Dec 31, 2007 - Jan 06, 2008

The military operation in Balochistan has completed 2-year duration on this year-end. It was launched in December 2005. Since then the development process has been carried out virtually at gunpoint and amid tight security arrangements in the province. Baloch Nationalists contend that the military operation had been planned beforehand and the visit of President Musharraf in December 2005 to Kohlu and the firing of rockets during the visit was part of a plan to pave way for launching the army action in the area.

Unlike the past, when military operations were executed, there had been no mega development process worth Rs. 140 billion underway in the province. The province's enormous development potentials and geo-strategic location was not so streamlined in the past to the outer world to lure foreign investment as it has currently been. The long history of injustice and discrimination against Balochistan and the military operations undertaken in 1948, 1958, 1965 and 1973 have turned it into a mega sensitive province. The province has genuine grievances against the centre. It was deliberately kept backward, underdeveloped and a dark region to the external colonial forces under British rulers and the same British policy was followed by Islamabad and the successive governments neglected the socio-economic development needs of the province.

The paramilitary action, deployment of forces and establishment of check-posts or military cantonments at different places are the short-term and temporary measures, which are normally taken to bring calm to an area under trouble. Such measures have been ineffective, even counter productive to solve political problems. The recent acts of sabotage and violence like bomb blasts and rocket attacks on security personnel and vital installations brought forth security as No.1 issue related to the economic development of Balochistan.

Fairly speaking, no one in Balochistan is against the ongoing process of economic development. What irk the local population are their technological backwardness and a long history of the practices of discrimination, the monopolized and politicized trends, vested interests, manipulations, politics and injustices which have ever been involved in the development of this province. All these factors make them apprehensive about the ongoing development process. Some people were of the view that in the given circumstances, any military operation would rightly serve the interest of opportunists providing them a chance to revive their politics of agitation. The political process though started late, yet it could not gain momentum along with the development process in Balochistan.

Particularly in Bugti and Mari tribal areas (Dera Bugti & Kohlu), a heavy exchange of fire between paramilitary forces and tribesmen continued for the critical period. In such a military action in Kohlu in August 2006, the veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed and the incident sharply destabilized law and order situation in the province.

This May, President Pervez Musharraf visited the Sui town of Bugti tribal area and announced Rs. 2 billion development package for Sui. Under the package, a labour colony would be established to facilitate the locals, while displaced people would be accommodated at their lands in Sui. As part of improving communication network, the planned projects include construction of Sin Seela Road and a road from Dera Bugti to Kashmore, the 60-km Sui to Uch road and another from Dera Bugti to Rajan Pur and up gradation of railway track from Sui to Dera. The president announced setting up of a gas power plant in Sui for electricity generation and 500 sewing machines for women of the area.

Officials claim that projects worth Rs. 8.5 billion are being executed in Dera Bugti district. The Kachhi canal would irrigate 0.7 million acres of land, including 0.1 million acres in Dera Bugti district. Other projects include the brick-lining of 210 watercourses and 150 water tanks in Sui, and the expansion of water pipeline from Guddu Barrage to Balochistan to increase water supply. In social sector, serious development efforts are needed on the part of the government. The gender imbalance in education needs to be addressed. The issue of access to proper health care for women deserves the highest priority on any social sector development agenda for the area. The enrolment figures in primary education particularly for girls needs to be increased. For improvement in the health care, it is important to improve the facilities for health staff from outside the Dera Bugti in order to keep their services.

Sui is located in Bugti tribal area, which is the land of dry, barren mountains and desert.

The centuries old sardari system is still holding strong in Dera Bugti Agency. Though tribal elders last year developed a consensus on abolition of sardari system, yet people's allegiance to this system does not seem to have weakened much. It is a conservative society. Women's roles are subject to cultural taboos, hindering their mobility and access to basic provisions as education and health.

During the critical period of ongoing military operation, thousands of people from Dera Bugti migrated along with their families to Naseerabad, Jafarabad and Dera Murad Jamali districts. The displaced were the poor, weak, unemployed, under-employed and the exploited masses. The large influx and displacement of such poor people further aggravated the situation giving new dimensions--humanitarian, political, cultural, social and economic--to the Balochistan crisis. The provincial government had to incur substantial amounts to maintain law and order in the province particularly in Sui, Loti and Pirkoh areas of Dera Bugti district. Many transmission lines came under rocket attacks during last year.

Pakistan's prosperity is linked with an open and developed Balochistan rather than a garrisoned or tribal province. An army operation, however, would not be a viable and lasting solution to the problems of Balochistan. The government must take such measures, which could allay the sense of alienation, bring nationalists into the mainstream politics, create local stake in the province's development and assuage their grievances. It is a hard fact that only the skilled persons with some technical education can survive in the future of highly competitive world of technological advancement. Darwinism in future scenario would be a natural phenomenon. Progressive mindset is need of the hour to survive the evolution.