Addressing Balochistan’s Concerns
The only recipe for a prosperous Pakistan
Balochistan is the heart of Pakistan and it is the province that has endowed Pakistan with a wonderful geostrategic location. It is the gateway to CPEC that connects China to the Middle East and Africa via Indian Ocean. It also borders Pakistan with Iran and Afghanistan. Balochistan, also the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area, has abundant natural resources, e.g. gas, gold, copper, valuable stones, chromite and oil. Gwadar port is another asset upon which the future of our country is dependent. A whopping $62 billion will be invested in CPEC projects a major chunk of which lies in Balochistan with Gwadar being the center of gravity. This huge investment will surely create numerous opportunities for the youth of the province in terms of jobs, employment and development. However, to make the most of CPEC, addressing the grievances of the people of Balochistan is indeed a sine qua non.
Balochistan’s prized location gives it an evil eye which catches this beautiful part of Pakistan in its gaze that has inflicted it with misconceptions, terrorism and precarious law and order situation. The arrest of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav and his confession of being involved in a satanic mission of creating fissures in Balochistan and undermining Pakistan’s national integration is but one proof of it. Balochistan has a history of wars, military operations, terrorism and foreign involvement, and these menaces are a major reason why it is still backward. Following are some points that can be considered the main causes of problems faced by Balochistan and the grievances the people of this jewel in the crown of Pakistan have.
1. Military operations
The Baloch people are loyal and patriots to the core and they only need love and respect. In a research published in JSTOR, the researcher suggested about the Baloch people: “Give them love and respect if you need to conquer them, because it is so tough to defeat them by force.” But, unfortunately, there have been a number of military operations carried out in Balochistan with an aim to eliminate separatist movements. However — though they achieved a little success — these operations have failed to bring long-term peace in the region.
2. Ownership of indigenous resources
An image which showed females of Sui (Dera Bugti) carrying dry bushes above the Sui gas pipeline to be used as fuel in stoves is a painful reminder that the true owners of the sources in these lands have been long deprived of their due rights. Natural gas, which is being provided to the whole country from Sui, is not available to them local populace. This sense of alleviation and deprivation further deepens the fissures between the Baloch people and the State of Pakistan. Also take the example of Chagai district, which has abundant reserves of gold, copper and other precious minerals, but still is amongst the poorest areas of Pakistan, lacking even the basic facilities.
3. Foreign hand
There are no two opinions that foreign enemies have a huge involvement in Balochistan as they want to destabilise Pakistan. Amongst these hostile forces, our neighbour India takes the lead. The confession of Kulbhushan Jadhav is an irrefutable proof in this regard. However, let me say that the above-stated problems provide a strong incentive to foreign hands to exploit the people of Balochistan.
Balochistan has become a hub of corruption and it is done so brazenly that, in 2014, a provincial minister and his secretary were caught on charges of massive corruption – even the water tanks in Mr Secretary’s home were filled with Pakistani currency. There has been no check and balance on developmental projects and spending of the annual budgets due to which the province is left underdeveloped.
5. Lack of basic amenities
Healthcare system in the province is so poor that people in the peripheral areas can hardly get proper treatment. With limited access even to basic health units, a number of people die every year of even curable diseases, let alone hepatitis and cancer which are rampant in the province. In addition, prevalent illiteracy is also a big issue as educational institution are very few in number and even these don’t live up to the standards of quality institutions. As per Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-22, literacy rate (10 years and above) in Balochistan is 54.5 percent as compared to 55.1 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 61.8 percent in Sindh and 66.3 percent in Punjab. This speaks volumes about the state of education in the province.
Now comes the real question: can the state of affairs improve?
The answer is a big YES!
Below are some important measures that can help ease the tensions and bring stability in the province and the country as well. Along with my own opinions, I have extracted some important points from an article by Rafiullah Kakar which was published in a national daily.
Firstly, political reconciliations and peace-building must be the foremost priority of our policymakers. No major economic development initiative in the province can succeed without a strategy of peaceful management of ongoing ethnic conflicts. In this regard, the government needs to appreciate the complex landscape of violent conflict in Balochistan. There is a low-scale but ongoing ethnic insurgency mainly in southern Balochistan. The response measures and cosmetic developmental packages have both failed to bring the disaffected Baloch into political mainstream. This domain, therefore, is to be actively explored.
Secondly, the government should prepare a comprehensive strategy for reaching out to Baloch insurgents. This strategy should entail the engagement of credible political voices to lead negotiations and implement CBMs such as stopping military operations, withdrawing the FC personnel from certain areas, releasing all Baloch missing persons and compensating the families of those killed extrajudicially.
Thirdly, if the dialogue with the most notorious outfit TTP is possible, then why not with Baloch separatists? A comprehensive parliamentary committee with credible Baloch leaders should be formed for the dialogue. All the constitutional demands of separatists should be accepted and they should be brought to Pakistan with respect. They may also be given amnesty and involved into mainstream politics. Previous efforts to reconcile Baloch insurgents failed because: a) repression went along the reconciliation efforts, and b) those leading the process had little credibility or freedom to make meaningful offers.
Fourthly, ownership in Saindak copper-gold project may be transferred to the Balochistan government as committed under Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package. Balochistan must be given due share in natural gas by providing each and every area with gas, the Reko Diq agreement should be made public. There should be no demographical changes in Gwadar and involvement of Baloch should be more and encouraged to participate in CPEC project. Jobs in Baloch areas should be only provided to the natives of that specific area.
Fifthly, converting Balochistan into industrial and agricultural hub will engage a lot of youngsters in job and work, industry of dates in Makran belt and fruit factory in Kalat will bring fruitful results. Along with it, education sector must improve; Baloch students must be provided with opportunities to pursue higher education by giving them scholarships. The more Baloch students get involved in professional fields, the more productive Pakistan will be. The quota for Balochstan in competitive exams should be increased – but it must be Baloch-centric – because it will further encourage Baloch youth towards getting education.
The enforced disappearances should be ended and people nabbed in way must be presented before the country’s judicial system.
Balochistan’s share in Benazir Income Support Programme may also be increased to 10 percent at least, from the current four percent. Balochistan’s share in NFC Award should also be increased. Moreover, elections in the province must be held in a free and fair manner; there should be no role of any hidden powers in selecting the leadership in the province.
The writer is currently pursuing an MBBS degree.