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
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.