The spineless and pusillanimous members of the selected Balochistan Assembly handed over 9000 acres (36.42 sq km) of the protected Hingol National Park land to the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in record 300 seconds giving away 30 acres per second. Made me wonder how much time would they take to hand over Balochistan to anyone with enough clout to pay and intimidate them. The timing would be proportionate to the fear and greed that authority could instill in their hearts. This is indeed shameful and unbecoming for those who should be looking after Balochistan’s rights but then those brought in for specific purpose of kowtowing to Rawalpindi and Islamabad this isn’t surprising. The SUPARCO isn’t as innocuous as it appears; it is the set-up which is responsible for the Hatfs and Shaheens. It is a branch serving military.
Balochistan’s land is greedily eyed; in November 2007 Sartaj Aziz asked Balochistan government to sell 70000 hectares to Arab Princes, he also asked for 500000 acres of land in Sonmiani for a new port city for one rupee per acre. It isn’t surprising then that the armed forces already control about 12 million acres, constituting about 12 per cent of total state land. Sindh Assembly too gifted 9000 acres to army.
The agonizing travails of the blighted Hingol Park continue because it is in Balochistan and not in Punjab. Pothohar spread on 22,254 km2 (8,592 sq mi) is large too, so if 36.42 sq km were taken from it, it would hardly make a difference but it is the hazard accompanying rocket testing which makes Hingol first choice as it matters not to them who is hurt or who is displaced there.
In July 2006 the air force and the SUPARCO had asked for 80000 acres, 23000 of which were in the Hingol Park and eight mauzas respectively. I had written a piece, “Testing times” in ‘Dawn’ on the issue of using Hingol Park as a firing range for the JF-17 jets on 13th May 2008. It prompted a response from Air Commodore Sarfraz Ahmed Khan Director, Media Affairs, Pakistan Air Force denying that that the PAF was taking land in the Hingol Park; I had rebutted him with his own statement of July 27th 2006 in which he had said, “About 30 per cent the area, proposed by the PAF, falls in the limits of the National Park”.
It was only in January 2009 that the then Balochistan Assembly woke up and decided to cancel the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the Jam-led coalition government with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after people protested because of possible displacement of inhabitants and the nominal compensation on cards. Jam coalition had allotted around 63,000 acres in Hingol national park area for establishing a firing range.
Taking over of land for firing ranges, rocket testing and similar purposes is routine here and only a few things become publicized. Tahir Rasheed, national project manager of the Sustainable Use Specialist Group-Central Asia, an NGO involved in habitat and species conservation projects had then said, “The PAF is asking for land from the Hingol National Park because it got away with acquiring land from the Maslakh wildlife sanctuary in the Pishin district.” He had further said, “The Maslakh wildlife sanctuary was established in 1968 to protect the chinkara and urial. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), all flagship wildlife species have now been eliminated from the area.” So expecting the SUPARCO to act compassionately towards the wildlife in the Hingol Park is asking too much.
This isn’t the only devastation which Balochistan suffers there was killing of the granite mountain Ras Koh in Chagai on 28th May 1998. The inhabitants of that area are suffering from effects of radioactivity contamination. The claim that these tests are completely safe prompts the affected people ask why these ‘safe nuclear tests’ weren’t conducted near Jehlum hills.
Zofeen T. Ebrahim Sahiba, in an article ‘Clear and present danger’ of June 2006 had highlighted the plight of the Baloch of Baghalchur area where the uranium for the nuclear devices was extracted from 1978 to 2000. She says the trouble for the inhabitants there began when after mines were exhausted these were used for nuclear waste storage. She says, “Affected are some 50,000 people who live in hamlets scattered around Baghalchur and the 500,000-strong population of nearby Dera Ghazi Khan town. The area is dominated by Balochi tribes.” The affected inhabitants petitioned the Supreme Court in 2006 but it remained dormant and was revived in 2012 and at its final hearing was referred to the Punjab Environment Tribunal for further proceedings and nothing happened and end of the story. To add insult to the injury a Herald report said that, “A senior military official at the Strategic Plans Division, which controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, goes to the extent of saying that radiation emissions in Baghalchur are figments of people’s imagination.” If indeed radioactivity is ‘figment of people’s imagination’ would it not be safe to store the nuclear waste in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Sindh too suffers land grab. Not long ago, although country’s largest field-firing ranges were at Khipro then too 73,000 acres of fertile agricultural land in Saleh Pat, Sukkur, were requisitioned to set up a new firing range. This land was initially meant for distribution among landless peasants. If distributed it could have provided sustenance to some 4,000 families. But this is something normal where of the 2.4 million acres land irrigated by barrages 55 percent (i.e. 1.32 million acres) were allotted to non-Sindhis.
Sardar Akhtar Mengal in a speech at Nushki said, “The dream of a prosperous Balochistan cannot come true unless the control of Gwadar port is handed over to the province.” He forgets that Balochistan is run by those who parcel out 9000 acres of a protected national park for certain devastation without compunction or remorse. But then one cannot fault them because the 4000 vote Chief Minister himself admitted that all elections in Balochistan were ‘managed’. These are ‘managed’ so that those who reach the assembly can be ‘managed’ for purposes demanded of them by Rawalpindi and Islamabad. As far as these ‘managed legislators’ are concerned the people of Balochistan along with their rights and grievances, can go and jump in Hanna Lake.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org