Apr 30 - May 6, 20

Balochistan is today confronted with an insurgency-like situation. Baloch separatists groups are talking of the separation of the province and engaged in a violent struggle against the state and its institutions.

The insurgents are involved in killing settlers and religious extremists in sectarian killings. The separatists have been trying to ban singing of the national anthem or hoisting national flag in schools.

Indiscriminate killings of professors, doctors, bankers, teachers, businesspersons, engineers, and educationists on ethnic lines indicate that the killers have no interest in the economic development of the least-developed province. Those who are practicing a politics of violence and separatism in Balochistan must be marginalized from the Baloch nationalists who are fighting for their political and economic rights as enshrined in the 1973 constitution.

The incidents of target killings and attacks on police and personnel of other security agencies and bomb blasts have become a routine in the province. Worsening law and order situation in the province has raised security concerns among foreign firms working in the province and many Chinese engineers have lost their lives in acts of terrorism during last five years.

The incidents of violence and terrorism that took place in different districts of the province including Gwadar during last four years forced the government to enhance security and defense spending in each year's budget.

Law and order problem has affected each and every sector of the provincial economy putting most of the development projects in cold storage. Today, the worsening security is the gravest risk to the provincial economy, as the contractors and investors are unwilling to start work on new projects or complete the ongoing development schemes in the restive province. The province direly needs investment for the development of its enormous resources in all economic sectors.

The ongoing target terrorism in many cities and towns of Balochistan is not without its economic and business implications. Real estate and land mafias are taking full mileage of the worsening security situation by making lucrative deals exploiting the fears of the people, particularly the settlers in the province. The prices of residential and commercial plots in Quetta, Gwadar, Turbat, Sibi, Naseerabad, Mach and Kuzdar and many towns and cities across the province witnessed a significant fall during past three years. The real estate boom in Gwadar port city has burst like a bubble, which continued to inflate during the period between 2002 to 2007.

Scott Altran, an anthropologist, says in his recent study that there is a relationship between poor economic performance and the rise of extremism and resort to insurgency. The areas of Pakistan in which insurgency has taken hold have seriously lagged behind those which have fared better in economic terms.

Insurgency-hit Balochistan, the largest province in terms of area and possibly also the richest once its energy and mineral resources are fully explored and begin to be exploited, is the least densely populated among all provinces. It accounts for slightly more than five per cent of the total population in Pakistan but at this time only three per cent of GDP, according to Altran.

The provincial government failed to protect the lives of citizens and bring the disgruntled Baloch youth back to national mainstream. The political failure led to use of military might in the province.

A helpless provincial government can only see a 'foreign hand' and repeat the mantra of condemning and ordering investigation into the incident of target killing. Neither it has control over insurgents, who are challenging its writ, nor over security forces, which are not working within the confines of the law.

The province has suffered decades of neglect, discrimination that intensified the feeling of alienation among local people. Promises of economic packages and debates in parliament could not convince the Baloch leaders who have been witnessing politics of constituting parliamentary committees and presenting reconciliation packages practiced from time to time by successive governments in Islamabad during past five decades.

In 2009, federal government presented 'Balochistan Package' to appease the restive province. The initiative however failed to bring about any improvement in law and order situation in the province. The skepticism of Baloch nationalist leaders about the government's pledges made in the package is justified, as it must be seen against the backdrop of a long history of broken promises, ruthless exploitation, and oppression by the federation.

The former Pervez Musharraf administration in Islamabad 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.

Present government made a departure from the past practice of training guns on those demanding their rights. For instance, the province received Rs1.817 billion additional revenue on account of gas development surcharge (GDS) in the seventh National Finance Commission (NFC) award based on the weighted average wellhead gas price. The share of Balochistan had been increased from 20.2 percent to 28.7 percent.

The security situation will only improve when the real stakeholders feel a sense of ownership and they would be held directly responsible for the security of the development projects. Baloch nationalist parties resent over the Islamabad's firm control over the way the province's economy is managed. On the other hand, the perception of a rapid economic progress poses a threat to centuries-old feudal status of tribal chiefs under which they have been enjoying power and exploiting the people. It is also a proven fact that the use of military might has been ineffective in bringing about a political or social change in a society.

The government needs to adopt a political approach, and resolve the security problem amicably through a peace truce with the tribal jirga and halt military operation in the province. Present government could not appease the insurgents in past four years. No clear-cut strategy about continuing or calling a halt to military operation has come from the government. The government seems in dilemma over the issue.

Today, security is the key issue related to implementing any development agenda for Balochistan. The law and order is continuously worsening. The provincial government should take effective measures to protect all ethnic groups in the province.