LAHORE: A charged panel discussion about the problems plaguing Balochistan and the need for dialogue to solve them at the Asma Jahangir Conference on Saturday saw political leaders and activists raising their voices for the rights of locals, amid loud sloganeering from an audience that largely consisted of Baloch and Pakhtun youths.

The panel, composed of politicians and political activists from the province, stressed the need to treat Balochistan on a par with other provinces, as one Jamaat-i-Islami leader summed up the situation thus: “We don’t have water, power or education, but Lahore gets the Orange Line and we get army officials and checkposts.”

Former provincial chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch kicked off the discussion by saying that while a specific group in Islamabad, including politicians, generals, the judiciary and media, loved Balochistan for its strategic importance and resources, the province was not fully empowered to use these abundant resources to better its future.

Calling the insurgency raging in the province for 22 years “a turning point”, he said that while all political parties wanted to resolve their issues through dialogue, nothing could be done until the establishment was on board.

AJConf panel on largest province’s problems sees charged discussion from political players

“Baloch youths are unsecure; those studying here in Punjab are being picked up. This will only aggravate hate. Talks with Baloch militants are the only solution and for confidence building, all those picked up must be released and unnecessary checkposts removed,” Dr Baloch concluded amid loud slogans.

Balochistan MPA Sanaullah Baloch claimed that the province’s problem was not conflict resolution, rather its suppression. “If you want to solve the crisis, dont’ see it as a priovince, but a region,” he argued.

MNA Dr Zubaida Jalal maintained that political dialogue was a must for conflict resolution.

She said that while it was “easy for politicians to blame others, but when we come to power we don’t even try [to improve things] ourselves and become weak.

Terming political instability and the unequal distribution of resources the main issues facing the province, she said that while everyone had their eye on Balochistan’s resources, there had not been any development projects at the provincial level to that could exploit these resources.

“It is easy to blame the agencies for selecting leaders, but it is high time the blame game ended and we walk the talk,” she said.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party provincial Information Secretary Khushal Kakar claimed that Balochistan had also been made a battleground for the Iran-Saudi Arabia power struggle.

He blamed foreign interests for religious exploitation, saying that the powers that be knew that they could retain their hold on the province’s resources only if it remained mired in unrest.

Amid thunderous applause, Mr Kakar claimed that the state had played the biggest role in creating rifts between Baloch tribes.

Jamaat-i-Islami leader Maulana Hidayatur Rehman Baloch, who is also founder of Gwadar’s Haq Do Tehreek, lamented that Balochistan was always treated as a colony, not a province. “The army is always deployed there to keep a hold on it, there are checkposts at every step, we are asked for identification in our hometowns, while those asking us belong to Punjab or KP.”

“We don’t have water, power or education… we don’t want such a CPEC,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2022

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