Balochistan: the reality – I


Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Balochistan with a geographical spread of approximately 347,641 square kilometers (134,000 square miles) is located in western Pakistan, bordered by Iran on the west, Afghanistan on the northwest and commanding nearly 750 miles of coastline of the Arabian Sea to its south. It extends nearly to the northern shores of the strategically important Straits of Hormuz.

Its unexplored resources of gold, copper, limestone, fluorite, iron ore and oil are considered the largest in the region. Gold deposits exceed $ 12 billion and proven iron ore deposits exceed 23 million tons. As far as oil is concerned, the Amoco survey in the past had shown multi-million barrel deposits apart from the huge gas reserves.

This makes it not only the largest province of Pakistan as it covers 43 percent of the total area but also materially the richest, but in reality the poorest with the lowest per capita income. As it accounts for only 6 percent of the population, all this translates into the fact that if any other province had an even lower per capita income than Balochistan, it would yet be considerably richer than it. Balochistan is in fact a lot poorer than the statistics show.

The well-fed and well-groomed financial and political spin doctors of the establishment try to fudge figures and facts to present a rosy picture of a truly bleak and depressingly miserable situation. Figures never sate hunger, nor do they bring about progress. The only thing that is achieved is a false sense of complacency and smugness in the rulers, whose belief in their absurd policies are reinforced, goading them onto the path of self-destructive policies.

According the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC): “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 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 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 NWFP, and 48 percent in Balochistan.” These irrefutable figures speak for themselves and present the reality in Balochistan that successive governments have tried to gloss over and hide with a plethora of fudged figures.

In another study by SPDC, the erroneous belief of apparent development and progress that the showcased projects of the government in the past showed is exposed. I will take the liberty to call it the ‘Hub Chowki Syndrome’ as the study reveals some facts about the Hub Chowki tax-free industrial area set up in 1978. The present policies of mega projects also rest on these patently false assumptions that Hub Chowkis are beneficial for the people.

An analysis in 1980 showed that, “All the enterprises set up in Hub Chowki were owned by investors from Karachi and Lahore and over 90 per cent of employees and workers in these commuted from Karachi on a daily basis. The projects were about 40 per cent more capital-intensive than in the rest of the country and the about 75 per cent of the capital invested per unit of labour was 3.5 times the then national average.

No part of the machinery installed at the site was manufactured in Balochistan or in Pakistan. Less than 10 per cent of the raw materials used in the industries were sourced from Balochistan and 80 per cent of investment did not utilize any raw material or inputs produced, manufactured or extracted from the province. About 65 per cent of the raw materials were sourced from abroad and 55 per cent of investment was entirely dependent on imported raw materials. The enterprises marketed only about three per cent of the products in Balochistan and less than one per cent was exported.”

Questioning the sanity of the entire exercise, the study says “Had the industries in question been based on raw materials or minerals produced or extracted from Balochistan and been more labour-intensive and provided employment to local labour, Hub Chowki could have acted as a catalyst for the development of the rest of the province. Instead, the alien capital-intensive, import-dependent industrial structure that emerged was devoid of the necessary backward or forward linkages with the rest of the provincial or even the national economy.”

It emerges that the government and its advisors are quite blind to the realities and incapable of learning from their past self-created disasters because on February 1st, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) chaired by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz formally approved the handover of the administrative control of Gwadar Deep Sea Port to the Port of Singapore (PoS) International for 40 years besides massive tax exemptions and other facilities.

An adviser to the Finance Ministry briefing reporters said the Gwadar Policy Board would handover the control of the port to the PoS from January 23, 2007, which will invest $ 550 million for its development. Under the agreement, PoS would be exempted from corporate income tax for 20 years and to run the port and set up a free trade industrial zone, the company was also exempted from import duty for 40 years for material, equipment, machinery, ships and oil bunkers. Local and provincial taxes have also been waived for 20 years and in this regard the Balochistan government had given its approval.

One is forced to wonder how much say the provincial government had in granting these exemptions or in any aspect of this or other federally initiated deals and projects except to the extent that they too would have a minor share in the kickbacks and commissions. They are only concerned with the continuation of their perks and privileges; the rights of the people and province can remain on hold forever.

This is a repetition of the old mistakes on a larger scale. ‘The Hub Chowki Syndrome’ seems to malignantly afflict our policy makers. But then they are not naive either; they have plans to militarize the project and also to induct outsiders as well. This they had not done to promote Hub Chowki because at that time things were calmer and quieter. In spite of their attempt to be too clever by half, the result will be disastrously worse because there is a lot more conscious resistance by the Baloch people to the blatant and unjustified encroachment on their rights and the influx of non-locals.

There certainly is a method and a motive behind this madness, because madness it is to deprive a people of their rights and to suppress them. A set of premeditated objectives are in motion in the calculated implementation of policies that have been relentlessly pursued since independence. The overriding objective is to destroy the strong sense of identity that is etched into the psyche of the Baloch due to their fiercely independent and equal status in the Baloch social system. Once this sense is erased, it becomes easy to subdue people.

This objective is pursued through a two-pronged approach of military and economic measures; military might is used to break the will to resist the ever increasing encroachment on their historical, political, social and economic rights and a premeditated and deliberate policy of economic deprivation is implemented to dehumanize and degrade the general population to the extent where they remain busy all their lives eking out a livelihood for themselves, oblivious to the injustices.

What progress can be made or can be expected in this hapless province if a deliberate policy of deprivation backed by armed might continues to be implemented? The unending injustices have forced the people to register protests but instead of heeding these, the rulers respond with more repression and injustices. There naturally will be more protests and expression of indignation at the ever increasing injustices.

If someone thinks I am ranting and raving and all this is a figment of my imagination, he would do well to remember that Baloch leaders and people have been bombed, hanged, incarcerated and hounded by the state since independence. Also that even Jam Yousaf, the handpicked chief minister with a long family tradition of kowtowing to the powers that be, was reduced to pleading injustice against Balochistan because the discretionary funds of the Punjab chief minister were more than the total allocation for the Public Sector Development Programme of Balochistan.

(to be concluded)

This article was first published in The Post on 06 Feboury, 2007

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 mmatalpur@gmail.com

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