Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz two-day visit to Balochistan last week during which he announced a Rs. 3 billion package for the economic uplift of this most under developed part of the country is a welcome initiative.

The PM's package focuses on agriculture, employment and the drought affected areas. In a meeting with the Balochistan cabinet, he called for ending ad-hocism and asked the cabinet to prepare within two months a five-year development plan and promised that Islamabad will assist the province in five-year financial management. He also asked cabinet members to play an effective role in generating economic activity in the province by focusing on livestock and dairy farming and by launching a housing scheme.

The PM said economic activity and employment could be generated if loans were given through the Khushali Bank to small farmers. That could work given the abundance of evidence of the success of micro-finance loans. But it will only prove fruitful if recovery does not translate into harassment and is based instead on a genuine assessment of cash flow. Additionally, it will have to be stringently ensured that loans are not distributed as political patronage and reach farmers in real need.

The PM also said that Quetta could serve as a major transit point. He asked the Balochistan government to make it a hub of trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics. This, too, is a viable proposition. There is a major infrastructure boom underway in the province. For example a railway line from Chaman to Spin Boldak in Afghanistan is already in progress and the government is contemplating sending trade missions to Kandahar. The first phase of the Gwadar Port mega project is to be completed next year. A 10,000-acre export-processing zone is planned by the government. Then, there is on going work to provide natural gas to Khuzdar. Although belated, given the fact that gas was discovered here in the early 1950s but never provided to residents of the area, the project is welcome nonetheless.

 

Another major step is the government's decision to construct an airport at Gwadar. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been asked to begin work with the identification of the most appropriate site given that the port would generate a lot of transportation activity because of its strategic significance.

Another important decision taken by the government is to provide assistance in launching sprinkle and drip irrigation schemes. It is also providing 200 bulldozers. This is critical but falls short of what is really required. Up to 70 percent of Balochistan is virgin land that could be made cultivable. But for this, the government will have to make significant allocations to build rainwater reservoirs. It is estimated that Balochistan wastes 10 to 14 million acre-feet of rainwater every year simply because of a lack of reservoirs.

Coming at a time when the sense of deprivation or the people of Balochistan appeared to be heading for an alarming climax, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's Quetta visit will be seen as proving instrumental in reversing the trend. This, of course, has reference, first to recent indications of revival of political disillusionment in the province, as followed by the formation of a parliamentary committee to resolve the crisis. It will be noted that while the setting up of the parliamentary body had been generally welcomed by various sections, the response of the opposition parties, seemingly left a great deal to be desired in view of reservations voiced by them. What difference has the Prime Minister's visit to Balochistan made, in this regard, will certainly call for its thorough and objective reappraisal in its overall wide and varied perspective.

This should be all the more so because of very strong evidence of similar approach behind the Prime Minister's initiative. For one thing, his announcement of three billion rupees development fund for Balochistan should leave little to doubt about the crisis of confidence in that province having arisen, primarily, over economic issues.

This does not necessarily mean that its political dimensions need to be totally ignored. Since backwardness of Balochistan can best be described in economic items, he will be seen to have made a beginning from the right direction. Needless to point out, most of the grievances of the people of this province of tremendous economic potential emanate from its under development, thereby, giving rise to political disappointment too.

It is, however, just another matter that so far as the political matters are concerned, Balochistan had remained handicapped since much before the creation of Pakistan, as it had remained deprived, unlike the other units, of the status of a province. Again, since it often takes long to correct a basic inequality. There will appear to be genuine reasons behind the reflection of economic disparity in the social and political spheres too. It will also be noted that errors and omissions of the early planners and managers of the country's economy left a great deal to be desired in so far as reflection of gains and development in the lives of the people of the entire country.

All this, put together, should leave little to doubt about the aggravated sense of deprivation of the people of this province. In this kind of situation, there can be no two opinion about the correctness of the Prime Minister's approach to the challengers on the Balochistan front. Perhaps, the initial fund of Rs. 3 billion may appear too short the crying development needs of the province, but viewing it in its wide perspective, it will be seen as happy tidings of more to follow. Quite some idea of this may be had from the sane advice to the provincial government Shaukat Aziz has deemed expedient to sound. For he had urged the provincial government to avoid the temptation of adhocism, that is, for the sake of quick results and instead, to go for it in a planned manner. More to it, having earned the distinction of a proven economic wizard in his own right, he will be seen to have correctly defined the areas it should focus.

On a closer and dispassionate analysis of the Prime Minster's offer, the Baloch leaders should find it in the larger interest of the people they have been chosen to represent. Needless to point, if the elected representatives of the people in that province, decide to proceed with objectively conceived and scientifically planned development with the needed political honesty, it can lead to the dawn of a whole bright new era for Balochistan.