Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 21, 2015

Balochistan’s issues The Balochistan government of Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has been making efforts to frame the development needs of the province and project these at the national level. On Monday, it brought its roadshow to Islamabad. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, in his address at the forum, delineated the problems of Balochistan stemming from its neglect in the past and the steps the federal government was taking to alleviate some long standing problems as well as the new initiatives the federal and provincial governments had undertaken to change the fate of Pakistan’s largest province by land area but its poorest and most underdeveloped by any criterion. The PM stated that the development of Balochistan was close to his heart and despite constraints, the federal government had provided substantial resources to supplement the efforts of the provincial government to address the needs of its people. For example, the PM pointed to the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award increase of Balochistan’s share from 5.11 to 9.09 percent and the recognition of the principle of inverse density. This last means that the traditional measure of development allocations under the NFC Awards, based on population alone, had been modified in Balochistan’s case to take account of the fact that its population was relatively low (around seven percent of Pakistan’s total), while it lived in a large province in scattered communities, some of which still practised their nomadic way of life. The PM also made reference to the 18th Amendment, which has transferred many powers to the provinces but which the recipients, including Balochistan, have yet to fully take advantage of because of institutional capacity issues. In addition, the PM mentioned the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package initiated by the previous PPP government and which the present incumbents have continued. This package essentially aims at providing educational and employment opportunities to Baloch youth to reduce their sense of deprivation and thereby keep them away from nationalist militancy. Amongst the infrastructure projects the federal government is financing and implementing, the PM listed the M-8 (Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab and Khuzdar-Ratodero) and N-85 (Hoshab-Basima-Sorab) roadways to greatly improve Balochistan’s connectivity with the rest of the country. In collaboration with the provincial government, the Centre had launched a project worth Rs 4 billion to construct houses in earthquake-hit Awaran district. To meet the electricity needs of Balochistan, a 300 MW power plant was planned for Gwadar, while two additional transmission lines, 220 KV Dadu-Khuzdar and 220 KV D G Khan-Loralai had been completed. Allocation of the Federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) this year for Balochistan had been enhanced to Rs 61 billion, 37 percent higher than last year. Rs 15 billion was earmarked in the PSDP for 2014-15 as a special development package, the highest among all the provinces. The PM shared his vision of Balochistan’s geographic location favouring it becoming the regional hub for trade in goods and energy for both the east-west and north-south routes. It would be the main beneficiary of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Developing Gwadar Port, Gwadar Port City, a modern new airport and improved inland connectivity would make Gwadar the hub of regional trade. Free Trade and Special Economic Zones would make Balochistan an attractive destination for foreign and domestic investment. In other words, said the PM, these initiatives would bring about nothing less than a socio-economic revolution in the lives of the people of the province. Balochistan was rich in natural resources, including large deposits of hydrocarbons and minerals. It had huge potential for development of agriculture, fruits, vegetables, fisheries and livestock. While the pronouncements of the PM can only be welcomed, all these fine aspirations still do not answer some pertinent questions. First and foremost, even the cash-strapped federal government may not be able beyond a point to make a dent in the huge development deficit Balochistan suffers from because it has been left out of the development paradigm over decades. A still largely tribal and nomadic society requires a special dispensation to reach these scattered communities and bring development to them in creative ways that differ from the traditional modes of development in more settled populations. The question of finance, as always, despite improvement in the province’s share, remains an impediment. The PM’s address reflects the priority being given to infrastructure. That is not unimportant, but there are many more urgent tasks too. Water is a scarce commodity in the largely semi-arid area of Balochistan, which geologically is an extension of the Iranian plateau. Extremes of climate dictate revisiting the traditional manner of providing water in the rural areas, for example karezes (underground water channels to save evaporation under the fierce summer sun). The water table in Balochistan has by now fallen to unaffordable depths. Rainfall is sparse and fresh water sources will have to be created through innovative measures. Without this, the idea of prosperity through agriculture and other grown products will remain a pipe dream. Last but not least, while the PM spoke of cleansing Balochistan (and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA) of terrorists, the elephant in the room remained the nationalist insurgency, which the chief minister has not been able to engage, discouraging the investors required to uplift the province’s economy. Dialogue with the nationalists in the mountains and abroad is nowhere to be seen. In its absence, the whole paradigm of development could be at risk.

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