Policy & development and development

Aug 13 - 19, 2007

Today, the big challenge before Islamabad is to convert its strategic assets in Balochistan into economic opportunities and to open up the province for international investment.

The mega projects are going to become the national assets in the province that has a special significance with reference to its geography. A good strategy can exploit the province's geographical position converting it to the land of opportunities for international trade and business.

Merely keeping emphasis on the strategic importance of the province could not lure foreign investors, but it is the consistency of economic policies that can bring the Balochistan's mega development plan to fruition. According to the official sources, the development projects worth more than Rs 2 trillion are under execution in the province. The mega projects presently underway in Balochistan include $16 billion Gwadar port, Rs 5.811 billion Mirani dam, Rs 1.1 billion Sabakzai dam, Rs 31 billion Kachhi Canal, Rs 6 billion water courses project, Rs 54 billion roads link project, Rs 6.428 billion Naulang and Bolan dams, Rs 2.016 billion flood water saving project, Rs 2.243 billion Pat feeder canal, Rs 288 million flood protection project, Rs 37.37 million rainwater harvesting and desertification control project and number of other projects.

It is due to the consistent policies of the government, mega projects like Mekran coastal highway and Mirani dam have been completed and inaugurated. While first phase of Gwadar seaport has been completed, the Saindak copper and gold project has already gone into production.

Inconsistency has also been the major reason that lagged Balochistan behind other provinces. The process of economic development in the province started in 1970 when it got the status of fourth province of Pakistan. In the initial phase, which culminated in 1977, the short-term planning or one-year plan or annual development program was followed to develop the resources of the province. After revival of provincial status, Balochistan was faced with certain problems of key importance. It absolutely lacked the physical and institutional infrastructure for governance. So in the initial phase, the efforts were directed and investments made to create governance infrastructure in Balochistan.

The second phase of economic development of the province witnessed long-term planning pattern like five-year plan. This phase culminated in October 1999 when Pakistan Army took over ousting the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad. Balochistan observed a paradigm shift in Islamabad's policy and attitude vis-a-vis development of the province during three years of military government of General Pervez Musharraf.

The government pursued a policy of appeasement toward Balochistan. The government increased allocation of funds for its development by 300 percent in the federal budget for 2003-2004. The province was given priority in the budgetary allocations for the development of water, infrastructure, health and education.

On economic front, President Musharraf made serious development efforts in Balochistan. There cannot be two opinions about impacts of mega projects that they would open up the province converting it into a land of opportunities for the investors. But unfortunately, the present rulers could not do well on political side. The genesis of the Balochistan crisis was political and it needed to be solved politically. The ruling elite showed lack of political acumen and statesmanship to comprehend and resolve the political issues that emerged out after the government started execution of mega projects in the province.

The president's Balochistan policy took somewhat a U-turn from appeasement to containment in the last two years. A military operation was launched in Bugti and Mari tribal areas in December 2005. The operation, according to the officials, was undertaken to subdue the saboteurs and anti-development elements and establish the writ of the government. Fact of the matter has been that military actions in the past created political instability, centre-province disharmony, and social chaos and intensified feelings of frustration and alienation and subsequently retarded the process of economic development in the province. Need is to learn from the past experience.

No mega project will bear fruit for the national economy in the given state of security affairs, and law and order situation in the province. It will require huge resources to maintain law and order in such a vast province for a longer period. The provincial economy is already reeling under the heavy debt burden and extra expenditure on security measures. The question of the questions is how long the ongoing development process continues at gunpoint?

A political reconciliation can help sustain the ongoing development process. Politics needs to be practiced according to the social environment. Originally, Balochistan is a tribal and traditional society.

The peace jirga of all the tribal chiefs and political figures of Balochistan must immediately be convened following the example of North Waziristan. President Musharraf must show political acumen and statesmanship to handle the situation in the mega sensitive province. Government must take a series of measures to show its sensitiveness to the needs and demands of the Baloch people. As for example, it must take steps for rehabilitating the thousands of people rendered homeless by the military operation. Abolishing the concurrent list and granting real provincial autonomy would help solve the ills of Balochistan. The issue of distribution of resources should also be resolved in a political manner by involving all stakeholders.

The federal government's program, "Vision for Development of Balochistan" focuses on improving the quality of life of common man by accelerating the development process, ensuring that its fruits reach all segments of the society in every corner of the province, providing social justice and good governance.

The main emphasis of the new development strategy is on employment creation, income generation, poverty reduction, infrastructure improvement and human capital formation through education and skill development. Under the Balochistan vision, the agriculture potential will be fully utilized by promoting agri-businesses, the mineral wealth of the province is tapped and the immense potential of fisheries sector be developed. The strategy is aimed at creating the enabling environment for the private sector for their maximum participation in the development process as well as for attracting foreign and local investment to the province.

No vision for development of the province can be achieved without observing consistency in economic policies. Consistency not only attracts the foreign investors but also provide an impetus for economic growth and development.