Balochistan: the reality – II


Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Injustices by the state against people targeted for absolute domination are committed both subtly and blatantly. Military operations are the overt aspect while the policies of pernicious economic deprivation, which are equally or even more devastating and debilitating, are the subtler aspect. Both forms of oppression have been perpetually committed against the people of Balochistan by the state since 1948. They have been systemically and shrewdly employed with an efficiency and perseverance unheard of in other governmental activities. This anti-people policy has resulted in making Balochistan the poorest province and its people the neediest and the most deprived in the region.

The insidious economic deprivation policies have been surreptitiously implemented and intimately complemented by the military operations. These over time have intensified and enlarged in scale and magnitude, proving that the resistance to injustices has increased and not decreased as a result of the surreptitious or blatant state violence.

These aggressions have dual aspects, the passive and the active. The word passive doesn’t denote that it is either less effective or less pernicious than the active form. The aim of passive aggression is to intimidate the population without overt aggression as that attracts more attention and consequently more condemnation.

The state has been in a situation of perpetual war against the people of Balochistan, practicing a pernicious but passive form of military aggression. It uses a threatening military presence in the form of cantonments and check-posts, curtailment of access to certain areas, cordoning off of certain areas, enforced disappearances, displacing people from their homes with aggressive actions in the close vicinity and above all creating an overall atmosphere of an aggressively antagonistic attitude towards the people to make them feel under constant threat of violence, hoping that this alone will deter them from demanding their rights.

Time and again the state has had to resort to overt military actions like the one going on because the passive one fails to keep the rights-conscious people submissive and compliant. The continued resistance by the Baloch in spite of brutal crackdowns and elimination of leaders and people is an indicator of their advanced and increased consciousness about their inalienable and immutable rights over their destiny and resources.

The passive economic aggression consists of considered and calculated policies aimed at economic deprivation of the entire populace. This includes hijacking rich resources for federal purposes, increasing the debt liability to keep it in a debt trap, allocating meagre development funds, deficit budgets, selective development, discouraging local industries, keeping the farmers, fisherman and artisans deprived of resources.

This is what Syed Fazl-e-Haider wrote before the 2006-2007 Balochistan budget. “The province’s financial constraints have thrown it in the vicious cycle of debt and interest payments. The province had obtained Rs 19 billion in loans in the 1990s and has paid Rs 39 billion as interest, and it still needs Rs 14 billion more to service its debts. It has, however, failed to recover its dues from the federal government and Sindh.

For the past three years, the debt burden of the province is rising for shortage of funds, which has increased its debt servicing costs. The previous three budgets were deficit budgets. A Rs 34.835 billion Balochistan budget for 2003-04 recorded a deficit of Rs 2.47 billion that was seven percent of the total outlay.

While the provincial budget 2004-05 had a deficit of Rs 9.5 billion, the budget 2005-06 posted a deficit of Rs 13.24 billion. Resource constraints forced the Balochistan government to sign an agreement with the SBP to convert its more than Rs 10 billion overdraft into a block loan. It also borrowed from the Asian Development Bank to repay federal loans.”

The Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) recently conducted a study on ‘Provincial Accounts of Pakistan: Methodology and Estimates 1973-2000’. According to this study, during the 28 years period, Punjab’s per capita GDP showed a rise of 2.4 percent a year, followed closely by NWFP at 2.2 percent. But Balochistan’s per capita recorded an insignificant growth of 0.2 percent against Sindh’s per capita growth of 1.7 percent. The study has found a gradual pauperization of the two southern provinces —- Sindh and Balochistan -— and a corresponding rise in prosperity in the two northern provinces -— Punjab and NWFP.

Punjab’s share in the GDP has increased by two percent to 54.7 percent. NWFP has by and large maintained its share between 11.4 and 11.7 percent, but the two southern provinces — Sindh and Balochistan — showed a decline by about one percent each. Sindh’s share in GDP dropped to 30.2 percent from 31 percent and that of Balochistan to 3.7 percent from 4.5 percent.

The chronic deficits combined with ever increasing burden of debt servicing along with other methods employed in the targeted provinces has resulted in extreme deprivation and increased destitution. The GDP share does not fall of free volition nor does pauperization of a province occur accidentally. It is a result of conscious and considered policy aimed at reducing them to a state of utter dependence for handouts and favours from the central government. This policy combined with handpicked Governors and an obsequious provincial government has trapped the people in a state of inescapable impoverishment, the shackles of which can only be broken when people get back their rights.

Bondage is also achieved by keeping literacy rates and consequently job opportunities at the minimum. A 2004 report gave the following figures of literacy rates: Islamabad Capital Territory 82 percent, Punjab 56.14 percent, Sindh 51.48 percent, NWFP 46.17 percent and Balochistan 37.18 percent. With an overall 63 percent and 77 percent female illiteracy and with only 7 percent literacy for rural women, this exposes the claims of equal treatment and shows the precious little spent on people there.

A respected analyst and former chief secretary of Balochistan; Syed Shahid Hussain has this to say regarding the consequences of these policies: “Balochistan is the poorest province in the country and Musakhel (Balochistan) the poorest district. Of the 100 districts in the country, 34 of them are in Punjab, 26 in Balochistan, 16 in Sindh and 24 in NWFP. In Punjab, Rajanpur happens to be its poorest district, Badin is the highest on the deprivation index out of 16 districts of Sindh, and Kohistan is highest on the deprivation index in NWFP.

Out of 34 districts of Punjab, 10, or less than one-third, fall in the high deprivation category. Karachi is the least deprived district of Pakistan, while Lahore is the least deprived district of Punjab and ranks second after Karachi on the national level. Of the 24 districts of NWFP, Peshawar is the least deprived whereas Quetta is the least deprived district of Balochistan.

Of the 10 least poor districts in Pakistan, seven are in Punjab and the remaining three are equally distributed among the remaining three provinces. Punjab seems to have done better than the other three provinces of Pakistan with 83 per cent of its population being the least poor. This raises questions of equity and fairness in a federation, and its sustainability.

According to the distribution of provincial population by the deprivation category, it is as high as 88 percent for Balochistan, 51 percent for NWFP, 31 percent for Sindh and only 25 percent for Punjab. It is the distribution by rural and urban areas that is most striking. Contrary to the pattern, Balochistan has 100 percent high deprivation rates for urban areas and 89 percent for rural areas. Sindh has 23 percent for urban areas and 49 percent for the rural areas. The NWFP has 60 percent for urban areas and 25 percent for rural areas. Punjab has 30 percent for rural areas and 26 percent for urban areas. Disparity between rural and urban areas in Punjab is the minimum. The deprivation index takes into account the following four factors: education, housing quality and congestion, residential housing services and employment.”

This ever increasing impoverishment and disparity is not in consequence of the proverbial corruption, ineptitude and inefficiency which afflicts the establishment and is its hallmark. It is the outcome of a considered, calculated and well executed policy aimed at keeping a region and its people in a quagmire of destitution and desolation.

There certainly are islands of opulence in the vast sea of destitution and despondency. Affluence in this godforsaken province is limited to those who support the depredations and actively help in depriving the Baloch of their rights and resources.

The rulers refuse to learn and persevere with the policies which have created a deep divide between the provinces and within the provinces, adding to the deep and pervasive sense of alienation and despondency in affected provinces and pushing the antagonisms to the point of open conflict.

(to be concluded)

This article was first published in The Post on 13 February, 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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