KARACHI: The Balochistan National Party-Mengal on Wednesday agreed to support Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the center, in return for six pledges designed to benefit the people of the province. However, independent analysts described most of the promises as “impractical” and “unsustainable.”
“We have announced support for PTI after ensuring maximum gains for our province and people,” said Agha Hasan Baloch, a BNP spokesman. He said the “issue of missing persons” was top of the agenda and that if his party can help the victims’ families, it would consider this a success.
“We consider that all missing persons should be recovered and those guilty of any crime should be produced before the courts,” said Baloch. “Our party is equally hopeful that the PTI’s central government will send all Afghan refugees back to their country as they have not only led to an increase in crime rate but also changed the demography of the province.”
After signing what he called a “landmark agreement” with the BNP, PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed that missing persons would be treated as a priority.
However, independent experts said that initiatives relating to missing persons and the repatriation of Afghan refugees would be almost impossible to implement and were simply a ‘face-saving’ exercise for the BNP.
Political analyst Saeed Sarbazi said the issue of missing persons could only be even partly resolved by a powerful government in the center. “Unfortunately, the future PTI government seems to be weaker due to its own not so-strong electoral strength.”
Syed Ali Shah, a journalist in Quetta, said the demand for Afghan refugees to be sent home is a genuine concern shared by the Balochistan Awami Party. However, he doubts that the PTI agreement can be honored.
“This does not seem implementable and appears as mere face saving for the BNP since it was their election slogan and the basis on which the party got votes,” said Shah, who broke the story that an Afghan National had been elected in the Quetta constituency in the July 25 general elections. Ahmed Ali, who was standing for the Hazara Democratic Party, received 5,117 votes, winning the provincial assembly seat. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan blocked the notification of Ali’s victory.
Shah said Pashtuns have also suffered as a result of the influx of Afghan refugees, because a large number of them have settled in Pashtun-dominated areas.
“These refugees have penetrated our politics, our institutions and have taken our jobs,” Shah said. He added that Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and the Pashtun National Party do not speak out against the refugees due to their vote banks in the Afghan community, a large number of whom have obtained Pakistani nationality.
Pakistan hosts 1.4 million Afghan refugees, about 317,900 of which are in Balochistan, said Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan. He added that the UNHCR acknowledges that Pakistan has strongly upheld the principle that refugees should not be forced to return to their home countries against their will, and that all returns should be voluntary, in safety and dignity.
“These principles are enshrined in the tripartite agreement between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and UNHCR continues working on their observance and upholding in Pakistan,” said Afridi. “The recent elections are about to usher in a new government with whom the UNHCR is keen to continue its work and advocate for a longer-term extension of PoR (proof of registration) cards and protection of refugees rights.”
Sarbazi said Baloch Nationalists, including the BNP, on one hand want to garner support through their core issues such as missing persons, fair employment quotas and the distribution of national resources, while on other hand pressuring the center to repatriate Pashtun ethnic refugees to prevent further changes to the demography of the region.
Amir, who doubts PTI will keep promises, says the BNP wants to prove its Baloch nationalistic credentials by focusing its demands on the pressing issues facing Balochistan rather than seeking ministerial positions.
“However, failure of PTI to fulfil the promises could further erode the trust of the people of Balochistan in parliamentary politics” he added.