THE POVERTY-CONFLICT NEXUS IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Aug 20 - 26, 2007

'Poverty' in the experts' view is a multi-dimensional concept than simple income (consumption) deprivation. Any single measure of poverty, such as head-count ratio based on specific poverty line does not fully capture all the dimensions in which poverty manifests itself. It does not reflect the real causes of wider human sufferings. 'Poverty of opportunity' index, a composite of deprivation in three vital dimensions, health, education and income is quite useful in this regard. In case of Balochistan, any single measure of poverty indicates that it is the poorest province of Pakistan.

Though Balochistan is endowed with rich reserves of gas, oil, coal, gold and copper, yet the incidence of poverty is higher in the province than any other province of the country. This stark fact about the province explains that natural resources can turn out to be a matter of threat and survival for the people who own them. Poverty-conflict nexus is very much realistic to the prevailing situation in Balochistan. The local people generally contend that what benefits and positive changes the exploitation of power resources of Dera Bugti has brought to their lives for the past 50 years? They say that they are still burning wood for fuel purpose and living like nomads. How would the exploitation of mineral riches from Kohlu benefit the local population in the province?

Though natural gas was discovered at Sui in Balochistan in 1952, yet many districts of the province are still deprived of gas transmission facility. It goes to the credit of Sui that it brought about an industrial revolution in Pakistan. On the other hand, Balochistan lack the industrial base. Lack of industrial units is the single biggest cause of unemployment in Balochistan. The province has ever been kept excluded from decision-making process. This accelerated vicious cycle of poverty in the province. Over 50 percent population is subsisting below poverty line in the province. Though poverty in the province is more 'shared' poverty, yet income-based inequities in human development need to be addressed.

BALOCHISTAN LEAST DEVELOPED REGION

The ground realities and socio-economic indicators rightly place Balochistan in the category of least developed and most backward region of Pakistan. There is no infrastructure, no industry, no viable road network, no agriculture extension services and no technical training centers and quality education institutions in Balochistan.

Balochistan's financial position is so critically weak that sometimes it seems to be a salary distribution agency (among the employees) instead of a federating unit. Frequently, there arises a problem of shortfall of revenue in Balochistan and the provincial chief executive warns of stopping the payment of salaries to government employees. Balochistan generates a revenue of Rs1.622 billion, apparently just enough to pay the monthly salaries of government officials

The poor state of affairs in the province came to the limelight after the political crisis continued to deepen during last two years and a military operation was launched in Bugti and Mari tribal areas in December 2005. The veteran Baloch nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in August last year in a military action in Mari tribal area. The ongoing military operation has exceeded its one and half year duration.

Conflict-poverty nexus was best manifested in Chile's 10-year crisis during (1963-73). The rich copper reserves of Chile had produced for U.S. copper corporations the equivalent of over half of Chile's total assets accumulated over the previous 400 years. During 1968, U.S. corporate holdings in Chile amounted to $964 million. With its largest holding and an investment of $200 million, the American Copper company ITT, the influential Rockefeller Group subsidiary, had earned the massive profits in Chile. The poverty-stricken Chilean people however could not see any substantial improvement in their miserable socio-economic conditions and general welfare. Despite massive propaganda campaign, Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in September 1970. The Chilean Congress unanimously passed a constitutional amendment requiring the Allende administration to nationalize all copper mines in July 1971. The unanimous vote for the nationalization amendment reflected widespread popular sentiment that the country had been plundered. The economic boycott of Allende government by the US, ITT-Kissinger conspiracy against Allende regime and finally the murder of Salvador Allende in 1973; were the episodes of 10-year long Chilean crisis.

Balochistan presents a classic example of a small and impoverished province, which has ever remained at the mercy of the center for meeting its financial needs and obligations. Even during premiership of Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who hails from Balochistan, the situation in the province remained unchanged. What is needed is to address and resolve the real issues of political economy within the ambit of ongoing development process in the province. The province has genuine grievances against the centre. The prevailing sense of deprivation, alienation and frustration in a society also destabilize the security situation. It is a fact that the same features of destabilization characterize the political sociology of today's Balochistan.

INJUSTICE & DISCRIMINATION

Rapid growth of nationalist sentiments in the province finds its roots from the long history of injustice and discrimination against Balochistan and the military operations undertaken in 1948, 1958, 1965 and 1973. After the arrest of the Khan of Kalat in 1958, the tribesmen started a guerrilla war against the government. The army was sent to control the movement but its presence further deteriorated the situation. Mir Sher Muhammad Marri took the leadership of the movement, which was called 'farrari movement'. This movement ended in 1969.

After the dismissal of the first elected government of Balochistan in 1973, a serious conflict started between the government and the political leadership of the province. While responding to the situation, the tribesmen in Kohlu started a large-scale insurgence in the area. After a strong military operation they migrated to Afghanistan along with their leaders. Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, presently chief of Marri tribe went into voluntary self-exile and reached Kabul in 1981. Although the Marris returned back from Afghanistan in 1991 responding to an appeal by the Pakistani government, the political situation still cannot be called satisfactory.

Government claims that it has laid the economic foundation of the province by launching Mega development projects. Has the government prepared any roadmap for the social development of Balochistan whose social sector indicators are the most challenging in South Asia?

Some people are of the view that in the given circumstances, the military operation would rightly serve the interest of opportunists providing them a chance to revive their politics of agitation. They say the outlaws firing rockets and blowing up railway tracks must not go unpunished and handled with iron hands establishing the writ of government, but the political issues need to be tackled politically. It is the people who are the real victims of the ongoing clashes between tribesmen and paramilitary forces in the province and its subsequent retaliation- bomb blasts, acts of sabotage and terrorism.

MILITARY SOLUTION

Military solution to the Balochistan crisis is not viable, says a research report on 'Balochistan crisis' presented at the recently held ninth sustainable development conference. The report suggests that drastic administrative and infrastructural reforms should be carried out in the province, followed by more powers and autonomy to all provinces. The report recommends constitution of a commission comprising civilian experts in development, psychology, sociology, political science and regional strategy with a task to reassess the situation in Balochistan on the basis of demands of nationalist forces, academicians and senior Baloch bureaucrats.

A roundtable dialogue on 'Accommodating differences through federalism' was recently arranged by US-based national democratic institute for international affairs (NDI) in collaboration with strengthening participatory organization (SPO). The participants included major political parties, constitutional experts, civil society and government representatives, who called for halting military operation and initiating a constructive dialogue with genuine representatives of Balochistan to resolve the ongoing conflict in the province. They also underlined the need for a participatory federation providing constitutional guarantees for social, cultural and economic rights to the people without any discrimination.

A multi-factor approach must be adopted vis-a-vis sharing of resources among the provinces, instead of a 'population-alone' basis. In the NFC Award, the weightage for revenue, poverty and area should be so formulated that it would not reduce the existing share of any province so that a notional formula could be converted into a multi-factor formula with consensus.

The backwardness and poverty should be explicitly incorporated in the allocation of shared transfers, and they should be more comprehensively measured through an index that uses multiple indicators. These may be broadly categorized as socioeconomic and demographic indicators related to income and wealth, housing, transport and communication, education, health, gender equality, etc. for example, some of the indicators used in the human development index would be relevant.