'There is no no-go area in Balochistan; the state has established its writ and it will consolidate it further' - Sarfraz Ahmad Bugti

'What is in my heart is on my lips', the man sitting in front of me tells me as the sun sets on a mid-December Sunday and eagles fly past the Frere Hall as we could see from our vantage point. Sarfraz Ahmad Bugti, Home Minister Balochistan is a sportsman who hunts in his leisure time and wants to spend every single free moment of his life hunting. But the job he does keeps him occupied '24 hours' a day. He feels elated to have been 'chosen by God, to work for His people and pray that I do not disappoint them and always stand up to the expectations they have from me'. A Manchester United fan, he remembers the subjects he hated the most as a student -– Mathematics and Chemistry. Excerpts:

You have studied at Lawrence College. How were you as a kid? What subject have you graduated in?

I was quite an obedient student. I give the credit for my success to my parents, especially my father, and to my teachers and the college. When I went to Lawrence College, I only knew Balochi, but there came a time when I started winning debate competitions and participated in multiple extracurricular activities. So, I owe it to my college that groomed me so much. I then went to Quaid-i-Azam University for Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS). I stayed there for two semesters but then my father was sent to jail during (Pervez) Musharraf’s era so I had to freeze my studies. Hopefully, I will open the freezer again when I get time in my life.

Being born in Dera Bugti, how has it changed over the years politically and socially?

(My area) was a very far flung village of Dera Bugti. It was previously called Behkar but I have renamed it Bani Qadarabad after my father. My dad struggled for a good 30-40 years and challenged the status quo. He challenged the Sardari System in Dera Bugti which, I believe, was the biggest cause behind our backwardness and kept us uneducated, mentally and physically as slaves. Even today, in this century, people behave before our sardars and nawabs like they are in front of deities. In such circumstances, my dad was the first one who dared contest elections in 1988 against Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. We faced atrocities from his side but remained steadfast. But the biggest change that I feel Dera Bugti has undergone is a social one. Both the giver and taker of vote realise its importance now. Previously, there was only drawing room politics which was restricted to wadera families. Secondly, I believe that social media and improved means of communication has introduced significant changes for the people. As far as our development is concerned, I would call it ‘growth’ and not development. We started from zero; in four-and-a-half years we have improved our villages and provided them with concrete roads, electricity, and similar other problems of the people were also solved, so this is what I call growth. Development is a very big word and we need more time and more work to reach that particular stage.

What about the no-go areas in Dera Bugti?

Talking about Dera Bugti in particular, there are no such areas (now). It is one of the peaceful districts of Balochistan. Yes, we have some problems in the south of Balochistan, that is the Makran division, but it is not so bad that people should worry about it very much. People call it insurgency but I call it low scale conflict or violence. I believe that it isn’t so bad in Balochistan as newsrooms here portray. It's unfortunate to see that media does not highlight the positive things happening there rather negative things are played up. Also, perceptions move faster than reality and I think the reality of Balochistan is very different. Change is coming, Alhamdulillah, and people are gradually understanding and accepting it. Overall, there is no no-go area in Balochistan; the state has established its writ and it will consolidate it further.

Talking about people having realised the power of vote now, what is the scale of education in the province. How willing are people to send their kids to school, especially girls?

Honestly speaking, people are very willing to send their kids to school, both boys and girls. Again, there is a wrong perception about Balochistan. Baloch, since the beginning, is a secular society, who have never created hurdles for their kids’ education, except those warlords or people who deliberately wanted to keep our society deprived; who wanted to rule us by keeping us uneducated. Otherwise, common people want education for their children. I am working on a girls college which is named after my dad and the Chief Minister would be inaugurating it in a month, InshaAllah, which would be the first girls college of the district. People do want to study but they lack opportunities; if they get more schools and colleges, of course they would want to get educated.

Growing up seeing your father suffer, did you ever think of not getting yourself associated with politics?

I tried my level best to join the army but unfortunately, I did not get selected by the ISSB. They considered me unfit for the army. Then I thought of doing a business abroad or in Pakistan. But I am not the eldest son of my father (even my father wasn’t the eldest son) and we have this custom in our tribal system that the eldest son always has to lead. So my dad told me to go into politics and I got some training from him. Unfortunately, we lost him very early, but I learnt a lot from him. I am very proud of being the son of a man who always taught me to love Pakistan and to stay sincere to my work. He taught me honesty and that if we walk straight with our head towards the sun, then the sky is the limit. I am very proud of him.

Has CPEC brought about any changes in Dera Bugti and/or in Balochistan overall?

