Exclusive Interview: Dr Baloch Speaks His Mind On Challenges By Qaiser Butt

Dr Baloch, however, believes only political engagement is the way forward. “We are keen to bring the militants to the negotiating table with the help of the federal government,” he said.

“I don’t want confrontation with the Frontier Corps. We [provincial government and FC] will collectively solve all the issues facing our province,” says Balchistan Chief Minister. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

Unlike his predecessors, he’s not a khan, a nawab or a sardar. He belongs to a middle-class family. An eye specialist by profession, he persevered in his 40-odd years of political struggle. In the end it was all worthwhile. Today, he’s the chief minister of Balochistan.

Dr Abdul Malik Baloch successfully led his National Party in the May 11 elections and clinched enough seats to form

a coalition government with the help of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP).

Dr Baloch is aware of the challenges his administration is faced with in a province reeling under a strange mix of ethno-political, sectarian and militant violence since 2004. And he appears to have a roadmap to steer his province out of the current mess.

“Restoration of peace tops my priority list,” 58-year-old Dr Baloch, a humble and soft-spoken politician, told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview at Balochistan House in Islamabad.

The Frontier Corps has been accused of extrajudicial killing and illegal detention of ultranationalists and political workers in Balochistan. And Dr Baloch’s predecessor, Nawab Aslam Raisani, had tried, though unsuccessfully, throughout his tenure to bring the federal paramilitary force under his administration’s control.

On the contrary, Dr Baloch thinks the FC and political administration can work in synch for peace. “I don’t want confrontation with the Frontier Corps. We [provincial government and FC] will collectively solve all the issues facing our province,” he said.

Efforts by previous governments to win over a medley of Baloch separatist groups – including Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and Baloch Liberation Army – failed miserably in the past.

Dr Baloch, however, believes only political engagement is the way forward. “We are keen to bring the militants to the negotiating table with the help of the federal government,” he said. BRA chief Nawabzada Brahamdagh Bugti is living in self-exile in Switzerland, while BLA founder Nawabzada Herbiyar Marri is seeking political asylum in Britain. Dr Allah Nazar Baloch has been leading his BLF insurgents from his hideouts in Balochistan. Similarly, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud Khan, is also living in self-imposed exile in London.

Chief Minister Dr Baloch did not give a direct reply when asked if he planned to convince the Khan of Kalat to return to Pakistan. “He [the Khan of Kalat] is our honourable tribal leader,” he said in a terse reply.

Hundreds of families have been wrecked by raging violence in the province. Dr Baloch said his government would financially compensate the families who lost their members to violence. “The heirs of all those – including Punjabi settlers and Hazara community members who have been killed by terrorists and militants – are being paid Rs1 million each,” he added.

About the landmark 18th constitutional amendment which offered more autonomy to the provinces, the chief minister said he was happy that the federal government had recognised 50% share for oil and gas producing provinces on the revenue of their natural resources.

He refused to predict whether Chinese of American firms would be awarded the exploration licence for Reko Diq gold mines. “The matter is pending in the Supreme Court,” he added. “We’ll decide in the greater interest of Balochistan and its people.”

The previous administration had extended by five years the lease of Saindak copper mines exploration to a Chinese company. Dr Baloch, however, has reservations on the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. “We’ll take up the issue with the federal government to get our reservations addressed by the Chinese company,” he said.

The chief minister is also aware of the challenges his administration is facing in the health and education sectors.

“All government departments, particularly educational institutions, have collapsed during the last decade. The provincial government spends Rs25 billion annually on the salaries of teachers – yet the quality of education is still deplorable,” he said.

The situation in the health sector is no better. “Recently, we conducted a raid at state-run hospital in Chaman district. There were 17 doctors and 14 were missing,” he said.

Dr Baloch warned that he would not tolerate absenteeism at government offices. “I reach my office at 9am sharp and expect the same from all government functionaries, particularly senior bureaucrats. The bureaucracy will have to submit to the change,” he said.

Coming to the financial issues of the province, the chief minister accused the previous coalition governments of massive loot and plunder of public funds. “Balochistan witnessed unprecedented corruption which has resulted in the destruction of the province during the last 10 years,” he added.

However, Dr Baloch said he was not aware of any inquiries by the National Accountability Bureau against his predecessor, Nawab Aslam Raisani, his cabinet members, legislators and or any government official.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2013

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