Balochis to the mainstream
Sultan M Hali
The commencement of the rights of Balochistan, which were formulated by the special committee appointed by the government under Senator Raza Rabbani in 2010, has hardly been commissioned yet. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, who visited Quetta last week and reviewed the parade on the induction of 5,000 Balochi youth in Pakistan Army, made some tall claims about bringing the Balochis into the mainstream.
Unfortunately, despite the Prime Minister’s announcement about “zero tolerance” for injustice, and offer to go to the doorstep of estranged Balochi leaders to woo them back into the fold, cut little ice. The reason is obvious; it has taken two years to commence the execution of the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan with nothing to show for the seriousness of the government. So, the estrangement of Balochis is not a new phenomenon.
Balochistan has been neglected and left in poverty ever since independence. It is not only the largest province of Pakistan, but also the richest in mineral resources and it can sustain itself on its own steam. However, the callousness of successive governments can be gauged from the fact that sui gas was discovered in 1954 and since then every major city in Pakistan was provided the facility of gas connections, but the people of Quetta had to wait till 1984 to get the first connection.
The people of Balochistan have been accused of insurgency and foreign hand has been blamed for fomenting trouble. However, it is a fact that successive governments have neglected the downtrodden and impoverished masses; leaving them at the mercy of feudal lords and tribal leaders that things have come to such a pass. Insurgency has reached such a level that various local websites and weblogs demand the secession of Balochistan. Pakistan’s detractors would hardly be expected to let go of such an opportunity to exploit the dissidents and fish in troubled waters.
The current dispensation in Islamabad made a good beginning, when at the commencement of his tenure, the President asked for forgiveness of the Balochis. This should have been followed up with overtures to various groups and allowing for compensations to atone for past negligence. Instead the matter was left to bureaucratic rigmarole and red tapism, minimising the significance of the good gestures. Even now, the Prime Minister’s visit was an opportunity lost since his words carried little weight beyond rhetoric.
Balochistan has a total area of 347,190 km and its population, according to the 1998 census, is 6.51 million. The population density is 19 persons per kilometre. It has 27 districts and a coastline of over 770 km. The province is resource starved and generates revenue of only Rs1.6 billion just enough to pay the monthly salary of government officials. It is, therefore, dependent on the federal government’s grant of Rs27 billion, and thus has a deficit of Rs15.5 billion. In social sectors also, Balochistan is much below the country average. Its literacy percentage is 26.6 percent, as against the national average of 47 percent. Only 20 percent have access to drinking water, as against 86 percent of Pakistan. Forty-seven percent of the population is living below the poverty line.
Under these bleak circumstances, it is only the army and navy, which have come forward to help Balochistan. A military college was inaugurated earlier this year, while the Army Chief announced the establishment of an “education city”. Approximately, 4,268 Baloch students are benefiting from Chamalang Beneficiary Education Programme, and the Balochistan Institute of Technical Education that is managed by the Pakistan Army, has already trained 1,673 individuals; the Gwadar Institute of Technical Education would also start functioning soon; the army plans to recruit 10,000 Baloch youths by 2012; in addition to the 5,000 who passed out last week. The navy has already established a state-of-the-art naval hospital at Ormara.
It is the federal government that has to get its act together. The National Assembly Standing Committee (NASC) on Inter-Provincial Coordination on January 10, 2011, expressed dissatisfaction over the pace of implementation of the packages for Balochistan, observing that a lot of work had been done on paper and nothing on the ground. However, NASC was informed that out of 61 proposals in the package 15 had been ‘fully implemented’, 12 were in the process of being implemented, while 34 proposals were in the ‘middle stages’ of implementation. Definitely time is running out and Balochis must be brought back into the mainstream as soon as possible.