CPEC is a game changer; not only for Pakistan, but for the entire region. If we look specifically, then I think that it is bringing about development, but it is still too early to talk about the benefits and loss. We would not be able to gauge the extent of this development if we get into this debate now. It is a tree that will benefit all regions after it starts bearing fruit.

Do you think it has instilled some insecurities in our neighbours?

Not only amongst our neighbours, but amongst a lot of other people too. What their problem is that Pakistan will eventually be an Islamic welfare state and if you are going to be that then obviously others are going to have a hard time accepting it. But I am sure that all conspiracies against CPEC and Pakistan will come to naught.

The frequency of terrorist attacks has significantly reduced after Operation Zarb-e-Azb. How massive is the decline?

The decline is massive. It was incredulous to look at terrorist hideouts which I witnessed in Waziristan, how they had full-fledged suicide schools underground where kids were being prepared for suicide missions. There were centres of terrorists. The state within a state has been crushed. How Afghanistan’s state and land is being used against Pakistan, we have no clue, but we will soon know it with our focusing on border management and fencing our borders, soon these conspiracies of theirs would fail.

We are being constantly asked to ‘do more’. How long can Pakistan continue doing more?

I think Pakistan has already done enough. Now it is their turn to do more, especially the U.S. As a political worker, what I think is that we should let Americans know that we have done enough; we have lost 60,000 people. We are losing our youngsters daily, look at our army men embracing martyrdom on a regular basis. So many civilians, policemen, levies, FC are losing their lives for the purpose of eradicating terrorism from the country. What I feel is that now Americans should be told to do more.

You mentioned about a state within a state in Waziristan. If we are to destroy the very base of these people, then where do you think we should start?

I personally think there are two aspects of this war against terrorism: one is the military aspect, in which our army and other security agencies are performing brilliantly. The other part is to be performed by the members and assembly. Pakistan has been attacked in numerous ways; sometimes our ethnic base was attacked, sometimes some other target was found. This time the very phenomenon on which Pakistan was founded was targeted. They are imposing war on us in the name of Islam so this war should be fought from the floor of the parliament and by its members. I think if our religious scholars do away with the wall of fear and participate actively in this fight, then I believe we can win this war.

Your comments on the Chabahar Port? Will there be any damage inflicted by it on other ports like Gwadar?

None at all! Iranians themselves want to be a part of CPEC because they know that (Chabahar) the port can never replace Gwadar port. Gwadar cannot be compared to Chabahar at all because Gwadar is a deep sea port and its capacity of ship harbours is a lot more. Indians, have given so much hype to the matter but I think it’s all wrong. No doubt CPEC is important for us; hum trade k munh par bethay huay hain) it can provide us more opportunities in trade, we would prosper, there are going to be more job opportunities, it would strengthen us economically, but CPEC cannot be termed as the sole cause of Pakistan’s creation and stability. We have numerous other assets. We are an atomic power, our irrigation system is one of the best in the world and there are several other features that make us distinct, we have four seasons, fertile land, tourism etc so, it is not correct to depend entirely on CPEC, even though there is no denying that it is vital for us. But keeping it as the only hope and looking at it that way, that I think is not correct.

Do you see CPEC completing?

InshaAllah, at any cost. If you are talking in terms of law and order, then let me tell you very honestly that there are not more than 100-150 young boys who are ready to kill and be killed. So first we are trying to bring them to the mainstream but if they do not bend, then we will remove them from our path. We cannot allow anyone to sabotage our economic activities and our future.

Your life has been threatened a number of times. On what scale are our intelligence agencies working to provide us, common people with security?

Unfortunately, our intelligence agencies have always been the unsung heroes. People do not realise the hard work these agencies put in to provide us the security we enjoy in our country. Allama Iqbal said this about them a long time back, 'Ye Ghazi, Ye Tere Purisrar Bande Jinhain Tu Ne Bakhsha Hai Zuaq-e-Khudai'. They are the people who do not care about their rest, sleep and safety for us. A lot of them get martyred but we do not see our media talking about them because that is the nature of their work. There are still many who become a part of terrorist organisations to work for us and they put their lives at risk for us. As far as my four-and-a-half year experience as the home minister of the biggest province of Pakistan is concerned, I have seen our intelligence agencies doing a wonderful job. It is our good fortune that Kulbushan Jadhav has been caught in Pakistan. Had it been vice versa, if someone from Pakistan would have been caught in India, then we would not have been able to show our faces to the world. This is a big success of ISI. A huge credit of this goes to ISI; arresting a serving Indian officer from Balochistan is a tremendous achievement.