Interview by Adnan Aamir
Siddique Baloch is the Editor-in-chief of Balochistan express and Azadi newspaper. He is a veteran journalists and the pioneer of English journalism in Balochistan. Born in 1940, Lala Siddique Baloch, as He is commonly called, has been associated with journalism since 1966. Balochistan: It’s Politics and Economics is the title of the book of Mr. Siddique Baloch that was recently launched in Quetta. The Balochistan Point sat with him and conducted an exclusive interview about his career, book and politics and Economics of Balochistan.
Adnan Aamir: Briefly tell us about your education and career.
Siddique Baloch: I was born in Karachi in 1940. I have studied school, college and University in Karachi. I passed Matriculation in 1959, Graduation in 1964 and Masters in Economics in 1966 from Karachi University. During my time in college I was vice-president of Student’s union and captain of football team. After completing my Master’s degree, I started journalism in 1966 and since then I am attached with this profession.
You served as Press Secretary of Governor of Balochistan and also spent time in Prison, in connection with Hyderabad Tribunal. Tell us about your involvement in Politics.
During my college days I was active in Student Politics. After entering practical life I was not involved in politics in anyway. In 1971, I was working for the Dawn newspaper and they had sent me to Balochistan for a special assignment. Chief Minister (CM) Attaullah Mengal asked me to accompany the government delegation to Makran. I reached Gwadar by road in a friend’s car. Governor Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo was scheduled to speak at a political gathering in Gwadar. Director of Public relations of Govern Bizenjo, who was also my friend, was missing that day due to illness. Governor Bizenjo was furious about his absence and I came forward and assured him that I would serve on his behalf today.
Governor Bizenjo made an inflammatory speech in that gathering, which I reported. That speech was published in over 450 newspapers around the world. After the political gathering, I wanted to go to Karachi but Governor Bizenjo asked me to come to Quetta with him. In Quetta he wrote my resignation from Dawn and asked me to sign it. After I signed it, he sent it to Dawn himself. He then appointed me his Press Secretary and I worked with him for four months. I was arrested along with the NAP (National Awami Party) leaders in 1973. Government wanted me to testify against NAP government which I declined to do. Prime Minister Bhutto was personally angry with me because I used to criticize him and his government. I was released from prison in 1977 when General Zia-ul-Haq dissolved Hyderabad tribunal.
How you compare Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo with current lot of politicians?
He was a great politician, seasoned and visionary. He had a close watch on regional politics, world politics and economics. Current lot of politicians is interested in making money only and they are businessmen in guise of politicians. They use their official position and power to mint money.
After release from prison, how did your journalism carrier took shape?
I was appointed as a correspondent by Dawn on the same day when I was released. I was sent to Quetta as a reporter and after that I served at Dawn desk in Karachi. Afterwards, I was assigned the duties of reporting and I reported for Dawn from Karachi till 1989. A supplement of Dawn related to Balochistan was published annually which was written mostly be me. Once I wrote a 100 page supplement on Balochistan for dawn. It’s still a record in journalism history of Pakistan and till to date no one has written 100 pages for one journalistic assignment. I left Dawn due to difference of opinion with the editor. I have always enjoyed the trust of my editor and when I felt I had lost it, I quit dawn. In 1989 I launched Sindh Express along with a partner. After dismissal of PPP government in 1990, an economic crisis started and I decide to launch Balochistan express to supplement income. After that I allowed my partner to take control of Sindh Express and I concentrated my efforts on Balochistan express from 1990 onwards.
How you compare regimes of Zia, Musharraf and political leaders in terms of press freedom?
Press freedom is a relative term, what’s liked by the rulers is allowed and what’s disliked is not allowed. Zia-ul-Haq flogged journalists during his regime. Launch of private news channels during Musharraf government is a different story altogether. Information Ministry of that time received bribes and issued licenses to TV channels. As a principle, owner of a newspaper should not have been granted a license for TV channel in order to prevent monopolies. This principle was violated and Newspaper owners got the licenses for TV channels. Today, for example, Jang group has attained a monopoly status and it’s even challenging the Army.
You have written in your book that Balochistan has been kept backward ever since British Raj days? What’s the reason for this?
