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Nov 29, 2008

Taliban consolidating grip on Quetta: Sanaullah Baloch (and letter to editor below)

* BNP leader says ‘establishment' wants to pitch Taliban against Baloch nationalists
* Says Taliban supporters have captured land worth Rs 2 billion in Quetta * PPP has taken no steps to increase prospects of reconciliation
* Demands more Baloch control and larger share in mining projects

By Malik Siraj Akbar

reposted from DailyTimes.com.pk

QUETTA: Balochistan National Party (BNP) Information Secretary and former senator Sanaullah Baloch has disclosed that the supporters of Taliban have captured land worth Rs 2 billion in the eastern and western parts of Quetta with the covert support of the ‘establishment' in order to undermine the Baloch nationalist movement and promote Talibanisation in Balochistan.

In an interview with Daily Times on Sunday, the former senator said the government had failed to establish its writ in Quetta, where the Taliban and their supporters were consolidating their grip. Several parts of the provincial capital have become ‘no-go areas' where the Taliban and their supporters have consolidated their position, he said.

Baloch said the government was fully aware of these encroachments but it was deliberately silent because the Taliban enjoy the support of the government and its intelligence agencies who wish to pit the religious elements against the Baloch nationalists.

“We are surprised why the government does not undertake a military operation against these elements who have openly challenged the writ of the government. Military operations were carried out in Dera Bugti and Sui areas by the government on the pretext of establishing the writ of the government, but the state machinery does not move against the Taliban and their supporters who have illegally and forcefully captured large areas of land in Balochistan,” he said.

Sanaullah said the government was trying to patronise the Taliban elements in Quetta and its outskirts in order to undermine the power of the actual democratic forces. The Afghan refugees, besides being a burden on the economy of Balochistan, have become the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country's largest province, Baloch said.

Billions of rupees were being spent on eliminating the Taliban and their supporters in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the NWFP, he said, asking why the government was ignoring the ‘alarmingly dangerous moves' of the Taliban and giving them protection in Quetta.

The BNP leader criticised the government for initiating fresh operations in Dera Bugti and Naseerabad areas, adding that such unprovoked operations were likely to escalate tensions in Balochistan. “The government is making Balochistan a battlefield again,” he said.

The operations have made the militant groups end their ceasefire which would further deteriorate the security situation, he said. The Baloch leadership had welcomed the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government despite the imprisonment of its leadership with the hope that the PPP would learn lessons from the past and pay serious attention to the Baloch issue, he said, adding: “We have deep respect for the PPP and its leaders but we are not going to compromise on the Baloch interests at the cost of our friendship with the PPP leaders. The democratic as well as armed groups in the province are losing faith in the present government.”

Reconciliation: Asked if the BNP and other Baloch leaders welcomed the recent statement of PPP leader Babar Awan that “the Baloch would hear good news in March”, Sanullah accused the PPP leadership of using ‘delaying tactics'. In 1977, the PPP had delayed the resolution of the Baloch issue by hoping that the crisis in Balochistan would gradually fade away, Baloch said, adding that the PPP was showing a lack of interest in Balochistan again by not understanding the urgency needed to permanently resolve the issue.

“In politics you need to reconcile at the right time. Timeliness is a crucial factor in politics which the PPP seems to be missing in Balochistan's context,” he commented. Recalling a promise made by late Benazir Bhutto, the former PPP chairperson, who had agreed in the Charter of Democracy to establish federal tribunals to settle the cases of the provinces against the federal government, besides ensuring complete provincial autonomy to the provinces, Baloch said the PPP did not take any initiatives that would brighten the prospects of reconciliation.

Citing the failure of the reconciliatory committees formed by the previous government, Sanaullah Baloch said the Baloch had always agreed to sit on the negotiation table and sort out the problems, but the government had been calling them terrorists and traitors. “We have asked the PPP government to punish the elements who carried out massive human rights violation and remove the unnecessary FC checkposts in Balochistan so that we see some progress made by the government as a confidence-building measure. But our demands have not been met yet.”

Mines and minerals: The BNP leader demanded the local Baloch youth be given technical know-how in mining and geological sectors so that they could handle the Saindak and Reko Dik projects.

“We want agreements on the Saindak Gold and Copper project and Reko Dik to be reviewed. The chief minister issued such statements recently but no headway has been made yet in this regard. The Baloch share in the revenue generated at Saindak project is merely 2 percent while the federal government takes 48 percent, and 50 percent goes to China. This is an unjust formula that needs to be revised. We consider this utter exploitation,” he said, recommending that bidding should be conducted in the international stock exchanges for the interested mining companies that want to run these projects. “The government of Balochistan should be given the right to choose the company that can best run these projects while keeping in view the fact that the benefits of the projects should go to the people of Balochistan,” said the former senator.

from DailyTimes.com.pk

Quetta under threat

Sir: I appreciate Senator Sanaullah Baloch's courage to speak up against the brewing Talibanisation in Quetta and its surroundings. However, this is not the first time that fingers have been raised against the suspicious activities of the Taliban and other entities tied to them. Afghan officials and notable Afghanistan experts like Ahmed Rashid have been saying for years that Quetta is being used as a safe haven by Taliban leaders and their supporters.

In the face of Mr Baloch's statements, the government's lack of response is worrying. The citizens of Pakistan expect the government to clarify its position on this most troublesome development. This is a very serious issue that should worry not only the Baloch, but all moderate and secular people of Pakistan who are affected by the Taliban and their activities.

Supporters of the Taliban have been attacking internet cafes and CD shops in Quetta, claiming that these are places that promote obscenity. This is just the starting point of their violence, as was seen in Swat and the tribal areas. The government would do well to learn the lessons from its past mistakes. The Taliban, Al Qaeda and their affiliates are the enemies of Pakistan; they should be stopped before it is too late. Balochistan is already in the grip of an insurgency, and it can hardly afford to see the Taliban rise as well.

  Sanaullah Baloch

Malik Siraj Akbar