May 19 - 25, 2008

This month Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani paid his first visit to Balochistan.

Addressing the new provincial cabinet, the prime minister said, "No army action will be carried out in the province until a strategy is formulated in consultation with representatives of the provincial government to deal with the issue of law and order in the province." He promised that the government and people of the province would be taken into confidence on the mega development projects being launched by the federal government.

Undeniably, security and economy are inter-linked. Long-term security objectives are associated with political stability and social harmony. Balochistan has turned out to be a mega sensitive province due to the discriminatory attitude meted out with it for the last five decades. Political stability is essential to maintain stable security environment in Balochistan. A number of foreign investors have reportedly shown interest in establishing mega refineries, building storage capacity and undertaking other businesses in Gwadar to help expedite the process of industrialization in Balochistan. But the question still remains, "Who will come to invest in the prevailing security situation in Balochistan?"

The security situation in Balochistan 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. It is only the political reconciliation and policy of appeasement that can ensure stable security environment for sustaining ongoing development process and luring foreign investment in Balochistan. It will require huge resources to maintain law and order in such a vast province for a longer period. The provincial economy is already reeling under heavy debt burden and extra expenditure on security measures. It will remain in the same situation as long as political instability continues in the province. The heavy presence of security personnel in Gwadar and other districts, where mega projects are in execution stage, gives a mixed impression of security and vulnerability and resentment and appeasement in Balochistan.

While the mega projects launched under Musharraf administration are near completion in Balochistan, law and order situation seems not in order. The mega projects include Gwadar seaport, Mirani dam, Mekran coastal highway, Kachhi canal, Subakzai dam, Saindak copper & gold mining and Quetta water supply scheme. Out of these projects coastal highway and Mirani dam have been completed and Saindak copper project has been reactivated and production has been started from it. The Gwadar seaport has become operational this year in March. President Pervez Musharraf had viewed that unabated rockets attacks, existence of Ferrari camps, blowing up of power installations and gas pipelines, killing of Chinese Engineers and law enforcement agency personnel, attacks in Sui were aimed at disrupting development in the province. Hence, the federal government launched military operation in December 2005 to establish its writ. Musharraf's Balochistan policy took somewhat a U-turn from appeasement to containment in 2005. The army operation, according to the officials, was undertaken to subdue the saboteurs and anti-development elements and to establish the writ of the government. Fact of the matter has been that military actions in the past created political instability, centre-province disharmony, social chaos, and intensified feelings of frustration and alienation and subsequently retarded the process of economic development in the province. Need is to learn from the past experience. Balochistan has witnessed four military operations in the years of 1948, 1958, 1965 and 1973. The cause of the conflict was mainly that the province had genuine grievances against the centre.

Beyond all shadows of doubt, mega projects have put Balochistan on the road to fast track development. The projects are bound to play a vital role in socio-economic uplift of the people of the least developed province. Each and every sector of provincial economy will receive a boost from the tremendous economic activity Mega projects will generate. However, these projects cannot attract foreign investment and open up the province until and unless law and order is improved in the province. What development strategy can deliver and work in the given challenging circumstances of the province where targeting of vital installations and national assets has become a routine? Only a development strategy compatible with geography, demography, political economy, socio-economic conditions, local needs and rapidly changing regional politics can help Pakistan to exploit Balochistan's geo-strategic location to its advantage, making the local people primary beneficiary of the development process.

The prevailing security environment in Balochistan cannot attract foreign investment in Gwadar and other sectors including oil and gas exploration of provincial economy. It also calls into question the guarantees of security for the proposed multi-billion dollar gas pipelines either from Turkmenistan, Iran or Qatar that would have to run through Balochistan. Referring to the sense of deprivation among the people of Balochistan, Prime Minister Gilani said the government was aware of injustices meted out to the people by the pervious government. "After the mandate given to the Pakistan People's Party and other democratic forces, it is our responsibility to undo the injustices, especially in Balochistan." He said the government would take all possible steps for the welfare of the people on Balochistan and to bring them into the mainstream.

What is immediately needed on the part of present government is to act before the prevailing sense of alienation further heightens among Balochis. Government must take a series of measures to show its sensitiveness to the needs and demands of the Baloch people. As for example, it must take steps for rehabilitating the thousands of people rendered homeless by the military operation. Abolishing the concurrent list and granting real provincial autonomy would help solve the ills of Balochistan. The issue of distribution of resources should also be resolved in a political manner by involving all stakeholders. Government must take confidence building measures to appease the Baloch people, as further erosion of confidence in the government will create greater frustration, alienation and resentment in the province. A need is also felt for a participatory federation providing constitutional guarantees for social, cultural and economic rights to the people without any discrimination. A political solution to the crisis is inevitable. The development amid political instability will not be sustainable.