Balochistan’s contribution to the country’s development bears no comparison.
Musharraf admits “there is no doubt that Balochistan is the most backward and most deprived province of Pakistan. Successive governments since our independence are responsible for the neglect suffered by Balochistan.” On the other hand, in a glaring deviation from this statement, he simultaneously holds the Marris, Bugtis and Mengals responsible for Balochistan’s underdevelopment.
He gives the certificate of pro-Pakistan loyalty to the inhabitants of Makran, Khuzdar and areas up to Kalat. Ironically, although Musharraf does not see this, districts in Makran, including Lasbela, are listed as Pakistan’s least-developed districts. In other words, they suffered because of their pro-Pakistan loyalty?
Balochistan’s contribution to the country’s development bears no comparison. However, Balochistan’s immeasurable natural wealth and strategic significance proved to be a curse rather than a blessing for the Baloch people. Balochistan’s sufferings are shared one way or another by all sections of Baloch society. From workers of its political parties to its educated youths, down to the masses, all experience discrimination, oppression and injustices in everyday life.
Each region, town and village has its own story of neglect and exploitation. Balochistan’s miserable social and economic conditions are evident everywhere in the province: from the Baloch coast that has the three modern naval facilities, the Jinnah Naval Base at Ormara, Chaghai and Kharan (facilities from which the Baloch are excluded, though), to strategically significant regions such as that where the nuclear tests were conducted in 1998, to areas where copper and gold are mined, to the industrial town of Lasbela, to Sonmiani, where the facilities of the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) are located, to Dera Bugti, known for its high-quality gas production since 1953, to Quetta and Bolan, where coal is mined.
Ironically, all these areas host sophisticated military, paramilitary and naval facilities, but one has modern education, healthcare, electricity, gas, or opportunities of regular livelihood.
Having little participatory role, the people of Balochistan derive no benefits from the extraction of copper and gold deposits in their own province; nor from the mega-projects launched in Balochistan in the name of development, including those for gas, coalmining, Gwadar Port, Mirani Dam, and the coastal highway.
Balochistan fuels the national economy and helps save billions of dollars in foreign exchange in terms of energy import. But nearly 97 percent of Balochistan’s population lives without gas supply, 78 percent without electricity, and 62 percent without safe drinking water. Just 3.4 percent of the inhabitants of Balochistan are gas consumers, compared to 64 percent in Punjab – which happens to produce only 4.75 percent of Pakistan’s natural gas.
Balochistan, despite being the country’s major coal-producing province, is deprived of the benefits of the use of coal. During the One Unit days of the 1960s, when Lahore was the capital of what was then West Pakistan, 98 percent of coalmines of Balochistan were allotted to people having no affiliation with the province. Today local labourers in regions where coal is mined live without water, electricity, education or healthcare. However, Sheikhs and Parachas are immensely benefiting from the wealth generated by Balochistan’s coal.
The MoU signed by Islamabad with a Chinese company for the Saindak Copper-Gold Project is a glaring example of the misuse of Baloch wealth and of discrimination against the Baloch. Islamabad and the Chinese company are taking 50 and 48 percent of the profits, respectively, leaving only two percent for Balochistan. The Saindak project is no-man’s land for local Baloch youth and is guarded by non-Baloch Frontier Corps (FC). Gold-producing Chaghai is Balochistan’s poorest region.
Countless MoUs of such exploitative nature are inked with foreign and local companies for the exploitation of Baloch resources. These include the Duddar lead-zinc project and the Reko Diq copper-gold project. Oil and gas exploration licenses are given without regard for Baloch needs and demands.
Behind the mounting tension and mistrust between the Baloch and the federal government is Islamabad’s desire to get complete control over Balochistan’s strategic land and its energy resources without the participation of the Baloch.
The oppressive policies are not just confined to exploitation of Baloch wealth. The establishment is also engaged in constant efforts to marginalise the Baloch. Its support to religious parties is harming the social fabric of Baloch society.
Lacking political vision and a democratic culture, Islamabad’s establishment is governing Balochistan through a system that can only be described as “control.” This control is based on the approach of one ethnic group taking over the province, imposing its culture on Baloch society, allocating to itself the lion’s share of Balochistan’s resources and taking various measures, including military operations, to prevent the Baloch from organising politically.
Control works through three interrelated mechanisms: (a) divide and rule, through creation of rifts and division among the non-dominant groups; (b) economic dependence: making the inhabitants permanently dependent on the dominant group and central government for their livelihood; (c) co-option: involving sections of the non-dominant elite like greedy tribal chiefs and other feudal elements, intellectuals and politicians through partial dispensation of benefits and favours.
The military’s crackdown against moderate Baloch nationalists, intellectuals, students, poets, anti-establishment tribal elders, businessman and civilians is a reflection of a “zero tolerance” policy against ethnic Baloch.
An unemployed Baloch feels more deprived and victimised when an unskilled soldier on Balochistan’s soil is employed from another province to fill the position that is legally, naturally and constitutionally the right of a local Baloch youth.
Balochistan shares long borders with Iran and Afghanistan and has a 1,700-kilometre coastline. But border and coastal security is 100 entirely controlled by non-Baloch paramilitary forces. Around 70,000 jobs in the FC, the coast guard, the police, in maritime security and the Anti-Narcotics Force are occupied by non-locals, which leave thousands of qualified Baloch youths unemployed.
Therefore, Baloch bitterness is genuine; the continued plunder of Balochistan’s natural resources, its economic and political marginalisation and militarisation are the major causes of its rising instability and the mounting tension between the Baloch and Islamabad.
Islamabad’s reliance on brute force may help the central government create cosmetic, short-term calm, but unrest and frustration will remain and lead to still more distrust between the Baloch and Islamabad. Already the brutalities inflicted on Baloch political activists have resulted in a permanent fracture in Baloch-Islamabad relations.
Balochistan’s brimming resources, its strategic coastline, its huge territory and its location are central to the establishment’s strategic vision. However, in the rapidly changing geopolitical scenario, Islamabad’s overlooking the genuine concerns of the Baloch and its utter disregard for the interests and feelings of the people of the province will result in irreparable loss to the establishment itself.
The writer is a former senator from Balochistan. Email: [email protected]