Analysis: Balochistan – Ground Zero

By Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Figures prove that Balochistan has perpetually suffered from neglect and wilful attempts to keep it in a state of deprivation. Blaming Sardars for obstructing development cuts no ice because the areas under the government’s writ haven’t prospered either

Balochistan is virtually ‘Ground Zero’ because the political, social, economic and military policies there since partition have created an effect more akin to devastation by nuclear bombs and presents a picture of utter desolation and desperation, whereby the people have lost hope and resorted to use of means other than political. The ever-simmering insurgency is the direct consequence of the level of economic deprivation and the oppressive conditions obtaining today in Balochistan. Economic exploitation, unbridled use of force in frequent military operations and the ever-increasing number of missing persons have resulted in unparalleled misery for the people.

A word of caution for this piece: loads of data tend to obscure human suffering. Engrossed with figures, readers lose track of the primary object. To avoid this pitfall, it is essential to keep one’s blessings and others’ deprivation in perspective all the time. To present the grim reality of economic deprivation and poverty, I quote credible experts and reports. Syed Fazl-e-Haider, a respected developmental analyst, says, “Poverty is a multi-dimensional concept rather than simple income (consumption) deprivation. Any single measure of poverty, such as head-count ratio based on specific ‘poverty line’ does not fully capture all its dimensions and does not reflect the real causes of wider human sufferings. ‘Poverty of opportunity’ index, a composite of deprivation in three vital dimensions — health, education and income — is quite useful in this regard. In case of Balochistan, any single measure indicates that it is the poorest province.”

Further highlighting the neglect he says, “Balochistan remains almost voiceless, having no say in the decision-making process at the centre. Over 50 percent of its population subsists below the poverty line. Income-based inequities in human development need to be addressed. During fiscal year (FY) 2000-2001, only 9.2 percent of the total Khushhal Pakistan programme budget had been allocated to the province compared to 16.2 percent for the NWFP, 19.7 percent for Sindh, and 48.9 percent for Punjab. During the first year of the programme, utilisation as a percentage of the budgeted amount was the lowest for the province at 2.8 percent compared to 7.7 percent in NWFP, 8.2 percent in Sindh, and 19 percent in Punjab.

“In the FY 2004, the federal contribution to the provincial development programmes was 56 percent for NWFP, 28 percent for Punjab, 19 percent for Sindh and only eight percent for Balochistan. The share allocated in foreign project assistance (FPA) to Punjab was 53 percent, NWFP 29 percent, Sindh 12 percent and again only six percent for Balochistan.”

The table of ‘Districts Showing Decline in Index of Multiple Deprivation of More than 10 Points’ in Research Report No.72 by Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) for comparing1998 to 2005 tells that there was not a single district from Balochistan showing decline while there were three from Punjab, five from Sindh and seven from the NWFP.

Moreover, in the table ‘The Ten Highest Deprived Districts of Pakistan’, nine were from Balochistan and it emerges as the most deprived province with over 91 percent of population residing in high-deprived districts during 2005. It shows that in 1998 the percentage of population living in a high degree of deprivation was 25 percent in Punjab, 23 percent in urban Sindh, 49 percent in rural Sindh, 51 percent in NWFP, and 88 percent in Balochistan. In 2005, the figures were: Punjab 28, Sindh 35, NWFP 35 and Balochistan 91, showing that Balochistan is in a consistent nose-dive. The report adds, per annum declining rate of deprivation is the lowest in Balochistan; it has the weakest long-term growth performance. From 1972-73 to 2004-05, the economy expanded 2.7 times in Balochistan, 3.6 times in NWFP and Sindh, and 4.0 times in Punjab. The growth divergence has widened historic income differences and Balochistan’s per capita income level of $400 in 2004 was only two-thirds of Pakistan’s national level. Perhaps, with the sole exception of the area in and around Quetta, social deprivation is widespread in all districts of Balochistan. As expected, in terms of level of deprivation during 2005, Punjab possesses the lowest, while Balochistan has the highest magnitude of Index of Multiple Deprivation. A horrific picture emerges if one surveys the maternal mortality rate, which is 650 per 100,000 births in Balochistan while it is 281in Karachi. This is double the national average. Infant mortality in Balochistan is 158 deaths per 1,000 live births. Even Democratic Republic of Congo’s average of 126 is lower while Pakistan’s national average of 70 is less than half.

Similarly, Balochistan accounted for seven out of the nine districts with the lowest full immunisation rate, including the four districts with the worst record. Balochistan’s performance would look even worse without the exclusion of Dera Bugti and Kohlu in the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) sample due to security reasons. Only 20 percent of its people have an access to safe drinking water compared to 86 percent in the rest of Pakistan. Village electrification is only 25 percent compared to 75 percent in the rest of the country. The education sector figures are depressing too. Access to education is also far below the ratio of other provinces. Over three-fourths of women and two-thirds of the population above ten are illiterate. The conditions in the insurgency-affected Marri-Bugti areas and among the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are much worse. With regard to net primary enrolment, 11 out of the 16 districts, including the four districts with the worst record, in 2004-05 belonged to Balochistan. These figures prove that Balochistan has perpetually suffered from neglect and wilful attempts to keep it in a state of deprivation. Blaming Sardars for obstructing development cuts no ice because the areas under the government’s writ haven’t prospered either. Take the example of Bugti area. Though gas was discovered in Sui in 1951, meets approximately 45 percent of Pakistan’s total needs and is worth Rs 85 billion annually, yet what Dera Bugti receives in return for the wealth it generates is evident from the UNDP Human Development Report 2003, which ranked Dera Bugti last among the 91 districts on the Human Development Index.

Matters haven’t improved with the emergence of the democratic set-up. There has been, however, a glut of promises and packages, which cannot and have not healed the wounds caused by decades of brutality and neglect. The missing are still missing, even those who went missing recently like Murad Khan Marri, picked up in Hub, and Abdul Rahim Qalandarani Marri from Quetta.

Balochistan is in fact a lot poorer than the statistics show. Little wonder, then, that there is intense and sustained resentment and bitterness which simply refuses to die down in the face of the make-shift and half-baked palliative measures that are announced now and then to defuse the prevailing insurgency and the increasing calls for independence.

The problem is not just an economic one but in fact essentially a political one, which cannot be resolved either by force or by mega-projects. It should be understood that the nationalists do not just demand their rights over resources but, more importantly, demand the absolute right to decide their fate regarding their political and economic matters.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

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