Apr 13 - 19, 2009

Last month, President Asif Ali Zardari announced a Rs46.60 billion development package for Balochistan and directed the provincial government to set up a parliamentary committee of its coalition partners to start talks with disgruntled Baloch youth to bring them into the political mainstream. Announcement of financial packages or constitution of Parliamentary committees will not work, as time calls for practical steps to appease the local people. One should recognize the fact that no economic activity can smoothly take place in the restive province. Law and order problem has already raised security concerns among foreign firms working in the province.

Balochistan crisis embraces economics, social and political dimensions. What has actually happened with the province is that the centre ever launched state's version of development of its resources that turned out to be a matter of threat and survival for the local people who own them. A simmering insurgency has continued in the province over the last three decades. But, since the early 1970s there had been no open armed conflict between the government and the Baloch tribes, says a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released in 2006. In early 2000, tension rose but in the beginning of 2005, it boiled over.

A realistic approach needs to be adopted to address the local people's grievances and to end conflict in the province. It is about state's version of development of province's resources that aggravated the feeling of deprivation. It is about sense of ownership and development needs of the province. It is about discriminatory policies that led to alienation of local people from national mainstream. It is about transferring the subjects on the concurrent list to the province. It is about politics of keeping the province least developed and its people most backward. What has actually alienated the local people is the over-centralism, unitary type of governance and arbitrary nature of decision-making practiced under the state's version of development.

The province has genuine reservations about state's version of development that ever ignored the local demands and needs. For instance, the province's natural resources will have no impact on development if it is not matched with human resources that can tap this natural endowment. Local people need technical institutions, as they are technologically backward. Infrastructure and human development must go together.

The development of human resources should be the priority area for the development planners. The analysis of investments in health and education is unified in human capital approach. The human capital approach focuses on the indirect ability of education and health to increase utility by increasing incomes. The development of human resources is essential to raise labor efficiency and revolutionize the social attitudes and institutions in the province.

The state's version of development failed to create a sense of ownership among the local people that alienated them from the development process. The development denotes change; a change in people's social behavior, political approach and economic growth. So far the development process started under previous regimes in Islamabad could not bring a positive change in socio-economic and political milieu of Balochistan.

Had the recommendations of the Parliamentary committee been implemented by the former government, they would have defused the uncertain situation to a great extent in the province. The committee had prepared a total of 31 recommendations for the betterment of the province, assuaging grievances and complaints of its leaders. It had also adopted the recommendation for paying the gas and petroleum royalty to the areas from where they were extracted and for giving the people of Balochistan representation in the board of directors of the Oil and Gas Development Company and the Sui Southern Gas Company. It had also recommended constitutional changes for giving greater provincial autonomy to Balochistan. Ironically, a military operation was launched for the fifth time instead of implementing the recommendations of the committee.

On economic front, the former government had increased allocation of funds for the development of the province by 300 percent in the federal budget for FY 2003-2004. But unfortunately, it could not do well on political side. It showed lack of political acumen and statesmanship to comprehend and resolve the political issues that emerged out after execution of mega projects in the province.

The military operation brought nothing but more destruction to the province. It caused the death of veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and further intensified the feelings of alienation and frustration among the local people. Ironically, the establishment preferred to bear higher costs of military operation in terms of collateral damage, destruction of infrastructure and maintaining law and order, but it did not seriously opted and strived for political solution of Balochistan crisis. One may wonder that the establishment can talk with India or Israel, but not with Baloch, who are the citizens of Pakistan and equally respectable like other citizens in Islamabad, Lahore, Gujrat or other cities.

For the present government, developing political reconciliation among different political parties and bringing nationalists into mainstream politics would be the biggest challenge in order to continue the development process in the province. The political unrest in Balochistan has once again highlighted the issue of provincial autonomy, which is about transferring the subjects on the concurrent list to the provinces. Instead of wasting time on constitution of another committee, the government should implement the recommendations of the parliamentary committee, set up under the caretaker premiership of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in order to defuse the prevailing uncertain situation in the province.

A sense of ownership needs to be created among the local people making them directly responsible for the security of development projects and vital public installations. There is a need to constitute 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. Political stability is linked to the economic activity in the province. The future of Pakistan lies in a politically stable, economically developed, and socially open Balochistan. The development of the province's vast resources in key economic sectors and its geo-strategic location can bring an economic bonanza for the country.