Lasbela: The New District Debate

Ayaz Khan
Political muscle-flexing predicts approaching general elections in the country. Prediction of holding timely elections falls short of any guarantee given the political uncertainty which has gripped the country at the moment. Seen through a provincial lens, political crises at the center have forced politicians in Balochistan to reactivate their vote-collecting strategies too.
Apart from a half-cocked no-trust motion against Chief Minister Balochistan, Mr. Quddus Bezinjo, two political figures of district Lasbela have locked their horns on administrative issues. Former Chief Minister Mr. Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and Member National Assembly (MNA) Aslam Bhootani have been engaged in a verbal confrontation on creating Hub [tehsil] a new district. Latter has been leading the agenda, citing ‘increase in population’ as the basis of administrative division. The former, leading opposition against the division, has termed it a ‘political trick’ to divide ‘Las.’—the term is used to refer to Lasbela.
Balochistan is the least populated province of Pakistan. As per the latest census conducted in 2017, the population of the province is 12.34 million. Despite having the least population count, the province has the highest number of districts (34) just standing behind Punjab (36).
In 2021, CM. Jam Kamal Khan’s cabinet approved the creation of two new districts and one division. This increased the number of districts to 35 and divisions to 7. With Loralai’s addition to the list of divisions, Chaman and Qila Abdullah became new districts. A chain of criticism followed the move. Politicians and analysts termed it a political stunt to increase the ‘administrative leverage’ and ‘power’ of certain political parties.
Since 1983, Balochistan has created 20 new districts. The grounded reason, which has led to the creation of new districts frequently, has been to oil administrative machinery. Contrary to the claim, the creation of new districts has led to an increase in administrative expenditures despite reforming administrative issues. Creating Hub a new district will make the number of districts 36 equating it to the districts of the largest province of Pakistan, Punjab.
According to the census 2017, Hub has a population of over 205,487 people. This makes Hub the densely populated urban center of the district. Because of an increase in population, the Municipal Committee has been upgraded to Municipal Corporation, which has increased its budget. But the corporation has drastically failed to resolve civic issues. Waste and drainage management of the city has posed a serious challenge to the Municipal Corporation, as it lacks equipment and staff. The office of the Deputy Commissioner is in Uthal which is at a distance of 100 km from both Hub and Bela tehsils!
Interestingly, taking the above issues into account supports the administrative division, but there are multiple aspects to look into. First, the call to make Hub a new district by Mr. Aslam Bhootani surfaces at a crucial time. The call appears just a year before the general elections. Mr. Bhootani had based his vote-collecting strategy on the Hub coal power plant prior to the general elections in 2018. After Mr. Bhootani’s lending into National Assembly through NA 272 Lasbela-cum-Gwadar, the issue has been in cold storage since. Once again, the attempt seems to be a political stunt to whip the election spirit of the voters.
Second, Mr. Kamal’s resistance reveals the fact that the administrative ‘reform’ is laden with political intentions. Mr. Kamal has correctly sensed the expansion of Mr. Bhootani into his vote bank. Had it been merely an administrative move, Mr. Kamal would not have posed any challenge to it. In case the creation of a new district is need of the hour, Mr. Kamal wants the credit ‘boomerang’ to turn back to him, not to his adversary. Moreover, the former CM has also sensed that returning to the chief ministership of the province is less likely. Given this, he needs to ‘ride’ an MNA-tagged horse rather than having an MPA-tagged horse win the provincial race.
Finally, creating Hub a new district might not be a sane decision. The city is the industrial center of the district and plays a vital role in revenue generation. Four well-known industries are in Hub. Hubco, Gaddani ship-breaking yard, DG Khan Cement, and Attock contribute to the economic growth of the district and the province too. The creation of a new district might tilt the monopoly balance towards a specific ‘side’. Nevertheless, Mr. Kamal and Mr. Aslam Bhootani have fulfilled their political duties by bringing the issue to the notice of the masses and giving them space to have their say. The decision of Mr. Kamal not to confront Mr. Bhootani in a recent public gathering, which both politicians were to hold on the same day, was a sane decision and has added to his political stature.
Factually, making Hub a new district based on the population formula is not applicable. The city needs a strong waste management system for which labor and technical help to the Municipal Corporation is need of the hour. This should be followed by a crackdown on corruption and underhand dealings which have hindered the functioning of the corporation. A new district will enhance the chances of mismanagement. A new administrative division can only be applicable if a transparent system, with a powerful will to serve the masses, pre-exists.
The writer is Assistant Editor of Balochistan Voices. He is a Digital Media Fellow at Massachusetts US. He is also an environment and climate change reporter. He tweets at @Ayaz_Jurno.
DisclaimerViews expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices does not necessarily agree with them.
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