Apr 24, 2009

Balochistan: Interview with Mr. Sanaullah Baloch

Active ImageAs tensions flare in Balochistan, Sanaullah Baloch, the Central Secretary Information of the Balochistan National Party talks  about his non-violent approach to improving conditions in the region.


Below is an article published by Dawn.com:

Your name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) and your brothers were reportedly abducted by the agencies during the Musharraf government. Have you considered filing charges now that the judges have been reinstated?

My entire family, including my parents, was placed on the ECL. Our assets were frozen, my brother was abducted and kept in an illegal detention centre for six months, and I was physically attacked by Musharraf’s agents during a conference in London. My website and 36 other Baloch websites were blocked by Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.

As for filing charges, several Baloch political parties tried to file charges against Musharraf, but the country’s institutions lack the will or courage to accept our plea against him.  

You advocate a non-violent, political struggle to accomplish BNP (Mengal)’s goals, but it was the Balochistan Liberation United Front that succeeded in pressurising Islamabad…
Unfortunately, our deaf regimes and policy makers are not used to logical arguments. They only understand the language of power, force, guns and canons. That is why several resistance movements in Pakistan have taken on an increasingly violent character. Unfortunately, this becomes the culture in states governed by dictatorial regimes.
However, I don’t think that the non-violent aspect of the Baloch struggle has been nonproductive. Our political struggle, media campaigns, diplomacy, extensive inquiries on Baloch deprivation and its expression has widened our support beyond Balochistan and Pakistan.

In that case, why did you resign from the Senate?

From 2002 to 2006, as an active member of the Senate, I did my best to highlight the Baloch people’s plight. I was elected by the people to protect their rights, but we could not stop Islamabad’s assault on Balochistan. We could not protect the innocent Baloch from disappearances, torture, displacement and we could not stop our resources’ unabated exploitation. That is why we decided to quit the parliament. It is better to be among the people and tell them the truth as opposed to giving them false hope.

You have previously said that the National Security Council (NSC) can ensure that Balochistan has greater autonomy over its resources. But you also emphasise on electoral politics. If the NSC is the deal-breaker, why bother with political deliberations?

Unfortunately, it is a reality in Pakistan that the corridors of power are outside the Parliament. The NSC is basically the visible face of the establishment that consists of civil-military elites. They approved the military operation against Balochistan and, without their consent, no political regime can undo their policy of continued suppression.

In Swat, the government has negotiated a deal with the Taliban. What message does this give to groups aspiring to a more autonomous Balochistan?
The establishment in Pakistan has always felt comfortable with religious groups as they do not challenge the centralised authority of the civil-military establishment. The demands of these groups are not political. They don’t demand economic parity. They demand centralised religious rule which is philosophically closer to the establishment’s version of totalitarianism.  

Islamabad’s elite are stubborn against genuine Baloch demands: governing Balochistan, having ownership of resources, and control over provincial security.

Some people believe that Baloch nationalist groups are materially supported by India in its bid to destabilise the Pakistani federation. How do you respond to this allegation?

Unfortunately, this has been the culture in Pakistan that all legitimate political movements against injustice have been labeled as foreign machinations and leaders of those movements have been called traitors and agents. Even the credibility of the lawyers’ movement was questioned by the establishment. Human rights defenders have also been labeled foreign agents. These are old tactics that all despotic regimes use to undermine legitimate political movements.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has promised resolving the Balochistan issue and President Asif Zardari recently announced a Rs 46.6bn package for Balochistan. Can the government shift the current Balochistan policy?

I am not optimistic about the PPP’s Balochistan policy. Musharraf promised and even spent more money to expand Islamabad’s strategic control over Balochistan. He pumped billions and officially decentralised corruption at all levels in the province to buy artificial sympathy, but failed. Millions were spent on media campaigns to prove that the central government is spending billions to develop Balochistan, but years of defective policies have further deteriorated the masses’ lives. Poverty only increased in Balochistan during Musharraf’s rule. According to one study, rural poverty in Balochistan increased 15 percent between 1999 and 2005.  The only ‘development’ Balochistan has witnessed during Musharraf’s rule is the 62 percent increase in police stations.

Meaningful development can only occur if there is political empowerment, adequate healthcare, educational and employment opportunities and peace. At this moment, there is no spending in these sectors.

You have listed eight confidence-building measures that the federation can adopt to ease political tensions with Balochistan. Have any been implemented?  

No. Displaced people are still living in appalling conditions, disappearances are still occurring, the military operation has only intensified and more senior Baloch nationalists are being intimidated, harassed and killed.   

In a more autonomous Balochistan, how might the life of an average Baloch improve?

Political and economic empowerment will bring positive social change. It is unfair to blame the Baloch or tribal system for illiteracy, violations of women’s rights and poverty. How can people benefit from the existing system when there are more soldiers than teachers, more military cantonments and naval bases than universities and colleges, more police stations than vocational training centres?   

In December 2008, a group in Quetta circulated pamphlets directing women to observe purdah. How will the BNP-M ensure security and respect for women?

We condemn all kinds of discrimination against women. Historically, Baloch society has been liberal when compared to other groups settled in and around the region. We have maintained a moderate identity since 1920 and have never used religious slogans to gain public support. However, the establishment has used religious groups to change Balochistan’s social fabric. There is no restriction and control on the Taliban in Balochistan, but agencies continue to intimidate Baloch nationalists.

Some analysts say that Baloch groups have been inconsistent in their struggle…

I can call it a gap or a pause rather than inconsistency. There has been suspension in the movement for many reasons. But as compared to other nationalist movements the Baloch struggle is surviving after continuous state suppression. Moreover, there are forged nationalist groups that have recently been created by the agencies to continue their policy of dividing and ruling.

Instead of always blaming Islamabad, why don’t Baloch leaders claim some responsibility for the current state of Balochistan?

There has been no fair opportunity for Baloch nationalists to govern Balochistan. The first Baloch government headed by Sardar Ataullah Mengal was toppled in 1973 just before completing nine months. The second coalition government of Nawab Bugti worked for 18 months. The third, of Akhtar Mengal, was removed after 14 months. Not a single Baloch government was allowed to continue for a complete parliamentary period. That is why we hold Islamabad responsible for the Baloch people’s plight. Without giving authority to genuine Baloch leaders, we cannot blame them for the appalling state of affairs in the region.