Either Tweedledum or Tweedledee – Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Extra earning as protection money is in fact just a more respectable name for the ugly word ‘extortion’

Mir Muhammad Ali TalpurDuring the Senate session on August 3, Senator Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party initiated debate on a motion on an agreement signed between the Frontier Corps (FC) and the lease owners of coalmines in Harnai and the imposition of a tax on the latter by the FC. He accused the FC of “interfering in provincial autonomy by intruding in the affairs of the Balochistan government” and added that though the Chief Minister (CM) Dr Malik had declared the agreement “illegal” the FC was still collecting Rs 220 as protection money per tonne of coal. Farhatullah Babar of the PPP alleged that the FC was disobeying the directives of the provincial government and taking “extra-constitutional steps”. He also called for action against the FC officers who had been named by relatives of missing persons in the courts.

The minister of state for interior, Balighur Rehman, said that the Balochistan government had not lodged any complaint with the federal government about the agreement and that the officials of the provincial mines department were present in the agreement signing ceremony.

It seems Mr Balighur Rehman was ill informed or was being willfully economical with the truth because on January 15 a news report unambiguously said that the Balochistan government had cancelled the contracts inked between coalmine owners and the FC for provision of security cover in the Harnai district of the province. There are around 250 coalmines in Harnai district. The FC was being paid Rs 220 per tonne of coal as protection money under these contracts. The government had taken notice of agreements between security forces and coalmines’ owners for providing security as these direct contracts between mine owners and security forces were creating reservations. The Balochistan government’s press release had stated that “such contracts shall be suspended with immediate effect”. There you are Mr Balighur Rehman.

Four months back, the Opposition leader in the Balochistan Assembly, Maulana Abdul Wasay, opposing this cancellation said that opposition to the agreement between coalmine owners and contractors in Shahrigh and Khost areas of district Harnai amounted to economic murder of the people of the area. He had demanded to know why the FC and mine owners’ agreement in Harnai was being opposed while the FC had similar deals operative in Chamalang, Duki and other areas. He warned that if the FC were removed from Harnai, Shahrigh and Khost coalmines then all people would demand the removal of the FC in Quetta, and all over Balochistan. Some owners and contractors said they had voluntarily entered a security agreement with the FC as the district administration had failed to provide security and had suggested this agreement on the Chamalang and Duki pattern. Interestingly, the Warezai Zarkoon coalmines projects in Harnai closed due to security was restarted in February under protection of the FC.

The claim by the beleaguered owners and contractors that the payment of protection money at a price of Rs 220 per tonne was a consensual agreement between them and the FC for unhindered mining and marketing coal is surprising because as it is forces are paid by the state for protecting. This extra earning as protection money is in fact just a more respectable name for the ugly word ‘extortion’, which is applicable to others but not to the sacred cows.

Let us look at some other aspects of the matter too. According to estimates, there are estimated reserves of 217 million tonnes of high quality coal in Balochistan of which 76 are in district Harnai alone. The daily production of coal in Harnai and Zarkoon coalmines can be 4,000 t0 5,000 tonnes. This alone would secure at least a million rupees daily extra income for the FC and that means a whooping Rs 365 million a year — not a bad thing if you are also being commended for your patriotism and there is a regular display of chest thumping for services rendered. The Shahrig-Khost-Harnai coalfield alone had a production of 188,389.000 tonnes in year 2013-2014 for which the protection money would be Rs 41,445,580/00. How much money comes from the Chamaling and other coalfields can only be presumed because the protection sum levy per tonne and the production there is not known. However, if the sum is anywhere near Harnai and Zarkoon coalmines, it could be more, than the higher ups should be quite content with money pouring into their coffers.

A September 2013 news report extolling Kayani’s effor said: “The army is also involved in development activities at Chamalang, Musa Khel and Dukki coalmines, Kassa Hill marble project and dates farming at Panjgur.” This shows that there is a finger in every pie and naturally most projects need protection, and protection comes at a price. The Kassa Hill marble project was inaugurated by Kayani and in it, like the Warezai Zarkoon coalmines project, the army played an important role.

What is good for the goose should be equally good for the gander but here it is different: all others who demand protection money in Karachi or elsewhere are termed evil for whom the state has very little patience for but when state institutions take protection money it suddenly becomes respectable and kosher. Interestingly, during the 2010 floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the army sent a bill of Rs 20 million to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government as charges for the 30 helicopters that made over 1,000 trips to the inundated areas from July 28, the day the floods first struck Swat and the rest of Malakand division, to August 4. The eight US Chinook helicopters used in the rescue operation were also paid. The Senate was told that since 2011, Rs 513 billion had been paid as pension to retired personnel of the armed forces from the ‘civilian kitty’ and this has been the case since the year 2000. Rescue too comes at a price.

A Saadi Shirazi parable tells that a shepherd saved a lamb cornered by a wolf and was considered a saviour but it was not long before he came to slaughter it and only then the lamb realised why it had been saved. Here the people are always at the mercy of either Tweedledum or Tweedledee as they have to willy-nilly pay one of them to survive. What hope of a future can people have in a scenario where they have to submit to either Tweedledum or Tweedledee?

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 mmatalpur@gmail.com

Courtesy: Daily Times

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