The state desperately wants to change the prevailing cultural and historical Baloch ethos of tolerance and secularism in Balochistan through religious organisations
Balochistan, already ravaged by the establishment’s dirty war, political repression and economic deprivation, has suffered a devastating blow from an eight-magnitude earthquake. Mashkail town was hit the hardest as 80 percent of it was flattened. Nearly 40,000 people are affected; locals say 80 are dead and hundreds wounded while officials say 12 dead and 25 injured. With already barely existing infrastructure destroyed, people left at the mercy of the elements protested against totally inadequate relief by burning tyres on Friday. Mashkail’s remoteness is not solely to blame for the near absence of facilities and relief; most of Balochistan, thanks to systematic deprivation, discrimination and dispossession, survives in the most destitute category. Balochistan has always suffered immeasurably and the grim picture becomes grimmer when natural disasters strike, which exacerbates alienation and discontent.
The reason for lack of facilities and the extent of deprivation become apparent from what Dr Kaiser Bengali said few years back, “An overview of the development scene in Balochistan is discomforting and the extent of relative deprivation in the province is appalling. Eighteen out of the 20 most infrastructure-deprived districts in Pakistan are in Balochistan. The percentage of districts that are classified as high deprivation stands as follows: 29 percent in Punjab, 50 percent in Sindh, 62 percent in the NWFP, and 92 percent in Balochistan. If Quetta and Ziarat are excluded, all of Balochistan falls into the high deprivation category. And Quetta’s ranking would fall if the cantonment is excluded from the analysis. The percentage of population living in a high degree of deprivation stands at 25 percent in Punjab, 23 percent in urban Sindh, 49 percent in rural Sindh, 51 percent in the NWFP, and 88 percent in Balochistan. Measured in terms of poverty, the percentage of population living below the poverty line stands at 26 percent in Punjab, 38 percent in rural Sindh, 27 percent in urban Sindh, 29 percent in the NWFP, and 48 percent in Balochistan.” The UNDP Human Development Report 2003 ranked Dera Bugti at 0.285, last among the 91 districts listed on the Human Development Index while Jhelum was at top with 0.703; among the top 31 districts only three belonged to Balochistan.
Because of the confrontation between the nationalists and the government, the poverty level in Balochistan has risen considerably since Bengali wrote and the UNDP surveyed. A recent Poverty Survey by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) showed that people living below the poverty line in Balochistan exceed 60 percent, with 35 percent falling below the severe poverty line. Balochistan has unenviable levels of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, infant and maternal mortality rates. A truly horrific picture emerges if one surveys the maternal mortality rate, which is 650 per 100,000 births in Balochistan while in Karachi it is 281. Balochistan’s infant mortality of 158 deaths per 1,000 live births is higher than the Democratic Republic of Congo’s average of 126; Pakistan’s average is 70.
Protest by the Mashkail survivors is not at all surprising as disasters are habitually and wilfully mismanaged. Flash floods caused by heavy rains in August 2003 affected 420,337 people in 16 districts, caused 46 deaths, destroyed 29,045 houses, 19,454 heads of cattle were lost and 420,369 acres of crops destroyed. Yet the provincial relief commissionerate distributed only Rs 12 million, 2,780 tents, 975 blankets, 100 edibles packets, 140 medicine cartons, and the Centre doled out only 990 tents, 5,000 blankets and six truckloads of food in a shamefully inadequate response to a major disaster.
The June 2007 Cyclone Yemyin battered Balochistan’s coastal areas and consequent flooding affected 1.5 million people. The ill-designed Mirani Dam also overflowed and triggered severe flooding. To add to people’s woes, after initial permission, the international relief organisations were suddenly stopped by the government on the flimsy excuse of security concerns. Even relief operations being carried out by the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) and other nationalist organisations were stopped and their camps forcibly disbanded. Cyclone Phet in June 2010 wreaked havoc in Gwadar, Pasni, and other coastal towns. Hundreds of fishing boats went missing, thousands were displaced, innumerable properties damaged and some 19,303 families were affected. Because nothing was done, the Gwadar Disaster Response Forum (GDRF), a conglomeration of local NGOs, organised self-help. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that in spite of a UN warning of an impending cyclone, no measures were taken.
On October 29, 2008, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake killed 250 persons and injured 400; Ziarat was the worst affected. Aid poured in, but like in the devastating October 2005 earthquake, the money and goods went into the deep pockets of officials and politicians. Little wonder, during the 2010 floods, Britain promised aid with the condition that NGOs would utilise it for the flood victims’ rehabilitation. Irked by the lost opportunity, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had alleged that 80 percent of aid would come through NGOs and half of it would be siphoned off by the NGOs for their personal expenses.
Though the army and Frontier Corps (FC) are claiming providing relief to people in Mashkail, all reports indicate an extremely inadequate response. Moreover, the Jamaat-ud-Daawa is doing relief work there, which exposes Pakistan’s double standards as relief work by secular, nationalist BSO and other Baloch organisations is blocked while religious organisations are accorded a free hand. The state desperately wants to change the prevailing cultural and historical Baloch ethos of tolerance and secularism in Balochistan through religious organisations. This is a particularly worrying development because Pakistan wants religious organisations as its back up in the conflict between the nationalists and the establishment and its supported ‘death squads’. Army helicopters are being used to ferry the wounded and relief goods, but what is noteworthy is that during the 2010 floods the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government paid Rs 20 million to the military authorities as charges for the Pakistan army helicopters used in the rescue operations; it also paid for the eight US Chinook helicopters used for the same purpose. Here even rescue and relief has to be paid for. One has to be thankful that breathing, sight and hearing are still for free here.
On Friday, the FC supported by Qudoos Bizenjo’s death squad killed Ali Jan Baloch, a member of the Baloch National Movement’s Central Committee, and abducted Elahi Bux, Hasam, Zareef, and Shakir in Jaho, Awaran district. Abductions and killings continue with increasingly vicious intensity and make the already grim situation in Balochistan progressively grimmer.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org