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Reviving Balochistan: The Imperative for Change and Progress

Reviving Balochistan: The Imperative for Change and Progress

By: Qamar Bashir

Balochistan is often highlighted for its abundant mineral, oil, and gas resources, but it’s crucial to recognize the plight of its people, who endure challenging living conditions. Throughout Pakistan’s history, leaders have promised to utilize Balochistan’s wealth for its people’s betterment, but this intent has often resulted in the misappropriation of provincial resources, leaving its residents in difficult circumstances. Can we anticipate a shift in this pattern, or will the cycle persist, with blame directed at tribal leaders for the province’s ongoing poverty?

I have distinct memories from my time as a news producer. I had the privilege of accompanying Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti as a news producer in PTV during his visits to various regions in the provinces. Notably, his unwavering determination played a pivotal role in the inauguration of a metal road between Sui and Dera Bugti around 1988. Additionally, his persistent and compelling demands led to the construction of certain segments of the RCD highway connecting Quetta and Karachi. However, construction efforts abruptly ceased following his removal as Chief Minister. This serves as a poignant example of the intricate interplay between regional leadership, development initiatives, and shifts in political dynamics.

I have vivid recollections of a particular public rally in Sui where an interesting paradox unfolded. Despite the common narrative of blaming Nawabs and Sardars for obstructing road and highway construction, it is worth noting that it was often during their tenures in power that Balochistan’s road network was established.

One distinct memory involves Sardar Sanaullah Zehri addressing a public gathering, a moment I covered in my capacity as a news producer. He passionately expressed his hope that, within our lifetime, we would witness well-constructed roads in Balochistan. He humorously lamented that even his expensive vehicles wore out quickly due to the poor road conditions. Notably, another Sardar countered accusations by stating that while these leaders were seen as obstacles to school openings and the establishment of cantonment areas and FC Qila, the successful enforcement of these establishments begged the question of why schools couldn’t receive the same attention. This paradox underscores the complex dynamics shaping development narratives in the region.

Having Quetta as my birthplace and having shared companionship with Baluch, Pathan, and Hazara friends, my six-year tenure as a news producer allowed me to extensively traverse every nook and cranny of Balochistan. During this time, I found a consistent theme emerging in various public gatherings, involving Governors, Chief Ministers, and Federal Ministers. Four distinct demands consistently resonated: the plea for water, roads, and schools, with a collective sentiment that beyond these necessities, the community would harness their own efforts to cultivate prosperity. I observed that Baloch, Pashtun, and Brahvi societies exhibit qualities of utmost purity, simplicity, industriousness, resilience, hospitality, and an intrinsic humane and benevolent nature.

Their generosity knows no bounds; when approached for assistance, they readily offer whatever they possess, be it from their homes or pockets, without hesitation. In times of trouble, their response isn’t a question of whether to help but a swift action to provide relief, expecting no recompense. Seeking refuge from them brings security without conditions. Even in the face of personal hunger, they willingly share the little they have to ensure you’re nourished. However, there exist certain boundaries they rightfully uphold. Reflecting on our actions toward these innocent, virtuous, and compassionate individuals reveals a sobering truth about the state of affairs.

In 1990, Dr. Mahbub ul Haq introduced a groundbreaking shift in development thinking with the publication of the inaugural Human Development Report. It introduced the Human Development Index (HDI), which moved beyond conventional economic measures to evaluate a nation’s progress by the well-being of its citizens. The HDI measures various dimensions of human development, encompassing factors like health, education, and living standards. Each year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), directed by the United Nations General Assembly, compiles an HDI ranking of countries based on these human development criteria.

During the period of 2021-2022, Pakistan’s standing on the Human Development Index (HDI) was 161st among 192 countries. This ranking positioned it lower in comparison to other South Asian nations. Notably, Bhutan secured the 127th position, Bangladesh the 129th, India the 132nd, and Nepal the 143rd, placing them in the medium human development category. Remarkably, despite facing challenges, Sri Lanka made significant progress, elevating its position by nine points to reach 73rd place on the index, thereby entering the high human development category.

Pakistan stands at the 161st position on the Human Development Index (HDI), yet the focus narrows on Balochistan’s distinct trajectory. Initially, the province boasted the second-highest per capita income, trailing only Sindh, as the century turned. However, today’s landscape paints a contrasting picture. Balochistan, despite being Pakistan’s largest province in terms of landmass, now holds the lowest population share and scores poorly on human development indicators. The province grapples with stark educational and living standard disparities. Equally, healthcare accessibility remains critically low for all its residents. UNDP’s latest report exposes the harsh reality that 71% of Balochistan’s populace dwells in multidimensional poverty, signifying a troubling 7 out of 10 families living in destitution.

These disparities are underscored in the National Human Development Report, which reveals that 31 out of 32 districts in Balochistan are among the country’s most underprivileged areas in terms of education, quality of life, and health access.

Per capita gross regional product (GRP) has ascended in all provinces except Balochistan, which since 1999–2000 has plummeted from second to last place among Pakistan’s provinces, witnessing a 7 percent decline in real per capita income. Punjab leads the education front, boasting the highest net enrolment ratio and literacy rate, while Balochistan ranks fourth.

While other provinces exhibit strides in human development, Balochistan’s progress stands as the most meager among them. Over the period from 2006–2007 to 2018–2019, it registers the least improvement in HDI value. Adjusting HDI for inequality reveals a shift in provincial rankings. Punjab leads the pack, trailed by Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with Balochistan trailing behind.

