Government in talks with ‘everyone,’ including separatists, chief minister of Pakistan’s Balochistan says

The chief minister of Balochistan, Mir Abdul Quddus Bezinjo, speaks to Arab News in Quetta, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN Photo)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Government in talks with ‘everyone,’ including separatists, chief minister of Pakistan’s Balochistan says

  • Mir Abdul Quddus Bezinjo says government “taking everyone on board” including Balochistan Liberation Front of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch
  • Says missing persons cell set up by Home Department approached by 180 families, links rise in attacks in Balochistan to change in Afghan government

QUETTA: The chief minister of Balochistan, Mir Abdul Quddus Bezinjo, has said his government was speaking to all dissidents who were “unhappy” with the state, including reaching out to Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, the head of the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), as a step toward ending a long-running insurgency seeking greater autonomy or independence for the huge, resource-rich province. 
The low-intensity insurgency in southwestern Balochistan, a sparsely populated, mountainous, desert province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, has gone on intermittently for decades, with the government launching full-scale military operations as well as targeted interventions to quell it. Locals and rights activists say hundreds of people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces hunting for dissidents. The military vehemently denies committing abuses. Separatist fighters have also been accused of killing civilians and security forces and assassinating teachers.
Critics of the central government complain the province, which makes up 43 percent of Pakistan’s land mass, has received paltry royalties on its vast mineral, oil and gas resources, while remaining one of the country’s poorest regions. Baloch nationalists, many Pakistani politicians and rights activists say the chronic instability in the province is a stubborn reminder of the broader fragility of the Pakistani state and have repeatedly called on the government to urgently deal with years of pent-up grievances.
Now, Balochistan’s new chief minister, who was elected unopposed last month, says his government is ready for the challenge, and is “taking everyone on board” to seek an end to the decades of violence. 
“Absolutely, as soon as coming into power, we have focused on this,” Bezinjo told Arab News in an interview in Quetta when asked if his government was talking to separatists and other dissident groups. “Surely they have grievances because of which they have become unhappy, [so] the doors of dialogue should not be closed. We are talking to them, and lots of channels are also open.”

Among those the government was reaching out to is BLF chief Dr. Baloch, Bezinjo confirmed: “Not direct, but indirectly we are trying that we do this [talk to Dr. Baloch] and all the rest, whoever they are, we are trying that we talk to them.”
Dr. Baloch is the only leader of a sizeable separatist group who is believed to be waging a campaign for independence from inside Balochistan; the other two leaders are in exile in Europe, including Brahamdagh Bugti, the Switzerland-based leader of the Balochistan Republican Party, and Hyrbyair Marri, who lives in London and heads the Baloch Liberation Army. The three groups have for years launched attacks on civilians, journalists and government and security personnel.
Bezinjo said it would be premature to disclose “specifics” of the talks, but added: “Many personalities with whom we are in talks, we are hopeful that in a few months they will be in this country, and in this province … Very soon Balochistan’s people will get good news.”

Governments in the past have attempted, and failed, to win over dissidents and the prospects of success for Bezinjo’s campaign are bleak. But the need for peace is more urgent than ever before, especially in the last decade as China has turned its attention toward Balochistan’s wealth of copper, gold, gas and coal deposits and invested billions of dollars in the province.




Militants from the band organization Baloch Liberation Army and United Baloch Army, sit before hand over their weapons to the Pakistani government during a surrender ceremony in Quetta, Pakistan, on October 29, 2015. (AFP/File)

Separatist militants have frequently targeted Chinese projects, including its construction in Gwadar, a port on the Balochistan coast, near the entrance to the strategically-important Gulf. And in 2018, the Balochistan Liberation Army attacked the Chinese consulate in the southern port city of Karachi, killing four Pakistani police and civilians.
It was the most high profile attack by the group until June 29 2020, when its fighters launched an assault on the stock exchange, killing four people.
That attack came a day after hundreds of relatives of missing Balochs gathered in Quetta to mark the four thousandth day of their protest against what they say are enforced disappearances by the state. The daily sit-in launched in 2009 entered its 4,509 day today, Monday. 
The Pakistan military denies it is involved in enforced disappearances. In 2019, it issued a statement sympathizing with the families of missing Balochs and said that some may have joined militant groups: “Not every person missing is attributable to the state.”
But the issue of missing persons has continued to spark revolt in Balochistan and arrests and disappearances of alleged separatist sympathizers as well as political and student nationalist leaders have hardened attitudes, particularly among the young.
A federal commission on enforced disappearances set up in March 2011 listed 8,122 cases of missing persons reported nationwide by June 2021, of which 5,880 have been resolved. At least 500 people on the list are from Balochistan. 
“We made a cell [in the Balochistan Home Department], it’s been one year and in that around 180 families have approached us,” the chief minister said. “We are investigating whether they are missing or not, but the numbers are not as large as they say.”

