Balochistan: A Far Cry By Andleeb Abbas
It is not just lack of governance but complete absence of governance that has made the province look worse than sub-Saharan countries
The least talked about province in the country got maximum talk time in the last few days, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. First, it was the cancellation of the seminar in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on ‘unsilencing Balochistan’ and then the attack in Turbat killing 20 labourers. The fact that only bad news is newsworthy from the largest and potentially richest province in the country speaks volumes on how this province has been neglected politically, economically and socially. Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seem to dominate political discourse in the Assembly, on media and in public opinion forums. Balochistan is a prime case of how land resources, mineral resources and natural resources are all multiplied by zero when human resource development is multiplied by zero. Even during British rule more focus was on infrastructure development in the form of railroad networks than focusing on the geopolitical issues of a province located in a sensitive regional plateau. Every year we hear of more discoveries of gold, gas, oil, copper and coal in billions of tonnes, and every year we find the province spiralling down in search of peace and prosperity.
The province has become an enigma for successive governments that have failed to deal with tribal conflicts, insurgency, terrorism and lack of development. Balochistan has been facing insurgencies since independence. Insurgency is described as a rebellion of non-state actors against state actors, normally through periodic guerilla war tactics. The first insurgency started in 1948 by Prince Karim based on his own interpretation of what independence meant. There was another insurgency 10 years later but the severest of them all took place in 1973 when army action was called in to combat it and which reportedly cost over 10,000 lives and created huge resentment against the government and its operations. This rebellion was followed by the killing of Nawab Bugti in 2006.
This history of conflict between nationalists and state institutions has now assumed a new proportion. While the earlier fight was for autonomy, the later fights were for independence. This is the result of years of mishandling of the province on all fronts to the extent that the feeling of being wronged has given way to the feeling of being deprived and have been pent up to the level where an average Baloch feels grossly exploited. These feelings have been capitalised internally and externally by all actors who see the province as an absolute goldmine that can be tapped for personal and political motives. In the last three years, 800 dead bodies have reportedly been found and the question of missing persons can be raised occasionally but not answered. Add to this the Taliban and other terrorist attacks on ethnic and sectarian grounds, allegedly aided and funded by many countries, and the predicament of Balochistan becomes visible but not solvable.
Why is it not solvable? Is it not solvable because we do not know what the issues are and who is responsible for those issues. Is it not solvable because the people of Balochistan have made up their minds to resist all state policies. The answer to the above questions is a capital no. The number of studies done on Balochistan and the number of committees made by governments to solve these issues are numerous. However, it is the political failure of each government to implement the solutions to these issues that has bred more and more disillusionment about being part of a federation that has largely treated this province as a problem child that needs spanking for its bad behaviour while depriving it of the very resources and opportunities that it produces.
It is not just lack of governance but complete absence of governance that has made the province look worse than sub-Saharan countries that are at the bottom of all rankings in development. With the slowest GDP growth rate amongst all provinces and high unemployment, the literacy rate is 41 percent with health indicators frighteningly off mark. The maternal mortality rate is 785/100,000, which means every 10 minutes a mother dies in Balochistan due to delivery issues. This is criminally shocking. The literacy rate amongst females is barely19 percent and almost 1.8 million children are out of school. This lethal combination of illiteracy and poverty in most cases will breed deprivation leading to all sorts of explosive reactions. This deprivation gets more and more pronounced as they grow up knowing that their own resources, like gas and minerals, are being used massively and cheaply by the rest of the country while they are stranded in this complexity of bare survival.
If military governments acted as spoilers, democratic governments have acted as exploiters. When the PPP government took over in 2008, like all governments they also gave packaged solutions. There was this nicely packaged Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package introduced in 2009 and based on recommendations of the committee headed by Wasim Sajjad and Mashahidullah Syed. However, despite some really great proposals in this package, very little progress on them has taken place to date. One of the main reasons was the then Balochistan Chief Minister (CM) Nawab Raisani’s preoccupation with Islamabad. With the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission (NFC) award, the provinces were supposed to get more autonomy and share but, again, if amendments and packages were the change catalysts, Balochistan would now be a case study of transformation. In true ‘nawabi’ style the package’s concessions were doled out to personal favourites. That is why the great proposal of providing employment to almost tens of thousands of Baloch youth became victim to the political hiring of all PPP loyalists rather than those who truly deserved this quota.
That is why, when the government changed and Dr Abdul Malik was selected as the CM, hopes resurged. He was a nationalist, a man well respected for his struggle and his character. However, the more things change the more they remain the same. Being a coalition partner of the government he was supposed to get a better deal from them politically and financially. Somehow, that has not happened. The latest killings of 20 labourers in his hometown is a sad reminder that just having a clean record yourself is not enough to clean the record of others. For a province mired in so many complex and intricate issues it requires a leadership of tenacious will and pugnacious skill to fight and overcome cultural, foreign and political forces that keep on driving down the potential of this province.
The writer is secretary information PTI Punjab, an analyst, a columnist and can be reached at [email protected]