Given its dismal standing, one wonders about the significance of statements made by notable figures. For instance, the late Benazir Bhutto’s assertion that “Balochistan is the backbone of Pakistan, and it is our duty to ensure its progress and development.” Similarly, Nawab Akbar Bugti’s recognition that “Balochistan is rich in natural resources, and the Baloch people deserve to benefit from them,” and Imran Khan’s call to “address the grievances of the people of Balochistan and ensure their rightful representation in national development.” Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recognition of Balochistan’s potential as a source of regional prosperity echoes in stark contrast to the province’s current reality. Even former Army Chief General Bajwa’s affirmation that “Balochistan is the future of Pakistan, and it is our duty to fully assist its government and the people towards a peaceful and prosperous province” underscores the contrasting narrative against the backdrop of the province’s current challenges.

The narrative surrounding Balochistan often fixates on its abundant mineral, oil, and gas resources, overshadowing the dire living conditions of its people, among the most distressed globally. This pattern has persisted since Pakistan’s inception, with leaders vowing to utilize Balochistan’s wealth to elevate the province but often leading to resource misappropriation, leaving its inhabitants neglected.

It is crucial for our leadership to recognize that Balochistan’s genuine wealth isn’t its natural resources, but its people. The realization should dawn that true progress doesn’t entail siphoning off the province’s riches but hinges on enhancing the well-being of its residents. Genuine development encompasses more than extracting oil, gas, and minerals; it necessitates investments in education, healthcare, and social well-being, empowering every individual to unlock their potential and contribute to the nation’s advancement.”

The selection of Mr. ANWAR Kakar as the interim Prime Minister, orchestrated by the previous administration with the opposition’s unspoken support and establishment’s backing, is a remarkable decision. This ushers in an unparalleled opportunity for Balochistan, a province long overlooked. The anticipation is for this marginalized region to finally receive the attention it rightfully merits. This encompasses a strategic shift in allocating national resources, concentrating on policy formulation, infusing expert guidance, and making data-driven choices.

This juncture calls for a reinvigorated emphasis on advancing Balochistan’s agriculture, bolstering the horticultural sector, and establishing downstream industries to amplify the value of the province’s fruits and vegetables. Further attention is required for fostering industries, fostering small-scale businesses, ensuring mechanized mining with robust worker safety measures, and enhancing water resource management that includes rain and snowwater harvesting. A concentrated effort on providing electricity, bolstering gas transportation infrastructure, upgrading highway systems, ensuring clean drinking water access, fostering upscale urban centers, and streamlining government and civic services via online accessibility for all residents of the province is imperative.

Of paramount importance is the establishment of world-class education accessible throughout the province, forming the bedrock for cultivating a high-quality human resource. In an era where our neighboring nations are venturing into uncharted cosmic territories, the significance of human resource cannot be overstated. Neglecting the development of Balochistan’s human potential will impede progress and hinder the prosperity of its people.

The appointment of Mr. ANWAR Kakar stands as a rare lifetime opportunity for Balochistan. With him steering the course, there’s a glimmer of hope that this long-suffering and marginalized province will finally attract the rightful attention it deserves. The potential benefits entail a redirection of national resources, strategic policy formulation, the infusion of knowledge and expertise, aiming to pivot the province toward a more promising trajectory.

My extensive engagement within the Federal bureaucracy across Lahore and Islamabad, spanning multiple roles encompassing Information services, Income Tax administration, Foreign Affairs, and the power corridors, left me profoundly disheartened. The stark truth emerged that Balochistan’s presence was conspicuously absent from the Federation’s discourse, judicial considerations, and bureaucratic operations.

Throughout my experiences, an evident absence of political resolve was evident across successive administrations. This concerning reality underscored the struggle of this remarkable province and its extraordinary people to claim their rightful share in national resources. The potential of its hardworking, inherently robust, resilient, compassionate, and gracious inhabitants remained largely overlooked.

 In Balochistan, the intersection of limited education, entrenched poverty, and a prevailing sense of deprivation has provided fertile ground for external actors to exploit through fifth-generation warfare, fueling insurgency and undermining the government’s positive efforts. However, the presence of Mr. Kakar at the helm brings a ray of hope. His adept negotiation skills, eloquence, profound comprehension of provincial politics, and societal dynamics might lead him to pursue a politically viable negotiated resolution.

Internationally, it’s acknowledged that Balochistan’s nationalist movements are fragmented and feeble, with most Baloch favoring enhanced autonomy over outright independence. Given Mr. Kakar’s understanding of Balochistan’s people, he may opt for a political solution rather than resorting to force. Encouraging nationalist parties to participate in upcoming provincial and national elections on an equitable basis could be his strategy. This path may establish a legitimate and credible Baloch government, enabling local control restoration, violence reduction, and advocating for Balochistan at the federal level.

In closing, the designation of Mr. ANWAR Kakar as interim Prime Minister stands as a beacon of optimism for Balochistan, a province burdened by historical disregard and lack of progress. Armed with meticulous planning, all-encompassing policies, and resolute commitment, the province can transcend its past and evolve into a flourishing and dynamic segment of the nation. It is now imperative to rewrite Balochistan’s narrative, shifting it from neglect to acknowledgment, and harnessing the latent potential that lies within its borders.

By: Qamar Bashir

Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC



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