BALOCHISTAN'S ECONOMIC RELIEF PACKAGE APPROVAL

The National Assembly will give okay soon

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad
May 16 - 22, 2005

President Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Ch. Shujat Hussain declared from the floor of the National Assembly that the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan had approved the recommendations of the sub-committee headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed. Describing it as a historic package for Balochistan, PML president observed that the recommendations were approved with consensus.

Another Sub-Committee headed by Senator Wasim Sajjad working on the task to review the constitution for granting greater provincial autonomy would finalize its recommendations soon.

The sub-committee headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain dealing with political and development affairs had in fact, completed the task ahead of schedule, Ch. Shujat informed the house adding that the two reports would now be moved to the National Assembly to discuss pros and cons and before giving it a final shape.

The recommendations of the Mushahid Hussain sub-committee that were approved by the main parliamentary committee on Balochistan at its Monday meeting in Islamabad effectively address the main economic grievances of the Baloch people. Aside from calling for a new formula for gas royalty and development surcharge, the sub-committee has recommended that the outstanding gas royalty arrears, the volume of which is to be determined by the relevant provincial and federal authorities, be paid by the end of the current year. Even more important from the perspective of ordinary people in this least developed province of Pakistan, are various proposals that call for increased spending on development projects, such as that 7 percent of the Gwadar Deep Sea Port Project's gross income be spent on the socio-economic uplift of Balochistan, and that all the companies interested in oil and gas exploration in the province must spend 5 percent of their investment and 15 percent of their profits on local development.

The sub-committee also urges the federal government to announce development projects worth Rs3 billion for Gwadar, Rs2 billion for the Sui area and Rs4 billion for Quetta.

A genuine Baloch apprehension being outsiders' dominance in new jobs that are to be created by the mega projects currently under way in the Gwadar area, it has been suggested that the first preference for such jobs should be local candidates, and the second preference should be given to people of Mekran and other parts of Balochistan. And further, 5.7 percent of all posts lying vacant with the Federal government should be filled with candidates from Balochistan in line with an earlier constitutional commitment.

In order to delegate Balochistan an effective powers in management of its natural resources, the competent parliamentarians from Balochistan should be given representation on boards of governors of the two gas distribution companies including SSGC and OGDC. It is important to note that the province of Balochistan is likely to have a share of more than Rs6 trillion as arrears of gas royalty which would ultimately help develop civic amenities of the so far neglected areas.

The President of Ruling Muslim League and head of the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan has rightly termed it as a historic package. It is meaningful attempt to address the long simmering, valid grievances of the people of Balochistan.

An important aspect of the parliamentary committee meeting, he said, was that besides representatives from the ruling party, members belonging to Bugti, Mari and Mengal tribes as well as the JUI and the MMA, attended it. In other words, it was an all-inclusive meeting, which, however, is true only partially. For the fact of the matter is that four members from the Baloch nationalist alliance as well as the PPPP have been boycotting its proceedings, the former on account of the way the government handled the Dr Shazia's outraged modesty case and the latter because of mass arrests of its workers on the return home of its leaders, Asif Ali Zardari. Both reasons, of course, had nothing to do with the committee's agenda. However, Rauf Mengal of BNP, a component of the boycotting Baloch alliance, has now rejected its recommendations, accusing the government of ignoring the 'original' leadership of the area. Though the PPPP too has expressed its reservations on the subject, it has not offered any substantive objections to the proposed economic relief package. Which shows the committee has done a good job?

The government now must move quickly to present the Mushahid Hussain sub-committee's recommendations before the National Assembly for final approval so that these can be incorporated in the annual budgetary proposals. Those who boycotted the sub- committee meetings on the ground that the 'original' leadership of Balochistan was not represented in it may want to have their input included in Parliament. And, of course, it is important that the PPPP, being the largest single Opposition party in Parliament, also makes its contribution to the resolution of Balochistan problem. Its support will certainly be required when the other sub-committee on the Balochistan autonomy issue presents its proposals for constitutional amendments.