Govt pushing Baloch towards liberation
* PONM president says centre wants to usurp province’s natural resources
* Sardar Ataullah Mengal wants power of legislation, finance and natural resources given to provinces
* Demands paramilitary forces be put under the control of provincial governments
By Shahid Husain and Irfan Ali
KARACHI: Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Baloch nationalist leader and Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM) president, said the federation wanted to usurp the natural resources of Balochistan and turn the Baloch nation into a minority in their own province. This, said Sardar Ataullah, was pushing the Baloch towards liberation.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Times at his Khayaban-i-Sahar residence on Wednesday evening, 75-years-old Sardar Ataullah said the military government of late General Yahya Khan pushed the people of former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) towards secession by carrying out a genocide in that impoverished province in 1971 and the present government of President General Pervez Musharraf was bent upon adopting a similar policy of the use of force in Balochistan.
Potential of Balochistan: He said Balochistan had huge deposits of natural resources like oil, gas, copper, gold, uranium and non-metallic resources and a vast coastline besides a strategic position that puts Pakistan on the world map. Without Balochistan and Sindh, Pakistan is merely a liability, he added.
He said Gwadar was located on the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz and it had great strategic value. He said the gas pipeline from Central Asia would pass from Gwadar and there was competition from many countries including Iran which was also offering facilities to Central Asian States from Chah Bahar. However, the United States was interested that the pipeline should pass from Gwadar, he said.
Sardar Ataullah Mengal, who is also a former Balochistan chief minister, said the federal government was encroaching the land and resources of Balochistan very aggressively since nationalists had demanded provincial autonomy.
He said after the Sui incident, the increasing numbers of the armed forces were being deployed in Balochistan despite the demand of all the political parties that the army should be withdrawn from the province. He said as many as 25,000 people had been forced to migrate from Sui to other places after the incident and only a small proportion of people had returned despite the army’s call that they should return.
Baloch nationalists and Gwadar: The nationalist leader said it was wrong to say that Baloch leaders were against development but if a city like Karachi cropped up in Gwadar due to internal migration, the Baloch nation would become a minority in its own land. The land in Gwadar, which was essentially state land, was being sold to outsiders at the rate of Rs 15 million per acre, he said. He added that outsiders would invest in Gwadar and all its earnings would be siphoned off by the federal government.
“There will be another Karachi. If Gwadar becomes a city of 15 million people, the Baloch will become a minority. The provincial government will not get a single penny,” he said. “In Hub, the provincial government had the right to only collect the toll tax and but this power was also withdrawn,” he said.
He said the Baloch people would never object to development even if there were dozens of development projects in Balochistan, including Gwadar Port, but it was essential that their suspicions and misgivings were addressed. He said law-making should be transferred to the provincial assemblies. People who come to the province from outside in the name of development should not have the right to vote in the province, he said. They should vote in their own province although they would have the right to stay, work and earn a livelihood in Balochistan, he remarked. “We’ll not ask them to pay income tax in Balochistan and we will only collect sales tax from them,” he said, referring to the workers who would come to Gwadar.
He said Gwadar had been sold and now land was being sold in Pasni and Ormara. He added that land in these areas was being sold through the connivance of smugglers, land mafia and intelligence agencies. The land in Gwadar has even been sold at Rs 10 million per acre, he added.
Powers of provincial governments: He said he believed the federal government should not have the right to bypass the law made by the provincial government so that the demography of the province was not affected. He said the right to collect income tax and other taxes should be a provincial subject and the province would transfer revenue to the federal pool in accordance with the population. Natural gas, oil, metallic and non-metallic resources should be the property of the provinces, he added.
He said the Constitution had given all the powers to the federal government, which needed to be changed. Elaborating, he said, powers over legislation, finance and natural resources should be vested with the provincial governments and barring defence, currency and foreign affairs, all other powers should be transferred to the provinces.
Sardar Ataullah said the paramilitary forces should also be under the control of provincial governments while the federal government should only look after defence, foreign affairs and currency. “You accept these demands and then you can have as many projects as you want,” he said. He said his party had already listed these demands and conveyed them to Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, ruling Pakistan Muslim League president, and Tariq Aziz, National Security Council secretary, a few months ago during a meeting.
The Baloch sardar said Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty was at stake, adding the government was willing to provide bases to the United States if the latter continued to support the Musharraf government.
He said the Baloch leaders were keen to make Balochistan a welfare province and since it had a population of only five million people and huge resources this was not an impossible dream.
Future of Balochistan: Sardar Ataullah said he did not doubt that the government was pushing Baloch people towards liberation. He said the Baloch people were being pushed away from controlling their natural resources and compelled to keep quiet even if there were incidents of gang rapes. He said the United States was directly involved in the events in Balochistan.
Recalling the military operation in Balochistan in the early 1970s, he said there were about 5,000 Baloch casualties and according to American scholar Selig Harrison, the number of casualties of the army were about the same. He said the late Shah of Iran provided gunship helicopters to the government of prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and spent Rs 10 million daily to contain the armed struggle in Balochistan.
Answering a question about Chaudhry Shujaat’s statement in which he said that even the Constitution could be amended to satisfy the Baloch, Sardar Ataullah said it was premature to comment on this because no practical step had been taken as yet.
He said he was not optimistic and believed that the Baloch resistance would intensify. The Baloch nationalist leader said he was living to fight for the genuine rights of his people. He said the PONM leadership would meet after Eid to formulate its strategy on the Balochistan issue. The PONM leadership in Sindh, he added, had met him on Wednesday and they would meet in Hyderabad on Thursday to decide their policy.