The province of Balochistan has always been a big concern for the overall national political prosperity in Pakistan. For decades, Balochistan has displayed a seditious atmosphere against the Center for its exploitation of the natural resources of the province and its failure in the provision of the basic services and economically uplifting the region. Since its annexation with Pakistan, the province has experienced four waves of insurgency in which thousands of people have lost their lives. Although recent development programs have helped in curbing down the insurgency in the province, every once in a while insurgents launch militant attacks that deeply affect the national sovereignty.
In his recent visit to Gwadar, Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that he is considering talking to insurgents in Balochistan, who have been used by India in the disruption of the law and order situation of the region. Certainly, India has its own interest in Balochistan and has been using its already politically frustrated youth for the destabilization of the political and social arena of the country. However, the Center gets equal blame for its negligence in listening to the fundamental demands of the people of the province.
One has to understand that deprivation of basic services and exploitation of human rights and insurgency are irretrievably tied. If basic human rights were not exploited in the past, the province could have displayed a much different atmosphere today. It was the failure of the Center in its provision of economic and social prosperity, followed by the exploitation of the young frustrated people by the neighboring country that led to an upsurge of insurgency and political destabilization in the province.
To curb the insurgency in the province, the ruling party, before coming into power, had promised to work on the development of the province and provide it with the basic facilities and services, which it otherwise was deprived of for the last many decades. By the end of 2020, the government announced a development package of Rs. 600bn for the nine most deprived districts of Southern Balochistan. However, a great conundrum arises whether this mega-development package would yield the expected results or be another castle in the air by following the blueprints of the other development projects of the past that failed to economically uplift the province.
Balochistan has witnessed many hollow promises in the past; however, the remonstrances still remain almost the same. CPEC that was considered as a ‘game changer’ for the province has so far failed to give an economic boost in the region. The province has still the highest percentage (4 percent) of the unemployed population and the lowest labor development index (0.404) among all the provinces in the country. According to Pakistan National Human Development Report (2020), the real per capita income in Balochistan has decreased by 7 percent in the last two decades; it is also the least performing province in human development with an HDI of 0.473.
Similarly, the advent of the 7th NFC award brought with it a wave of new hopes for development in the province; however, the expectations never materialized. In the 7th NFC award, the distribution formula was shifted from population-based criteria to multiple indicator criteria. This resulted in substantially increasing the share of Balochistan in the divisible pool, exceeding Punjab in per head distribution; however, the province did not experience the desired outcomes. It still has the highest multidimensional poverty rate (71 percent), the highest maternal mortality rate (298 deaths per 1000), the highest prevalence of stunting (52 percent) among children under five, and the lowest literacy rate (46 percent) among all other provinces.
Certainly, it is true that for decades Balochistan’s many basic demands were disregarded by the Center and some basic facilities are yet to be provided, such as electricity, especially in the Makran region that is still not connected with the national grid. However, recent development projects, which should have changed the social, political, and economic dynamics of the province, have also failed to thwart the trust deficit that exists in the general public against the Center. Lack of good governance can be regarded as the main reason behind the ineffectiveness of the development projects in the province. Rampant practice of corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and failure to work on the capacity building of the key stakeholders have hindered the progress of the different development programs that have been launched in the last couple of years. One can understand the high prevalence of corruption by the fact that only last year five hundred and fifty-four officers were found to be fraudulently receiving stipends from the Benazir Income Support Program in Balochistan. The widespread corruption in development programs can be associated with the lack of accountability by the provincial government and its failure to strengthen the capacity building of its departments and the key stakeholders—the communities where development projects are initiated.
There is a dire need for digitization of the development responsible institutions in the area of data handling, record keeping, monitoring, and evaluation, which if done, can not only highlight the progress of the different development projects but can also avoid embezzled and corrupt practices. Similarly, whereas on the one hand, digitization followed by institutional capacity building, can uphold the performance of the development departments, on the other hand, capacity building of the affected communities can also empower the local population with skills and knowledge required to benefit from the development projects. For example, CPEC could have been a large source of employment opportunities in the province if the local communities were equipped with the skills required to secure these opportunities. However, not only local communities’ stances have been sidelined in such mega development projects, but they have also been ripped off from the numerous opportunities, which these development projects could provide, due to the failure of the federal and provincial government in strengthening the capacity building of these communities.
Thus, it is safe to argue that Balochistan’s biggest issue is the absence of good governance that has engendered the failure of different development projects and has created an atmosphere of hopelessness and frustration among the local population. This consequently paves a way for a rebellious environment to entrench. Therefore, it is high time that the Center should not only arrange talks with insurgents but also completely root out rebellious atmosphere by leaving no stone unturned in meeting the demands of the province, which if left unattended, such as in the past, can wreak havoc in the region since deprivation of the basic facilities and insurgency are inextricably linked. Programs such as Ehsaas, Southern Balochistan Development Package, and other development initiatives have the potential to stabilize the law and order situation in the province. However, to attain the desired outcomes, the government needs to equally work on the structural reforms to curtail corruption, promote accountability and improve the capacity building.
The Writer is a student of Social Development and Policy at Habib University and has a keen interest in the economics of development. He also works at Balochistan Council for Peace and Policy (Think Tank) as a Consultant Research Assistant.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices do not necessarily agree with them.
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