Speaking about the outsized role of the Pakistani military in the running of Balochistan, Bezinjo said there was no harm in governments in the province seeking help from the army, particularly against security threats.
“They are our forces, we feel no shame if they come to us [the government], and support us somewhere, in relation to law and order, and other issues,” the chief minister said. “Wherever we felt that we needed the forces, we needed to improve law and order, we certainly requested them, where we felt that we can’t work, the situation was untenable, there we took the army’s support … Sometimes they feel that some steps are needed for the betterment of Balochistan.”




The chief minister of Balochistan, Mir Abdul Quddus Bezinjo, speaks to Arab News in Quetta, Pakistan, on November 27, 2021. (AN Photo)

Bezinjo also spoke about a rise in attacks on security forces in Balochistan in the last three months, and linked it to a change of government in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August. 
The militant Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is separate from the Afghan Taliban, has stepped up its campaign against the Pakistani army and paramilitary forces in recent months.
“Whenever things change in Afghanistan, its effect is always seen in Balochistan,” Bezinjo said. “Because of change there [in Afghanistan] a lot of elements have come here [to Pakistan] and taken part in different kinds of terrorism. Things are in front of us, we can see for a few months that the law and order situation has deteriorated quickly.”
But Bezinjo was hopeful that new development schemes in the province would improve overall tensions, especially the announcement by the federal government of a “Southern Balochistan Project,” under which 199 projects worth Rs601 billion are to be executed. 
Currently, Balochistan has the worst development indicators in the country, with over 50 percent people living below the poverty line and 92 percent of provincial districts classified as “highly deprived” by the United Nations. 
“If these [Southern Balochistan] projects become functional on the ground in a timely fashion, then we are hopeful that Inshallah things will improve a lot and we will have a lot of support in the development sector,” Bezinjo said. 

And while he lamented that past central governments had not paid due attention to Balochistan, he said the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking special interest in the province’s development. 
“If the federal [government] does not give us proper space, proper development funds, then we can never develop Balochistan,” the chief minister said. “If they want to strengthen this pillar then they will have to enlarge their heart.”


Government says central bank autonomy not without checks and balances

Updated 11 sec ago

Government says central bank autonomy not without checks and balances

  • The IMF wanted Pakistan to grant maximum independence to the central bank to end any possible political interference
  • A senior Pakistani minister says the oversight mechanism was built into the law after ‘hard negotiations’ with the lending agency

ISLAMABAD: A senior Pakistani minister on Tuesday criticized the opposition for making a legislation regarding the central bank’s autonomy controversial, saying the new law was not without checks and balances which were incorporated after “hard negotiations” with the International Monetary Fund.
The law was approved by the country’s national assembly last week and was enacted on the international financial institution’s insistence which had been demanding it to protect the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) from any political interference.
The IMF executive board is scheduled to review Pakistan’s progress in terms of the implementation of structural reforms under a $6 billion loan program and may release another tranche of $1 billion later this month.
Pakistan’s energy minister Hammad Azhar told a news conference in Islamabad that central banks were always kept autonomous in the world since there was enough evidence that it allowed developed nations to bring down inflation and ensure economic growth.
“The federal government will appoint the central bank’s board of directors whose members can even remove the state bank governor,” he said, adding: “We managed to secure this concession of appointing the state bank board along with its governor and deputy governor from the IMF after hard negotiations.”
Azhar maintained previous administrations tried to influence central bank officials while dictating them how to manage the county’s monetary policy.
He added a similar bill was also suggested in 2015 by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party wherein it was willing to surrender all its powers to the central bank board.
The minister noted the government had brought about a comprehensive reform in the area which was also “demanded by serious Pakistani economists for a substantially long period.”
Refuting the opposition’s criticism over the law, he said it was only going to strengthen the country’s economy and ensure sustained growth momentum.


Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

Updated 18 January 2022

Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

  • General Nadeem Raza says defense cooperation between the two countries will have a positive impact on regional peace and security
  • Pakistan and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2020 to enhance military cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Commander Royal Navy of Oman Rear Admiral Saif bin Nasser bin Mohsen Al-Rahbi on Tuesday met with Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza in Rawalpindi and discussed ways of improving bilateral military cooperation, the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement.
A day earlier, the Omani official held a meeting with Pakistan’s Naval Chief Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi in Islamabad to discuss bilateral defense ties.
Pakistan and Oman have always maintained a close relationship and the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to increase military cooperation in October 2020.
In his meeting with General Raza, Al-Rahbi discussed “security and regional issues and matters related to enhancing the level and scope of bilateral military engagements and cooperation in various fields between the two brotherly countries,” the ISPR read.
The statement noted that General Raza “emphasized the need to further enhance the existing defense and security cooperation and said that Pakistan-Oman cooperation will have a positive impact on peace and security in the region.”
“The visiting dignitary remained appreciative of the role of the Pakistan Armed Forces in building the capacity of Oman Armed Forces. He also acknowledged the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war against terrorism,” it added.
Last week, Pakistani naval ships Rah Naward and Madadgar visited Oman’s Port Sultan Bin Qaboos along with Hamza submarine as part of overseas deployment.
“During the port stay, various bilateral activities including exchange visits onboard afloat units, orientation visits of military installations and coordination meetings were undertaken,” the Pakistan Navy said.


Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

  • Outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the ‘attack’ near the city’s famous G-9 market 
  • TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD: A policeman and two suspects were killed in a shootout in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad late Monday, in what the country’s interior minister described as a “terrorism incident.”
Two assailants opened fire at police officers standing guard near a market in G-9 sector, the police said, which triggered a shootout that killed an officer and both gunmen. Two policemen were injured in the attack, who were shifted to hospital.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Tuesday said the deceased suspects were “terrorists” and the shootout was actually an attack.
“Munawwar Shaheed, head constable, was on duty and the terrorists opened a burst on him. This wasn’t a burglary or robbery,” Ahmed said.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed places a wrath on the coffin of a policeman who lost his life in a gun attack in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (Islamabad Police)

“This is a kind of a signal we have got that terrorism incidents have begun in Islamabad. This is the first incident of this year and we need to be very alert.”

He said the authorities had located the "terrorist sleeper cell" in Misrial, a Rawalpindi neighborhood some 20 kilometers from Islamabad.

“This is purely a terrorism issue,” Ahmed added.

Policemen pay tribute beside the coffin of a police officer who was killed in an overnight gunmen attack during the funeral ceremony in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (AFP)

Militants have often targeted security forces in Pakistan’s southern Balochistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, but attacks like this have been a rarity in Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the “attack” in a statement.
The TTP is a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with its own brand of Islamic Shariah law.
Last month, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire arranged with the aid of the Afghan Taliban, accusing the Pakistan government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.


Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

  • Tahir Ashrafi says they consider security and stability of UAE as Pakistan's security and stability 
  • UAE ambassador offers condolences over the death of a Pakistani in Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on the Middle East Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi on Tuesday visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Islamabad to express solidarity with the brotherly country a day after a drone attack on its capital, Abu Dhabi, by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi militia.

Houthi rebels on Monday attacked the Emirati capital with missiles and drones, setting off explosions in fuel trucks that killed three people, including a Pakistani national, and injured six others, and causing a fire close to the Abu Dhabi airport.

“The UAE is Pakistan's strongest friend and brother. [We] consider the security and stability of the UAE as Pakistan's security and stability,” Ashrafi told UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi.

“No force can weaken Pakistan-UAE relations,” the Pakistani PM's aide said.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi conveyed condolences from the UAE leadership over the killing of the Pakistani national, who was working for the Emirati oil giant, ADNOC.

“The injured are being fully treated and the UAE foreign ministry is in touch with the Pakistani embassy,” the UAE ambassador was quoted as saying in a statement issued from the office of the Pakistani PM's aide.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi thanked Pakistan for its solidarity and cooperation with the UAE.

Besides being a brotherly country, the UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and a major source of investment in the South Asian country.

Around 1.6 million Pakistani expatriates in the UAE contributed remittances of more than $6 billion in the last financial year.


Authorities in Pakistan's Islamabad start closing schools amid rising virus cases

Updated 18 January 2022

Authorities in Pakistan's Islamabad start closing schools amid rising virus cases

  • Deputy commissioner says educational institutes being closed for a period of 10 days
  • The COVID-19 positivity rate has crossed 10 percent in Islamabad, Hamza Shafqaat adds

ISLAMABAD: Authorities in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad have started closing schools amid a surge in coronavirus cases, the Islamabad deputy commissioner said late Monday.
The development comes as the South Asian nation reports more than 5,000 new infections in the last 24 hours. The country is battling a fifth wave of COVID-19, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron strain.
"Due to covid rise Islamabad Administration has started sealing schools for a period of ten days so that contact tracing can be done and positive cases are prevented to interact with other kids," Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said on Twitter.
The per day COVID-19 positivity rate has crossed 10 percent in Islamabad, according to the official.
He said the city's administration had also launched a crackdown on those violating the government-prescribed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the spread of the virus.
"Please wear masks and get everyone around you vaccinated as soon as possible," the deputy commissioner urged.
Pakistan on Tuesday reported 10 deaths and 5,034 new cases of coronavirus, according to the National Command and Operation Centre, which oversees the country's pandemic response.
The overall virus positivity rate in the country stands at 9.45 percent.