1 - 7, 2010

Balochistan Package- the federal government's initiative has failed to bring about any improvement in law and order situation in the province. Though the government has made serious efforts to appease the restive province, yet security concerns are still the main hurdle in exploitation of province's natural resources. A stable security environment is what the province direly needs today.

Economic development of Balochistan is linked with a stable security environment. The government can materialize no plan, pledge or proposal under Balochistan package until peace and order is restored in the province. 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.

The security environment is still not conducive to exploit oil and gas resources in the province, Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) Managing Director (MD) Shah Mehboob Alam recently told business community at Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI). The government is currently supplying 220 to 225 mmcf per day to Uch Power Ltd. The government has so far drilled 15 wells but security concerns are the main hurdle in exploitation of province's natural resources.

The mega projects launched under former government could not reach completion for security concerns. Gwadar port project is still in doldrums, as both the Singaporean port operator and the government are in default of commitments. The port remained non-functional for more than one year even after its official opening in March 2007. The first ship arrived at the port in March 2008, but the port did not see arrival of any ship for the seven months till December. The port's connectivity with main roads and rail links is still required. The authorities are expected to cancel agreement with the Singaporean firm for running the Gwadar port. Even if the issues are settled between port operators and the government, will Gwadar port project make progress in the prevailing security environment of the province?

Balochistan's government announced in December the cancellation of the Reko Diq copper project agreement with an Australian company. The deal has been scrapped on the ground that the company violated the agreement and unnecessarily delayed the project.

Some analysts believe that the cancellation of accord at a time when the project was about to enter the construction stage seems irrational, as it would cause further delay in the development of copper mine in Reko Diq area.

Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani reportedly said the Reko Diq agreement had been terminated in the interest of the people of Balochistan. With the cancellation of agreement, the province has lost over $3 billion investment, which had been promised by the Australian firm to bring during current fiscal year. What is presently in the interest of the local people is the restoration of peace and order which is a prerequisite to allure foreign investors and launch any development scheme in the province. Provincial government has failed to maintain law and order and protect the lives and properties of the citizens.

Present government made a departure from the past practice of pointing guns at those demanding their rights. For instance, the province will receive Rs 1.817 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 in the last financial year. In the new formula, the share of Balochistan has been increased from 20.2 percent to 28.7 percent.

The government also plans to grant amnesty to Baloch dissidents and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has invited the Baloch leaders in exile for a political dialogue to end conflict in the province. The government has proposed allocation of Rs 31 billion for launching 36 projects in the province under the package.

Without improving security environment, the government can not launch and complete its projects or development schemes, which have been pledged under the Balochistan package. Security is the key to start any economic activity in the province. The government needs to announce its strategy to maintain law and order in the province.

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 is trying to tread on the path of political reconciliation, but it could not appease the insurgents in past two years. No clear-cut strategy about continuing or calling a halt to military operation has come from the government. The government is seemingly in dilemma over the issue.

Officials in Quetta and Islamabad have repeatedly blamed the involvement of foreign hand in fueling unrest in Balochistan. The province is actually facing an insurgency backed by the separatist forces. The government needs to marginalize separatists from the nationalist parties, which are demanding their economic and political rights within the constitutional framework. The separatists are struggling for independence from Islamabad hence they are involved in attacking the security forces, public installations and innocent citizens. By presenting Balochistan package, the government has actually announced its policy vis--vis nationalists and local people. Similarly, the government should also declare its policy vis--vis separatists.

Involvement of foreign hand cannot be ruled out in fueling unrest in Balochistan. The province has been on a frontline position in US-led of war on terror. Some people say that Baloch insurgency against the state's security apparatus serves the Al Qaeda's interest in the province with 723 miles long borderline with Afghanistan in the northwest. The US has already indicated possibility of using drones against Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the province.

Though the present government has addressed the genuine grievances of the province against the centre, yet the real test of the government's sincerity will depend on implementation of the package. The question of the questions is when and how the federal government will implement its proposed package and deliver in the prevailing law and order situation?

Baloch leaders have rejected 'Balochistan package' on the ground that the government has not mentioned or given date for end of the military operation in the province along with withdrawal of troops from cantonments nor has it mentioned recovery of missing persons in the package. The dialogue process with nationalists must go on.

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 province has witnessed four insurgencies and subsequently four military operations were undertaken in 1948, 1958, 1965 and 1973, to quell them.....

The provincial government should take effective measures to protect all ethnic groups in the province. It has so far failed to protect the lives and properties of the settlers, which have migrated to other provinces in large number. Federal government has also been turning a blind eye to the incidents of target killings and bombing of settlers' houses.

How a barber, a miner, a professor or a government servant settled in Balochistan can be a usurper of Baloch rights? A barber cutting the hair, a miner mining mineral or an educationist educating the masses have been targeted and killed in the province. Many settlers have left the province in fear and moved to Punjab and other provinces.

No target killer has so far been arrested or punished for his acts of terrorism. First and foremost duty of the government is to protect the lives and properties of people. The provincial government should pay more attention toward improving law and order situation in the province, as no economic activity can take place in the prevailing security situation. The chief minister Raisani recently expressed concerns over incidents of target killings in Karachi. It is ironical that such incidents have become a routine in Quetta and other districts and provincial government has failed to tackle the law and order problem that has aggravated investors' concerns in the province.