Balochistan Times’ Shah Meer Baloch lately talked to Zubaida Jalal, Pakistan’s Federal Miniser for Defense Production, about her past and future politics. Some of the edited excerpts of this conversation are as follows:
Shah Meer Baloch: We have had two Zubaida Jalals. One who called herself a revolutionary wanting to change the fate of the Baloch women and the other Zubaida who became part of the status quo by joining the then dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s cabinet. Do you too see the difference?
Zubaida Jalal: I have been involved in social work and activism till 1999. I got involved in social work because of my father. He encouraged us to share our knowledge with the people deprived of basic education. For this, we established a girls’ school in 1982 in Mand, Kech. The school was run and funded solely by my family for over a decade. We had no support from anyone else.
Around 600 students were enrolled in the school at the time I joined Musharraf’s selected government. They selected me mainly because I was from Balochistan, I was a woman, and because I was working on education.
It was a big personal decision for me to whether join Musharraf’s military government or not. I became part of the government after hearing his ideas and thoughts. I felt I could do more for my province if I took part in national politics.
I served as a selected minister for education from 1999 to 2002. In the same year, general elections were held. I consulted my people, friends and family before taking part in the elections. They all advised me to go for it. I contested the elections and I won a seat as an independent candidate and served as education minister till 2004 when I was allocated another ministry in Shaukat Aziz’s cabinet.
I guess I have done revolutionary work in the parliament too. I find no difference in both Zubaidas. I have taken revolutionary steps in the field of education.
SMB: What did you do for your province as an education minister?
ZJ: I established three universities: Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University (SBK), the Balochistan University for Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS) and the Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences ( LUAWMS). I also upgraded the Khuzdar Engineering University.
Also, when I was the federal minister for education, I was informed that only one and half percent admission quota was reserved for the students of Balochistan at QAU. Astonished, I told them what did one and half percent even mean. So I introduced a new quota and made it sure that at least three students from Balochistan should get admission in each department. I implemented the same in other universities, wherever I could.
But we should know one thing that the federal ministry has its own responsibilities and jurisdictions. I was mostly involved in policy-making.
SMB: In your home district and hometown, you built no universities or colleges. You announced one poly technical college for women, which, to this date, is not functional.
ZJ: This was the responsibility of the provincial government to make it functional. Former Chief Ministers Balochistan Aslam Raisani and Dr Abdul Malik did nothing in this regard.
SMB: So you would blame others, like any other politician?
ZJ: I guess I have already made it clear that it takes a long time for this process of building a college and making it functional. It the responsibility of the province to make it functional.
SMB: There is this hue and cry over the issue of missing persons. Does this issue really exist? Or do you deny it altogether?
ZJ: It would be a huge lie if I say that the issue does not exist. We all have suffered from this tragedy. District Kech, my home district, and the Panjgur district have suffered a lot from it. Khuzdar district has also been affected by it. But I would rather say that the situation in Khuzdar is a bit different as there has been this turf war between Mengal tribes. Khuzdar is unlike our region. We have an insurgency in Makran.
The issue of missing persons does exist. People have been abducted. We have received dead bodies. I did whatever I could by releasing some missing persons. I helped release a number of them and sent them safely back their homes.
SHM: Your hometown has been affected by this issue badly. And it all started back in Musharraf’s era when you were a minister. What did you do for your own hometown?
ZJ: Remember, there was no kill-and-dump policy during Musharraf’s era. One of the biggest cases of our time was the abduction of Wahid Qamber, who was arrested during a military operation. He was produced in front of a court of law. He did not go missing.
As far as I remember, some 35 people were picked up from my hometown. Most of them were young people who had went to picnic or something like that. A few of them were old people too. They all were released.
The kill-and-dump policy was started with the killing of Ghulam Muhammad Baloch. It was in 2009. Definitely, this began when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was ruling in the center and the province, with the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A) as one of its coalition partners.
SMB: The former chief minister and governor of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed in a military operation ordered by Musharraf. What was your stance on Bugti’s killing?
ZJ: I condemned the killing of Bugti in strong words. No one could defend his assassination. But as a Baloch, I did nothing. I was part of the government.
Many ask me why did not I resign from the government? See, I don’t want to get into blame-game. If someone had to resign then it should have been Agha Shahid Bugti, Nawab Bugti’s son-in-law. He did not. We might have followed him if he had resigned.
That’s another story that no one actually knows whether he was killed in the military operation or if he blew himself in that cave. I even requested that a judicial commission be made to investigate the killing.
SMB: Death squads, private militias, have been made to counter Baloch insurgents. In your own village, there is this person called Babu, who is leading a death squad. Why have you not done anything to stop them?
ZJ: Because I have not been part of any governments for over a decade. These death squads were created when the PPP was in power. The PPP and BNP-Awami were also ruling in the province. From 2013 to 2018, Dr Abdul Malik and Sanaullah Zehri shared the top post in Balochistan.
They should be answerable to this problem which has now reached a very serious point.
Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf have decided to initiate a policy of reconciliation. We will end these death squads. No one will encourage and support them.
SMB: Will you start this from your hometown?
ZJ: Of course, I will start this from my home. We will dismantle the death squads. It does not matter if anyone cares but my own family lives in Mand. I want it to be peaceful for my people and family. I want no sense of fear there. We want peace in Balochistan. So we will not allow death squads to operate in Balochistan.
SMB: Accusations are being made that the general elections in 2018 were rigged. And that you were supported by the establishment in the election. What would you say about this accusation?
ZJ: This is not a new thing. I faced this accusation in 2002 as well. They always say that I am backed by the army. But there is no truth about it.
Allow me to share a story with you. Back in 2002, when I decided to run for the elections after completing three years in Musharraf’s selected government, a malicious campaign was started against me. At that time, it was the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) behind this campaign.
As a former federal minister, I was allowed to have my former personal secretary with me for at least two weeks after I resigned from the selected government to take part in the general elections of 2002. He was a retired colonel.
Soon after resigning from the government, as I landed at the Turbat airport with my personal secretary, some BNM people captured my pictures along with him. They shared those pictures saying that it was proof that I was being backed by the ISI and Pakistani Army. Even they sent those pictures to UN election observers and blamed me for rigging even before the elections. So this is not a new thing in this country.
The biggest dilemma in Pakistani politics is that the losers don’t accept their defeat and blame it on rigging. If the military was backing me then why did I not win the 2013 elections? People came out from their homes amidst violence and risked their lives to vote for me.
SHM: My last question: do you have any policy for making Balochistan a better place?
ZJ: I will work on my election campaign promises and will materialize the promises I made. During the election campaign, we confronted four major issues: water crisis, energy crisis, unemployment and the issue of missing persons.
During the campaign, I was asked by the people that they wanted nothing both their missing loved ones to be released. Yes, the issue of missing persons is very close to my heart. I have a list of 51 people from Kech district who are missing. I will be working for their release.
Shah Meer Baloch is a freelance writer and fellow of the Swedish Institute/SI, Stockholm (Sweden) and the Institute for Foreign and Cultural Relations (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen/IFA), Stuttgart (Germany). He graduated from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad (Pakistan) in International Relations. His research focus is on South Asian politics, Balochistan issues, extremism and human rights. He is from Pasni, district Gwadar.