Baloch-Pakhtun rivalry rears its head at CPEC meeting

Updated May 29, 2015

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Prime Minister  Nawaz Sharif chairs the All Parties Conference on China Pak Economic Corridor at PM House. — APP/file
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairs the All Parties Conference on China Pak Economic Corridor at PM House. — APP/file

ISLAMABAD: Thursday’s all-parties conference (APC) was meant to smoothen over differences between the government and the rest of the political parties in parliament over the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC).

However, unwitting remarks by one of the participants took the discussion in an unexpected direction, as a debate on the decades-old issue of Balochistan’s Baloch population versus its Pakhtun population, reared its head again.

When National Party chief Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo was given the floor to express his concerns over the corridor, he took well over 20 minutes highlighting importance of the CPEC’s western route, which connects Khunjerab to Gwadar through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Read: Parties give go-ahead to China-Pak corridor

As other participants impatiently awaiting their turn to speak on the matter, Mr Bizenjo took many Pakhtun leaders, present in the meeting, by surprise when he, out of nowhere, asked the government to address the issue of Afghan refugees settled in Balochistan.

Mr Bizenjo wasn’t available for comment following the APC, but a participant of the meeting quoted him as saying, “I request the government to repatriate Afghans settled in Balochistan as they are disturbing the demographics of the province,” he said.

With more investment coming into Balochistan under the CPEC, “I fear more Pakhtuns will come to Balochistan in search of jobs, squeezing the Baloch population further,” Mr Bizenjo went on to say, adding that the issue of Afghan refugees and unregistered Pakhuns must be settled before the census, which the government has announced to hold next March.

Unable to contain himself, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai interjected and sarcastically took Mr Bizenjo to task. “By repatriating Pakhtuns to Afghanistan, you mean to say all of us Pakhtuns sitting in the meeting should also leave the country,” Mr Achakzai was quoted as asking the NP leader. “Asfandyar Wali Khan, Aftab Sherpao and Pervez Khattak all have their roots in Afghanistan. Wali Khan’s ancestors are buried there and there are many families who continue to live on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. You want to send all of us to Afghanistan,” the incensed PkMAP leader asked.

This tirade had participants chuckling and left Mr Bizenjo stunned. Both PkMAP and NP are, in fact, coalition partners in the Balochistan ruling alliance.

Confirming the incident, PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain said the Baloch versus Pakhtun issue in Balochistan was an old one and reared its head at various forums. Recalling the proceedings of a sub-committee which he headed in 2005, he said, “Our committee suggested a parity (50-50) formula between Balochs and Pakhuns when it comes to distribution of resources and representation in assemblies.”

Last time when the Gwadar port came to the fore under General Pervez Musharraf, Balochs nationalists raised the issue and objected to non-Balochs coming to the area with heavy investment.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2015

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