Balochistan under control of Khanate of Kalat was a vast area stretching from Iran to Dera Ismail Khan. When British captured Kalat state they realized that there is no organized army of this state. There were Sardars who had armies of their tribesman on voluntary basis without any modern weapons. British saw Balochistan having vast coastline stretching from Strait of Hormuz to Karachi. Therefore they decided to treat Balochistan as a security province. In 100 years, British conducted 15 major military operations in Balochistan which resulted in deaths of tens of thousands of people. Apart from that over 100 minor military expeditions were carried out by British in Balochistan. Ancient weapons of Baloch proved no match for British superior weapons. However for 100 years people of Balochistan resisted British raj and didn’t completely embraced it.
After partition the policy of British in Balochistan was continued. Today, according to estimates around 25,000 people graduate in Balochistan and only 2,000 of them can get jobs. There 4 to 5 unemployed graduates in every home. There are no industries in Balochistan for last 170 years. Today only existing industries are in hub which is an extension of Karachi.
Do you think that current electoral setup in Balochistan will ever allow a common development program without the influence of Members of Provincial Assembly (MPAs)?
NAP was the only party in history of Balochistan to acquire simple majority in Balochistan assembly. After that all governments have been coalition governments of different parties. In such situation, CMs are not free to make decisions and they are black mailed by their coalition partners. That’s the reason that CMs spend most of time in Islamabad. When President Zardari came to Balochistan for the first time he asked MPAs, what I can do for you. Every MPA demanded development funds of Rs. Tens of millions and Zardari never made any such mistake of asking them again. In Balochistan, Politics is a money making machine. So, Electoral system of Balochistan in no way is related to development, systematically.
You have written that Balochistan is under permanent economic recession. Can you explain how?
There is no development project in Balochistan, No dam no major road. RCD highway, which was a part of Marshall Plan, is under construction of last 55 years. On the other hand motorway was built in Punjab in 10 months. There is not a single government-sanctioned job generating activity in any village of Balochistan. Agriculture, livestock and all other sectors are under-developed. Government has never made any effort to promote agriculture or livestock in the form of poultry forms etc. People are using indigenous resources to make a living and as population is increasing the resources are proving to be inadequate. There is no increase in the size of the resources and this leads to a permanent recession. That’s why I say that Balochistan government is merely a salary distribution agency and not a welfare government.
To what extent bureaucracy can be held responsible for plight of Balochistan?
Bureaucracy is subservient to the political leaders. The bureaucrats who refuse to do the dirty work are transferred from their post. Today, almost all the bureaucrats have learnt to obey the political rulers and they follow the orders without questioning. Ministers have been given powers of transfer and posting and secretaries have become powerless. Bureaucrats are not in a position to resist the illegitimate steps of the ministers. So, politicians find the biggest crook among the bureaucrats and appoint him to facilitate their corruption.
What do you have to say about long hours of load shedding of electricity and reduced supply of gas in Balochistan?
Gas pipelines were laid down for the first time for Quetta in 1980s. After that Gas was also supplied to the nearby areas of Quetta, based on people’s demand. Government supplied gas to nearby districts of Quetta using narrow pipelines so that the supply can’t be extended to more districts. Gas has been misused throughout Pakistan over last 60 years. For example Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is a huge wastage of a Gas as a natural resource. Commercial vehicles should use oil instead of wastage precious natural gas.
After three days there is an electricity supply of two hours in villages of Balochistan. 1,650 Megawatt (MW) is demand of electricity of Balochistan and supply is just 400 MW. There is no one to protest to the federal government. If any politician will protest, then all his corruption evidence will be used to silence him. Political parties are weak and they don’t have any economic vision. Balochistan is generating around 2,300 MW using Hubco, Uch, Habib coastal power plants but its only getting 400 MW of electricity.
Qesco claims that cause of load shedding is unpaid bills of province which are Rs. 132 billion. Your take on this.
Farmers of Quetta, Pishin, Mastung, and Kalat and some nearby areas use electricity and don’t pay bills. Same farmers also extracted water indiscriminately and that has resulted in lowering the water table to 1,200 feet. Some day this entire region will became a desert and there will be no drinking water. Subsidy of Rs. 3 billion per annum was given to the farmers. Members of Zamindar action committee (ZAC) don’t want to pay for electricity that they use. However, supplying less electricity to domestic consumers due to non-payment of bills of farmers is unacceptable. In short this issue doesn’t justify excessive load shedding in Balochistan.
