deprivation, but agrees that the landmark 18th constitutional amendment and the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan development package were excellent initiatives to undo the mistakes of the past.
A ‘great game’ is being played in the province, and it involves regional and international players, Dr Baloch said. He declined to elaborate, but added that some countries in the region were threatened by the economic potential of Gwadar.
He did not say which country was fanning the flames of separatism in the province, but the government of Pakistan has long accused India of aiding the Baloch separatists. Brahamdagh Bugti, the son of slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, was once photographed in Delhi, and there were allegations that he was enjoying Indian patronage. The Indian government has always refuted the allegations.
But any foreign involvement builds on an existing sense of deprivation among the Baloch, which is largely genuine. Dr Ishaq Baloch accuses the Punjabi ruling elite of mistreating the people of Balochistan, the civil and military establishment of blocking development in the province, and the tribal leaders of siding with military dictators.
Pakistan’s first deep sea port in Gwadar, whose operations were recently handed over to China
Among the most serious issues in Balochistan is that of the ‘missing persons’ – people believed to have been abducted by law-enforcement or spy agencies over suspicion that they support the separatists. Many of those who disappear end up dead.
Dr Ishaq said no single individual or institution was responsible for the problems in Balochistan. He said the government had no writ in parts of the province, but it was wrong to believe that the provincial government had little control or influence outside of Quetta. “There are problems in some areas,” he acknowledged, “but it is a wrong perception that the writ of the government doesn’t exist at all.”
Some regional players are threatened by the economic potential of Gwadar
Asked to comment on the chief minister governing the province without a cabinet, he said dealing with coalition partners was not an easy job. “We must keep everyone in the coalition satisfied. I believe we have managed things, and the provincial cabinet will be formed in a matter of days.”
Among the coalition partners is the faction of Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, previously seen as part of the Punjabi elite. Despite being the largest party in the Balochistan Assembly, it allowed the National Party to appoint a chief minister. The reconciliatory move is being hailed by political analysts. But the scars of deprivation may take time to heal.
“We have faith in the process of reconciliation,” Dr Ishaq Baloch said. “And I think this strategy will eventually work.” But for things to get better, he said the province will have to get rid of the complicated regional proxy war.