During his one-day visit to Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif rekindled the hopes of the families of Baloch missing persons and promised that he will take to issue to the “powerful quarters.” He was speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of the 330-km Khuzdar-Kuchlak sections of the N-25 Chaman-Karachi Highway.
Sharif was joined by Balochistan National Party Mengal leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Chief Minister Balochistan Qudduz Bizenjo among several federal and provincial ministers. Speaking at the occasion, the Pakistani premier said: “I held meetings with the leaders here today and all of them said the same thing. They said that development projects are important, but it is the other problems, predominantly the issue of missing persons, that need to be solved first.”
The issue of Baloch missing persons inevitably cropped up in the conversation. “Today, I’m making a promise. I will speak for missing persons along with you,” Sharif vowed. “We will raise the issue with powerful quarters. And we will talk to them on the basis of law, justice and merit.”
Shehbaz Sharif said it is important to address this issue as it would create an environment of “sadness” and “disappointment” in Balochistan. The premier said that he was “apologetic” to the people of Balochistan. “Balochistan is Pakistan’s biggest province geographically, but despite having a small population, it was left behind.”
“Allah has blessed the province with an abundance of natural resources. But the benefits its residents got from these resources were equivalent to salt in flour”, he said.
Sharif said that Balochistan has been blessed with mineral resources, but these resources have remained untapped. “In fact the projects that were initiated here have been surrounded with litigations”, he said, referring the legal situation surrounding Reko Diq Gold and Copper mining project.
The Pakistani premier said that from 2000 to 2014, “terrorism” wreaked havoc in Balochistan. “The sacrifices the Pashtuns, Baloch and other people made are exemplary. They lost their loved ones and buried them with their own hands and in front of their eyes.”
Shehbaz Sharif stated that narrative of North and South Balochistan is creating mounting difficulties. He said that the previous governments have been selective in development projects – some parts of Balochistan have been developed whereas others have been ignored. He said that this is not the way forward; Balochistan as a whole has to progress and develop.
Talking about the Kuchlak National Highway, the Pakistani premier said that the locals called it the “killer highway”, referring to the sobriquet the infamous highway has earned due to the thousands of road accidents it sees every year. “We need to soak this blood and make this a road of growth and sustenance without any delay,” he urged.
He laid the foundation of the 300km section of the 700km long highway and promised that it would be completed within 1.5 years. PM said that numerous projects in Balochistan have been delayed due to the lack of pre-qualification of the tenders.
The premier announced that the government will bring the Benazir Income Support Programme to Balochistan which would financially benefit over 500,000 families.
“The only condition is that the money should go to families that will use it to send their children to school,” he said. “We don’t want to raise an army of beggars. We want to empower the youth to become independent as they are the future of the country,” PM said.