Gwadar the tiger

PAKISTAN would be Asia’s and Gwadar Pakistan’s tiger with the completion of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), said Nawaz Sharif at a recent public meeting held in Balochistan’s port city. “I am the first prime minister who stayed overnight in Gwadar as earlier the leaders neglected the area,” he remarked.

He also claimed that peace had returned to the insurgency-prone area during his tenure and gave the credit to the armed forces, police, local administration and the nation. I wish he had taken the nation into confidence regarding progress on the aspect of the National Action Plan pertaining to reconciliation with the Baloch sub-nationalists involved in a ‘low-intensity insurgency’ in their homeland. Former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik had initiated the process and also met some of the dissident leaders ensconced in European safe havens. Have policymakers in Quetta and Islamabad taken any confidence-building measures to bring about a reconciliation? I am afraid the security establishment strongly feels that any level of militancy or insurgency can be tackled with force and coercion.

Meanwhile, the London-based, self-exiled Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Ahmedzai brands China and Pakistan as ‘plunderers’ and tilts toward India to stop or subvert CPEC’s execution. He recently told the media that Indian PM Modi was a “friend of Balochistan”. Then there is Baloch Liberation Army leader Hyrbyair Marri who too is safely based in London and trying to create unrest in the Bolan Pass area near Quetta and Sibi. Similarly, Brahmdagh Bugti is inciting his followers from his cool Geneva haven to play with fire in Sui and Dera Bugti areas. Remember, these are Baloch sardars who, while living in plush European lands, cannot inspire the poor and downtrodden people of Balochistan to follow their diktat.

The festering wounds that have given impetus to the Baloch insurgency should be healed.

The real threat to the state agencies comes from the dissident Baloch youth and the Baloch Liberation Front leadership perched in the mountainous terrain around Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur and Kharan. A bright, middle-class student, Dr Allah Nazar, started to lead the youthful insurgents in 2006. These angry young Baloch men and women are the ones who require our state security stakeholders’ attention. Instead of alienating them, efforts should be made to give them respect and listen to their voices of dissent. Their spokesmen are, in fact, those Baloch politicians who chose ballot over bullets and contested the 2013 elections. These elected leaders are not against Pakistan.

A multi-party conference (MPC) on CPEC was hos¬ted by the Balochistan National Party-Mengal in Islamabad on Jan 10, 2016. It approved the following resolutions: one, complete control of the Gwadar Port mega project should be handed over to Balochistan in accordance with the Constitution. Ownership rights and powers to make decisions on Balochistan’s resources should be accepted. Two, the unanimous resolution passed at the MPC convened by the prime minister on May 28, 2015 should be implemented in letter and spirit. CPEC’s western route should be completed first and people living in undeveloped areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochis¬tan must derive benefits from all aspects of CPEC.

Three, steps should be taken to prevent the Baloch becoming a minority in their province. There should be a complete ban on the issuance of identity cards, local certificates and passports from Gwadar to new settlers so that their names are not included in electoral rolls. Four, facilities of clean drinking water, hospitals, schools, technical colleges and centres for skilled persons related to the port and a maritime university should be established, and people of Gwadar given preference in them. Five, locals should get priority in appointments at Gwadar Port and related mega projects. Six, in order to prevent local fishermen from economic deprivation, alternative means of earning should be provided. All restrictions on people of Gwadar, including an unannounced ban on political activities, should be removed and they should be allowed freedom of movement.

Seven, people of Gwadar should be provided free medical facilities, technical training in foreign countries and scholarships in reputed educational institutions in other provinces. Eight, in order to overcome Gwadar’s backwardness, its residents should be given free education and health facilities. They should be given immunity on taxes and utility bills for three years. Nine, the confiscation of thousands of kanals of local people’s ancestral land was unjust and these should be returned to their real owners. Ten, there should be legislation to ensure partnership of local people in investment projects in Gwadar. Eleven, locals should be inducted into security forces to protect their rights and self-respect.

These resolutions by various mainstream political forces reflected a consensus that the state should have addressed so that the festering wounds that have provided impetus to the Baloch insurgency could be healed.
Another significant development was the decision to lay a railway track to connect Gwadar with the Iranian port city of Chabahar. Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri and an Iranian delegation led by the governor of the Iranian province of Sistan-Balochestan, Aaqa Ali Hosth Hashmi, reached the agreement on Jan 11, 2016 in Gwadar. Officials from both sides discussed security, drug trafficking, illegal border crossing, etc and also decided to take up plans for border trade, a new shipping service and flights from Gwadar to Iranian cities.

This appeared to me to be too good to be true. I am reminded of US ambassador Ryan Crocker’s farewell courtesy call on me in 2007 while I was IGP Balochistan. I broached the subject of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. He said it would not be feasible due to the poor law and order situation in Balochistan. I told him Pakistani security agencies were capable of providing secure transit to a pipeline parallel to the Gwadar-Karachi coastline. After some hedging, he reluctantly conceded that the project was not in US interests.

So that is it. National interests of global powers determine what goes on in our region. For once, we should start thinking what is best for us in the regional context. Neighbour Iran is too vital for us as a potential CPEC trading partner.

The strategically located and resource-rich province of Balochistan calls for mature, long-term decisions by all stakeholders, particularly the federal government and all-powerful military establishment. The voice of the Baloch should not be ignored any longer.

The writer is former IGP Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2017

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