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Balochistan issue echoes in Senate

January 31, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Jan 30: The issue of military operation in Balochistan echoed in the Senate on Monday when Sen Sanaullah Baloch pointed out that the US Congress had recommended to President Bush to discuss it during his upcoming visit to Islamabad.

The letter, a copy of which was released to the press, was written by Congressman Tom Tancredo and addressed to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said: “I have recently been made aware of a disturbing military operation taking place in Pakistan’s Balochistan province over the past month.

“Beginning on Dec 18, Pakistan’s security forces mounted an all-out assault in the Kohlu and Dera Bugti using helicopter gun-ships, fighter aircraft and other types of sophisticated weaponry in their attacks.

“The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, following an investigative mission to the area, ‘expressed serious alarm over the rapidly deteriorating situation in and around Dera Bugti and reiterated its demand that all armed conflict cease immediately and a process of negotiation begin’. According to the commission, the area has been effectively sealed off and most of the inhabitants have left.”

The report said, “The citizens of the area in question have long opposed the central government’s treatment of its people and resources. The province provides majority of the country’s gas resources, yet it receives only 12.4 per cent of the profits. The literacy rate is an appalling 25 per cent for men and 5 per cent for women. The evidence suggests that as a central government in Islamabad lines its pockets with Balochistan’s wealth, its innocent citizens suffer at the hands of merciless soldiers.

“Madam secretary, I am aware that there is an armed resistance in Balochistan and do not condone in any way, shape, or form acts of violence committed by such groups. However, the Pakistan government’s policy of resorting to force to crush its citizens’ demands for their equal rights has not worked in the past and is not likely to work now. A dialogue is needed between the Baloch people and the central government in order for their grievance to be resolved once and for all”.

“I do not deny the fact that the government of Pakistan has been a steadfast ally of the US in the war on Terror. However, its continued operations in Balochistan divert important military resources that could be used to hunt Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“It is my understanding that President Bush will be travelling to Pakistan and India in March this year. Please urge him to raise this issue with President Musharraf so this dispute may come to a conclusion and further losses of life may be prevented,” the letter concluded.

PRIVATIZATION: The government’s privatisation policy came under fire in the Senate as opposition lawmakers expressed reservations against the process, while the minister for privatization Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh stoutly defended and termed the policy as “transparent, healthy and executed with sincerity”.

The opposition’s bid to stall the ongoing privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) by adopting by majority a resolution, however, failed after Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro ruled the resolution under rule 194 of the mover PPP Parliamentarian’s Farhatullah Babar as out of order.

Mr Babar moved the resolution soon after the debate and privatisation minister’s speech by seeking permission of the house to suspend relevant rules which bind a member from moving a motion without a week’s notice.

The resolution said, “This house recommends that in view of serious reservations about government’s privatisation process PSM should not be privatised”.

The move was strongly opposed by a number of treasury members, including Anwar Bhinder, Kamil Ali Agha and Wasim Sajjad, who said the motion could not be moved without prior notice of seven days.

Interestingly, the moment Mr Babar moved the resolution, the treasury side lacked sufficient majority in the house to thwart any motion on vote as there was a very thin attendance and despite efforts no more than three women lawmakers turned up to face the opposition’s challenge.

While the opposition blamed that almost fifty per cent of the over 150 units privatised so far had been closed down, the government claimed the privatisation of 28 units in the last three years had fetched the exchequer Rs272 billion and most of these units were running.