Govt agrees to BNP’s demands ahead of crucial budget vote


–Defence Minister Khattak says govt has formed committee to address issue of missing persons in Balochistan

–Gold refinery to be set up in Balochistan to benefit province and its people; Afghan refugees to be repatriated ‘respectfully’


ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Thursday announced that it had agreed to implement all six points raised by Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), as the ruling party scrambles support of its coalition partners ahead of the crucial vote on the federal budget.

The BNP-M, which is a ‘confidence and supply’ partner of the ruling PTI, had earlier threatened to abstain from voting on the budget, warning that it would go with whoever could address its grievances.

The announcement had sparked a flurry of activity from the government, which has a thin majority in the National Assembly and needs all the numbers it can muster ahead of the budget vote. It had also prompted the opposition to reach out to BNP chief Akhtar Mengal, who subsequently attended several meetings hosted by opposition parties on how best to tackle the budget.

Despite all that, however, the BNP-M had stayed away from the multi-party conference organised by the opposition on Wednesday. Instead, Mengal and members of his party met Prime Minister Imran Khan and members of the government to discuss the six points of reservation that had been the cause of rising tensions between the two parties.

Interestingly, the joint resolution adopted by the opposition after the multi-party conference too had covered all six demands of the BNP-M.

Addressing journalists after a meeting between the two sides, PTI’s Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and BNP chief Mengal said that an agreement had been reached between the two parties.

Briefly discussing the points agreed upon, Khattak said that the government has formed a committee to address the matter of missing persons in Balochistan.

“The other matter that was raised by the party was regarding water, and it has been promised that several small dams will be created in the province to help in water conservation. Furthermore, the feasibility for two larger dams is also being created and work will begin on them as soon as the process is completed,” Khattak said.

“Another issue discussed in the meeting was the sense of insecurity that the people of Gwadar feel because of a large number of outsiders that are going to the area as it develops. There is a fear that these people may be able to obtain identification cards from the area and the Baloch majority may become a minority.

“We have assured the party that a bill will be brought into the National Assembly to ensure that such an event does not take place and the rights of the people of Gwadar are protected,” the defence minister said.

Khattak further announced that a gold refinery would be set up in Balochistan to benefit the province and its people.

Another one of the BNP-M’s concerns was the unfulfilled promise of six per cent government jobs being provided to people of the province. “Regarding this, we have assured the party that the promise will be fulfilled and, with time, Balochistan will get its fair share of government jobs,” Khattak said.

The last point on the agenda was about the respectful repatriation of Afghan refugees, which both sides have agreed on.

Mengal, when given the chance to speak, said that he was grateful that the government had taken the time to ease the party’s concerns.

“However, it should be known that the differences between the two sides were not developed because of us,” he said.

The BNP-M leader also pointed out that, during the discussion, the prime minister had assured him that no reductions will be made to the NFC award and that the 18th Amendment will not be rolled back.

“These rumours were floating around, but the truth is that to make both these changes, we need a two-thirds majority (in the NA) and we do not have that. Thus, to the people creating these rumours, I would like to tell them that they should stop lying so much,” Khattak interjected.

Mengal also told the media that he had suggested to the prime minister that a committee of political leaders be sent to Balochistan to properly understand the grievances of the people there.

“Once it returns, the committee should present a report to the parliament and then whatever decision is taken on the matter will be acceptable to us,” he said.