Raza Wazir speaks to veteran Baloch nationalist Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur about his reservations on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
Why do you oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor? It’s a huge project that will certainly benefit Pakistan.
What is in Pakistan’s interest is not necessarily in the interest of Balochistan. If you want to pass through Balochistan, use its coast and extract its minerals, the Baloch people are the main stakeholders. Their interest should come first.
There is already some resentment among the Baloch, especially in the dealings with the Chinese. How they sidelined the Baloch people in Sandak is an indication of what will happen. According to Fazle Haider (a well known journalist) there will be no copper, gold or silver left when the Chinese will leave. They have extended their lease until 2017.
My point is that we should keep in mind the interest of Balochistan. The wishes of the local people should be held supreme. China is not coming to Balochistan to help the Baloch people, but because of its own interests.
But won’t there be a lot of new jobs for the Baloch people if the Gwadar port is developed and the economic zones along the route become operational?
I’m sure you have heard that story – a poor man found a magic lamp; he told the genie to make him a large palace, then put some rich people in it, and then asked to be made the security guard of the palace.
The Baloch do not want to be security guards of someone else’s palace. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch (the chief minister of Balochistan) may get us some meager jobs. But there is a saying that freedom in poverty is better than prosperous slavery.
This is not an issue of jobs. The Baloch say it is our land. It was ours when it was desolate. Now that they have discovered gold, silver and copper, it is ours.
There will be no copper, gold or silver left when the Chinese will leave
And what do the Baloch people say about the recent debate over the route of the project?
It is not about the route. We have apprehensions about the entire project. We have apprehensions about the future of Gwadar, from where the route will emerge. We have apprehensions regardless of whether the road passes through Larkana and Ratodhero, or Zhob or Dera Ismail Khan. The road to Gwadar will pass through Balochistan, and so the interests of Balochistan are at stake.
The elected government of Balochistan has agreed to the project. Does that not mean the consent of the Baloch people?
In my view, it is an exaggeration to say that the current Balochistan government is representative of the will of the people of the province. If you go to the website of the Election Commission of Pakistan, you will see that the Dr Malik received a little more than 4,000 votes. The turnout in his constituency was only 17 percent. Deputy Speaker Quddus Bizenjo got 544 votes. Nadra and the Election Commission have accepted that 65 percent of the votes cast in the 2013 elections in Balochistan were bogus. Now you tell me who voted for them, and who do they represent? They are only a civilian face that gives legitimacy to the FC-run administration.
Are you saying there is no way to resolve this issue politically?
A political struggle works when you are dealing with politicians. When have they used political means to settle the dispute in Balochistan? We have been facing military might right since 27th March 1948.
What kind of political settlement did they reach with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and the Bengalis? What options were the Baloch left with?
There is an impression in Punjab that when it comes to the prosperity of Pakistan, the smaller provinces become a hurdle.
I think the people who write and say such things are not aware of the ground realities. They do not understand the Baloch people’s sentiments. If the prosperity of Pakistan is essential, so are the sentiments of the people who live there. We are not against prosperity. We are against exploitation. We want our rights. Development will follow.