September 6, 2008

Balochistan: Leaders Welcome Zardari

Sample ImageZardari is expected to review his policy in favour of increased autonomy for Balochistan.

Below is an article published by The Daily Times:

The election of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari as the president of Pakistan on Saturday [6 September 2008] was widely welcomed by Baloch nationalist leaders and analysts.

The greetings came amid great expectations that the Centre would review its policy towards the restive Balochistan province.

"Zardari's election is the victory of democratic forces," said Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) Central President Talal Akbar Bugti.

He told Daily Times that his party had supported the PPP in the presidential elections after Adviser on Interior Rehman Malik assured him of a change in the government's policy towards Balochistan.

Bugti said that Malik had agreed to all of his demands in exchange for the support of his party and tribe to the PPP presidential candidate.

"Our demands, besides others, included the provision of complete autonomy to the provinces, ending the military operation in all parts of Balochistan. Recently, the forces looted the houses of the local people in Dera Bugti. We want these injustices to come to a permanent end," he remarked.

Bugti said soon after the murder of his father and former chief minister late Nawab Akbar Bugti, separatist tendencies had gained strength in Balochistan and “there was no longer any justification for the Baloch people to live within the federation of Pakistan”. Yet, said he, had tried to put out the fire and opted for a political approach to bridge the gap between the province and the Centre.

"The PPP has promised to move the head office of Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) from Karachi to Quetta. It has also agreed to give the first priority to the people of Dera Bugti and then to the people of Balochistan in job opportunities created at all gas companies," he said, adding that a demand had been put before the PPP leader that the Defence Security Guards (DSG) should vacate the Balochistan Tribal Areas.

“We see no justification for the DSGs presence in our areas. They are engaged in looting and plundering the Baloch resources in the name of giving protection to the national installations," he added.

Bugti said he would soon visit Dubai and meet with Nawabzada Gazin Marri, the son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, to discuss the political situation in Balochistan. He, however, said he would not advise Marri to return given the fear that “the intelligence agencies would have him killed”.

"The agencies killed my father [Nawab Bugti] and Benazir Bhutto. My life is constantly at risk. Due to this reason, I have been confined to Bugti House since the murder of my father in August 2006. I have been warned that if I get out of my residence, the agencies will kill me. I would, therefore, advise Gazin Marri to stay out of the country in order to remain safe," Bugti said.

National Party (NP) Central Secretary General Tahir Bizenjo said his party welcomed the election of Zardari as he represented a purely democratic political party of the country. He hoped that President-elect Zardari would not repeat “the mistakes of his predecessors” and would prefer to sort out all problems through political dialogue, instead of using the armed forces against his own people.

"We expect negotiations about Balochistan to be meaningful, which should shun the role of the 'establishment' and provide space to the political forces. Utmost efforts should be made to undermine the political influence of the army and the establishment," he demanded. He also urged Zardari to undo all the extra-constitutional steps taken by former president General (r) Pervez Musharraf, including the 17th Amendment.

"We hope that the new president would take the opposition into confidence and avoid the politics of confrontation that we had seen in the past. If future polices are devised while keeping in view the London Declaration, I am sure no power in the country would get an excuse to derail the democratic process in Pakistan," he said.

Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) central leader and a former member of the National Assembly Rauf Mengal told Daily Times that the Baloch people had never closed their doors for negotiations with Islamabad despite ‘repeated betrayals’.

"Our struggle has never been against an individual or a single political party. We have been striving against a system that deprives Balochistan of its own resources. No one took us [the Baloch] seriously during the past 62 years or tried to address our complaints. We wonder if Zardari can change this system and grant us the ownership of our resources," said Mengal.

Senior political economist Siddiq Baloch said Zardari's victory was being celebrated in Balochistan because he was a Baloch and he had defeated a dictator with his political might. However, the challenges ahead for the PPP in Balochistan were tough where Zardari would have to ensure a complete end to the military operation and give space to all the political stakeholders.

"Zardari's election is a good omen for the country, the government and democracy. This will bring balance between the presidency and the parliament," he stated, adding that Zardari would have to rehabilitate the 2.5 million internally displaced people of Balochistan and withdraw all government forces from the Baloch Tribal Areas if he wanted to win the hearts and minds of the people of Balochistan.