Balochistan issues: accept and address

BR Research December 19, 2018

Every time Balochistan expresses concerns over zero or weak progress on the development of CPEC’s western corridor, there are some who start arguing that the western corridor is unpractical in the first place. Although such arguments aren’t always expressed publicly, they invariably influence public sentiments, especially considering that people generally aren’t aware of the historical and institutional injustices faced by the south western province. Dr. Kaiser Bengali’s latest book ‘A cry for justice: empirical insights from Balochistan’ fills that knowledge gap.

The book begins with the gas grievance that is perhaps the most known injustice flagged by the Baloch people. Bengali highlights that “not a whiff of gas was supplied to Balochistan for nearly three decades”; gas from the province went all the way to Muree before it was supplied within the province itself. What is little known is that similar treatment is being extended to Balochistan even today.

In 2014, a private power sector generation company in Quetta applied to federal ministry of petroleum and natural resources for allocation of 9.5 MMCF of gas for expansion of its power generation capacity by 50 MW. However, that request, writes Dr. Bengali, was denied vide a letter by the SSGC, in gross violation of the constitution according to which a province has precedence of usage (over other provinces) of gas and oil that lie within its boundaries.

A holistic study, therefore, of the resource transfer from gas producing provinces to gas consuming provinces need to be conducted to set the records straight in terms of quantifying the monetary value of the gas grievance.

A lesser known reason why Balochistan has been left behind is the chronic development deficit. Within the geographical boundaries of what’s known as Pakistan today, Balochistan was historically a least developed and poor provinces since the British had left most parts of the west of Indus as a buffer zone, whereas the region was never fancied in the Mughal era as much as say Lahore.

This lack of development continued post 1948 as well. Balochistan’s resources were extracted in terms of gas but federal public sector development spending (PSDP) on the province remained poor. Average PSDP allocations for development schemes in Balochistan between FY90 – FY15 was less than 6 percent (5.1% minus Gwadar) of total federal PSDP (excluding multiple provinces schemes); the number in fact stood at 4 percent between FY90 and FY01, according to Dr. Bengali’s calculations.

Likewise, economic managers in Islamabad that controlled the fate of provinces before the 18th amendment have long known that Balochistan has limited choice of economic activities and mining of minerals (aside from natural gas and oil) could have turned around the fortune of both then province and the country. Yet for all these years, no efforts were made to develop the province’s mining sector. Dr. Bengali says that pre-independence practice of colonial rulers using grant of mining licenses to pacify troublesome local sardars continues today.

Similarly, as the book argues that for a province which constitutes 44 percent of land mass of the country it should ‘stand to reason that developing surface communication should be a priority to bring remote areas into mainstream. However, “no such agenda existed till recently and road density in the province is half the national average.” In the absence of public investment on such key areas it shouldn’t be a surprise that the province’s tax base could not have been developed and its own fiscal prospects remain weak.

The most ironical injustice and perhaps least known is the deficit in social protection. According to Dr. Bengali, there were 5.046 million families in FY15 which received BISP monies totaling Rs88.49 billon. Balochistan’s share in that was 188,949 families which received a total of Rs3.2 billion. This translates into a share of 3.7 percent which is less than the share of population, when in fact Balochistan’s districts feature at the top of the list of Pakistan’s poorest districts.

Bengali points out such disparities are partially a result of survey bias that emerged because BISP’s survey enumerators could only cover those regions that were accessible, since even after so many decades the province has a weak road network.

For instance, if a lady health worker covers 100 women and children in a given square kilometre in Punjab, she will cover about 10 women and children in the same size area in Balochistan. The same is true for politicians with average constituency size in Balochistan about 18 times larger compared to average constituency size in Punjab.

It is in this context that Balochistan’s concerns over the CPEC ought to be addressed at top speed alongside recognition of the fact that one size fits all policy doesn’t apply to the province. The addressing of these concerns ought not to be done with a sense of charity, but with a sense of earnest apology for the historical wrongs against province.

The distribution of recognition and respect among a nation’s population is as important as the distribution of political and economic opportunities. Historical legacies cannot be disregarded simply because it does not fit any cost-benefit economic analyses; nor do such wounds heal overnight by patchwork medicines ala ‘Balochistan package’. Fixing the historical wrongs requires statesmanship not only through words but through action; not a onetime effort but consistent efforts; not by one person or institution but by the whole polity; beginning at least by an official public acceptance of the historical wrongs, if not a public apology as do some great nations.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2018

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