Last Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Turbat, Balochistan for the first time and announced Prime Minister’s Accelerated Development Package for South Balochistan. This package is meant to develop nine districts of south Balochistan. The prime minister announced the construction of highways, provision of gas and electricity to new 320,000 households, construction of 16 dams to cultivate 150,000 acres of land, and extension of Turbat Airport among other initiatives. These projects seem generous, but there are some serious questions regarding this package.
Over the last few months, the PTI government has been speaking of a mega package for development in south Balochistan. Initially, it was claimed that the total value of this package will be around Rs150 billion. However, the amount announced by the prime minister during his visit to Turbat is much smaller than what was being claimed by the government. Did the government downgrade this package, or did they overstate it initially? We do not know for sure. In any case, the scale of this package does not match the expectations generated by all the hype around it.
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Questions are also being asked whether the projects announced actually meet the needs of the region. For instance, a major project under this package is the upgradation of Turbat Airport. People will be having no use for a better airport if their basic socio-economic issues relating to livelihoods are not addressed. Likewise, this project also entails providing gas and electricity supply to more than 300,000 households. This seems to be an unrealistic promise because there is not enough gas and electricity to cater to the needs of existing consumers let alone 300,000 new ones. The only way to provide gas and electricity to the projected new households of South Balochistan is by importing it from Iran, which is difficult given U.S. sanctions on Pakistan’s southern neighbor.
The third problem with this over-ambitious South Balochistan package is the uncertain source of funding. Pakistan’s government is already undergoing a crisis. With the pandemic coupled with the suspension of the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility, the government of Pakistan is dealing with huge resource scarcity. In these circumstances, it will be a challenge for the government to arrange funds for this project. The projects announced in this package were not part of the Federal Public Sector Development Program, which was approved in the budget of the fiscal year 2020-21. There is no certainty about where the PTI government is securing funds for this package. Until the answer to this question is not made public there will remain a huge question mark on the very existence of this package.
This package was planned in the confines of government buildings in Islamabad, and local representatives in Balochistan were not taken into confidence. Aslam Bhootani, a parliamentarian from Gwadar and Lasbela, is one of the representatives of South Balochistan in the National Assembly. He told this scribe that he had suggested various projects for this package but so far none of them had been made part of it.
Despite its flaws, the South Balochistan package can still be beneficial for the people of the province
Bhootani further said that electricity transmission lines in Lasbela, managed by K-Electric are 40 years old and obsolete. “I suggested a project to upgrade the electricity transmission lines in Lasbela to provide relief to the people but this proposal was not incorporated in the package.” Bhootani said, “Most of the projects announced by the PM in this package were launched under Musharraf’s regime and work is still in progress. Now, the government is rebranding them under the fancy banner of a South Balochistan package,” he told this scribe.
This project has also fueled political polarization in the impoverished province of Balochistan. The government named this project South Balochistan, despite opposition from stakeholders such as Bhootani. This gave the impression that the federal government was interested in developing only the southern region of Balochistan and not the northern areas. Except for Quetta, there is no major difference in terms of development in the south and north Balochistan. Therefore, politicians in north Balochistan are now tacitly opposing this package. This problem would have never come to the light if the government had named this project a non-geographical hyphenated title, such as Balochistan Development Package.
Despite its flaws, the South Balochistan package can still be beneficial for the people of the province. If all the projects announced under this package are implemented, they can do wonders in addressing the deprivation of people residing in south Balochistan. This project might not resolve all the problems but it can make a significant contribution in this regard.
The Balochistan government needs to push the PTI government to make good on all the announcements made in this package. If implemented this will be the first major package for Balochistan since the Aghaz-e-Haqooq Balochistan package of 2010. This package is a realization of the problems of Balochistan and an attempt on the part of the federal government to address them. Unfortunately, the PML-N government never bothered about addressing the problems of Balochistan and did not think of any such package. In this context, the PTI government has proven better for Balochistan. However, this assertion is conditional upon the successful completion of this package. Given the problems in this package outlined above, it would be difficult for the government to make this package a success.
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