Failed policies

For the past seven decades the way successive military and civil governments have treated and handled Balochistan has been a clear example of one-way traffic – the center dictating its terms and conditions for political stability and economic development agenda; the net result is the absence of both.

The National Party’s late Senator Hasil Binzeno was very right in saying that “investment in laying out communication lines is what every colonial master does in colonized areas”. That fundamental framework for carrying out so-called development in the provinces continues to dominate all endeavors, which in a way has been in complete disregard for local social and human development needs.

From Gen Musharraf to the PPP’s tenure, Nawaz Sharif and now the PTI government – all have come up with hundreds of billions worth of ‘packaged development’, painting rosy pictures as the outcome of their packages. The end result of all this has been well documented by Dr Kaiser Bengali in his well-researched book ‘Balochistan: A cry for justice’. The research and data in the book present not just how underdeveloped Balochistan is, but how successively it has been forgotten in development spending. The fundamental problem with Islamabad’s development thought process is lack of representation in the Planning Commission. The Baloch are missing in the key institution of planning and development; what’s worse is that no one really ponders on how to address such an exclusion.

On November 21, the PTI-led government announced a massive Rs600 billion development package for Balochistan. Did it make people happy? Did it even create hope among the people of the province that finally solid change is on the way? Did Pakistan’s mainstream media take it seriously and initiate a serious debate on its possible impact on the lives of the people of the province? Baloch political parties picked up a geographic categorization – ‘south’ and ‘north’ – and saw seeds of division of their historic homeland.

An analysis of the recent package shows it to be a continuation of Gen Musharraf’s playbook for Balochistan: more dams, roads, focus on mining, date-processing plants and provision of electricity to 57 percent of the population whereas currently only 12 percent of area in districts that the package covers are connected with a power grid. Had planning and development experts in Islamabad been thinking out of the box, with much smaller amounts of solar energy could have been provided to the province’s scattered population, in particular to schools and hospitals.

In addition to that, the current government announced another Rs540 million for Balochistan, aiming to provide stipends to students’ parents. While the idea appears to be very good, the number of children it covers, and the mechanism in which parents will be approached etc are yet to be figured out. Amid such tall promises, if the government just manages to get 83,000 children enrolled in the next two years, it would be a solid contribution in uplifting the local population.

The UNDP, in its report in 2018, reported a decline in Balochistan’s GDP contribution – from 23 percent in 2014-15 to 14 percent in 2018-19, despite an increase in federal transfers to the province following the 18th Amendment. This reflects the structural inequality in the country’s GDP composition; no matter how much is pumped into the province, other parts of the country continue to grow faster than Balochistan; as a result, GDP will continue to decline.

The UNDP report pointed out disparities in the country in terms of the multidimensional poverty index. The overall headcount poverty in Balochistan was at 71.2 percent (in Punjab it was at 31.4 percent); rural poverty was extremely depressing, standing at 84.6 percent whereas the national average in the country stands at 37.7 percent. These scary numbers show how, in terms of economic opportunities and investment, Balochistan is not just behind but far far behind Islamabad.

The Gwadar Port was inaugurated in 2006, and CPEC has been in progress for the past eight years with over $26 billion invested. Rural poverty in Balochistan remains at 84.6 percent, so clearly there doesn’t seem to be any direct link between infrastructural investment and poverty eradication and employment opportunities. Balochistan may have changed but its people and their lives remain stuck; rather, a regression in overall GDP has been reported.

Since Musharraf’s times, the political and development paradigm followed by the center has failed on both accounts; it sought to suppress politically independent parties such as BNP-Mengal, critical of the center’s policies. Attempts to manufacture political elites, and grandiose presentation of development packages have only reinforced mistrust, exclusion and structural inequalities. Instead of cooling down the political temperatures, this approach has given rise to the ever-growing gulf, confrontational standpoint and – above all – loss of hope.

In this context came the mysterious death of Karima Baloch in Toronto, leading to mourning among the Baloch – which continues to be ignored by the government. Such indifference does not help. (The News)