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What Balochistan gained and lost under Imran’s government

During Imran Khan’s election campaign back in 2018, the Baloch masses saw a ray of hope for change. Because, after a long time, a new face was being introduced in the country’s political set-up as premier. Khan Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf’s (PTI) leader had earlier spoken about the haplessness of the Baloch people, specifically about the enforced disappearances in Balochistan during his years in opposition and outside the parliament as a struggling party leader.

When Khan was announced to have gained a majority of seats in the National Assembly, Baloch people hoped for a change in their fate due to his earlier, sympathetic work in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, nothing of that sort happened. If you ask a Baloch what Balochistan has gained under the rule of Khan, he would say all that Balochistan got was mere ‘hope’.

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The Baloch students hoped for standardization of the educational institutions of Balochistan; they expected more scholarships within and outside Pakistan, but were eventually made to struggle in maintaining their previously given seats in the institutions of Punjab; cancellation of reserved seats of Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) Multan was one such ‘gift’. The Baloch students of BZU Multan were compelled to organize a barefoot long march from Multan to Lahore when their seats were ingested in the varsity, and the premier and his party leader in the Punjab, Usman Buzdar – also a Baloch – were indifferent about the issue.

On the other hand, enforced disappearance has been a long-lasting issue in Balochistan where a large number of men, women, the elderly and children are forcibly disappeared and detained. Prior to him being elected as the Prime Minister of the country, Khan was reported to have raised the issue of missing persons in serious terms in news talk shows, during his election campaign and in his ‘dharna’ against Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif back in 2015-16.

After he came into power in 2018, he had a bill introduced for criminalizing the enforced disappearances, but the Minister for Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Shireen Mazari, was found saying in a statement that the ‘bill for criminalizing enforced disappearances had gone ‘missing’, leaving the country in shock – particularly Balochistan where enforced disappearance has become a sickening norm.

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Khan has more to go in the case of enforced disappearances in Balochistan: the grieving families of missing persons of Balochistan turned to Islamabad’s D-Chowk after they found no serious and concrete moves by the PTI government in their case other than the formation of a commission to hear the cases of missing persons, but instead, “threatened the families not to appear before the commission”.

When the families reached there in the federal capital in February 2021, they were called on by the PM to meet on March 15 (2021) after several days and nights of the continuous sit-in. When the due date reached, PM was nowhere on the scene using the “delay tactic” of ignoring the grave issue of the Baloch missing persons. When reminded back of his scheduled time to meet the families, he gave them the date in April to “appear before him”.

For the crying families, the month of March went in counting minutes, hours and days in the hope that PM was ensuring the whereabouts of their beloveds. When April came, PM asked them to meet by April 10. When the team of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) appeared before the ‘honourable’ PM, the first question Khan asked was: “What is your matter and why are you here?” Uhhh! Was that a joke by Khan? Was Khan really unaware of what was going on in the ‘most deprived part’ of the country? Or was he pointing out his haplessness towards the issue? Or simply, the PTI leader was not interested in the Baloch issue? The Baloch nation returned back with thousands of questions such as when Khan said he did not know anything about their beloveds.

Coming to the common Baloch masses, a rapid increase in inflation has resulted in cries of poverty by the Baloch inhabitants. Despite being the richest province of the country in terms of mineral wealth and a very thin population of 12.34 million people, Balochistan is the poorest in the region when it comes to per capita income (PCI).

However, Khan’s dream to lessen the ‘debts of the country’ pushed the already struggling people to stand on their feet to fall resulting in many dropouts of Balochistan’s children from educational institutions and several suicides owing to unemployment. The premier’s dream destroyed thousands of dreams of the people of Balochistan by drawing them towards a tougher stage in their life.

Last but not least, the premier, when the vote for no-confidence kept him moving towards the window of his downfall, “sold out the provincial reserve of Reko Diq to the Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation” strengthening the “resentment of Balochistan” towards the PTI government at the end of his tenure. All one can say, is that PTI’s Imran Khan rendered Balochistan with only ‘hope’ while hardly doing anything to counter difficulties and hardships with the rise in the wave of enforced disappearances of the Baloch people not only in Balochistan now, but in Punjab, Islamabad, Sindh “and outside the country” as well.

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