By Mumtaz Alvi
ISLAMABAD: Thousands of acres of precious land in Lasbela district along the Coastal Highway may be quietly sold out to a noted family of a foreign country, said Muhammad Aslam Bhootani, Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, in an exclusive talk with this correspondent.
Bhootani was elected an MPA from Lasbela. He claimed the provincial government wanted to sell the massive piece of land of his district to some Arabs and formalities were being finalsed. However, an official of the Balochistan government told The News that proceeds of sale of the land would be used for the development of the province.
“If tomorrow someone comes up with an attractive price for entire Balochistan, does this mean we should go after the money,” was the reaction of Bhootani when told about the provincial government’s stance that the money earned by the sale of the land would be used for eradication of poverty and deprivation from the province.
Bhootani is in touch with members of the National Assembly and Senate on the issue and has requested the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to stay away from the matter, as not only he but also, according to him, the entire population of his district was opposed to the sale of their land.
This land, he pointed out, belonged to the poor people of his district and they had strong reservations about the proposed deal. Bhootani added a vast area also had a disputed background and hence it would only lead to further complications.
The provincial speaker cautioned that they would raise the issue at every forum and also bring a resolution in the assembly besides filing a petition in the Supreme Court if the proposed deal was formally okayed.
But he was confident that the land would not be put on sale and interests of the people of Balochistan would not be compromised. He also appealed to the government of the UAE not to allow such a development to take place, as they had been great well-wishers of the people of Pakistan.
A source close to Balochistan Chief Minister Muhammad Aslam Raisani revealed to this correspondent that a summary had been put on hold after the provincial government faced stiff resistance from within the government as well as the people of Lasbela.
“The chief minister is faced with a Catch 20 situation after strong voices against the sale of land were raised but the pressure from the President’s House and Prime Minister’s Secretariat for the deal was also intense,” the source maintained.
During ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s regime, 70,000-acres of land was given to a federal institution. However, it was retrieved and the money paid back after the Balochistan Assembly and the Raisani-led cabinet had called for the recovery of land in the same district.
Chief Minister Raisani, who is currently in Islamabad, was not available for comments on the matter involving billions of rupees. Provincial Revenue Minister Zmarak Khan was also not around. His ministry is deeply involved in settling the revenue matters with regard to the proposed deal. A source at his ministry confirmed a summary had been prepared for approval of the chief minister.
However, the source privy to the developments explained that the Arab family wanted to turn the proposed land into a hunting tract after being granted the ownership rights. Islamabad was strongly in favour of this deal and wanted its materialisation as early as possible.
This correspondent sought the reaction of the presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar in writing. But he did not respond. Similarly, another senior official at the Presidency, Zafar Iqbal Qadir, was also not available for comments.
Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Shabbir Anwar said the federal government or the Prime Minister’s Secretariat had nothing to do with any such issue. He denied Islamabad had any part to play in such a deal. “It is a provincial matter and the provincial administration is responsible for this. However, I asked some relevant officials who expressed their ignorance on this count,” he contended.