You have written in your book about lack of development of Gwadar. Do you think that government is sincere in developing Gwadar?
All major development projects have taken 30 years to complete in Balochistan such as Bolan Medical College (BMC), Kachi Canal, Pat Feeder canal and rural electrification project and so on. The reason for this delay is that funds were not released by Federal government. Gwadar port was built because Musharraf came into power. Musharraf was Chief of Army Staff, President and Chief Executive and therefore the port was built. If Someone other than Musharraf had tried to develop Gwadar port then it would have never materialized. I was present at the ground breaking ceremony of Gwadar. When Musharraf was meeting with all the guests including me, fisherman started protesting against Musharraf. They said that coastal highway is stretched from Karachi to Ormara and it will not be brought to Gwadar. At that moment Musharraf ordered the Federal Secretary Communications to extend coastal highway to Gwadar. Musharraf developed Gwadar port so that he can be remembered for it.
Government claims that Gwadar is still non-functional due to law and order situation. Do you agree?
I don’t agree with this assertion. The reason for non-functionality of Gwadar is lack of funds which federal government has not released. There is no drinking water in Gwadar. No investment has been made in Gwadar port since its completion in 2006. There is no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity and gas. Electricity can be imported from Iran within months but government has not provided funds for it in last 10 years.
Baloch nationalists claim that Gwadar mega project will convert Baloch population into minority, do you agree?
No I don’t agree with this; Gwadar is not Karachi, its 400 kilometer (KM) away from Karachi. Gwadar is far from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Sindh and Punjab, so people from there will not come to settle in Gwadar. Unemployed people of Balochistan will go and settle in Gwadar. As a student of economics, I think apprehensions of Baloch nationalists regarding Gwadar are misplaced. Often, Case of Karachi is used to assume that Gwadar will also result in a demographic change in Balochistan. The reasons for demographic change in Karachi were that it was Federal Capital and the event of partition which resulted in mass moment of Muslims of India.
What are your comments on Pak-china economic corridor and proposed changes in its route?
I think it’s just a fraud; it’s used to deceive people of Pakistan amid the economic recession. This supposed corridor will pass through Gilgit-Baltistan which is a disputed territory, in context of United Nations resolution on Kashmir. Now, how can such an economic corridor pass through this territory? In case of future conflict with India this corridor will come under serious threats. Therefore china will never take the risk of investing in such a risky project. China wants access to Arabian Sea and for this purpose it intends to use Chabahar port, instead of Gwadar. Iran is already earning $10 billion from transit trade annually. India has paid $300 million to Iran to develop roads from Chabahar to Afghanistan border. India and Iran are helping Afghanistan to develop this road. Iran also signed a deal with Tajikistan to use its territory as a part of trade corridor. China will develop road and rail link from Tajikistan to Xinjiang. So, china will trade with the world through the Chabahar route not through the disputed route of Pakistan. So it’s all nonsense whether this corridor is passed though Zhob or Khuzdar.
What’s the importance of local governments in the context of economic development of Balochistan?
There is no concept of devolution of power in Balochistan. According to constitution, 25% development budget should be given to local governments. This directly affects the interests of the MPAs who contest elections for the sake of making money from these development funds. MPAs based in Quetta are not comfortable with local government system and will do whatever they can to create hurdles in transfer of power and funds.
Being a student of economics, what is your assessment of economic future of Balochistan?
I don’t see any short term economic solution for Balochistan. As long as resources are not used for the welfare of the people there are no chances for the development of Balochistan. World needs Balochistan, it’s a strategic area. Makran coastline stretches from Karachi to Strait of Hormuz having a length of 3,000 KM. This region is very important in the context of geo-political situation of the region. Largest fleet of United States navy with 50 ships and 3 aircraft carriers is patrolling this region. US want this route open and they want a presence. I think that in future US will try to occupy Makran coast. Therefore I don’t see a bright future for Balochistan. That’s my assessment based on analysis and I can be wrong.
Published in The Balochistan Point on January 27, 2015
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and The Balochistan Point not necessarily agrees with them