“If Kashmir Is The jugular Vein of Pakistan, then Balochistan is the Backbone of Pakistan.” Raja G Mujtaba

By S. M. Hali

The commencement of the rights of Baluchistan, which were formulated by the special committee appointed by the government under Senator Raza Rabbani in 2010, has hardly been commissioned yet. The Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, who visited Quetta last week and reviewed the parade on the induction of 5000 Balochi youth in Pakistan Army, made some tall claims regarding bringing the Balochis into the mainstream. Unfortunately, despite the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding “zero tolerance” for injustice and his going to the doorsteps of estranged Balochi leaders to woo them back into the fold cut little ice. The reason is obvious, if it has taken two years to commence the execution of the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Baluchistan, with nothing to show for, depicting the seriousness of the government. The estrangement of the Balochis is not a new phenomenon.  Baluchistan has been neglected and left in depravity and poverty ever since Independence. It is not only the largest province of Pakistan but also the richest in mineral resources and it can sustain itself on its own steam. However, the callousness of successive governments can be gauged from the fact that Sui Gas was discovered in 1954 and since then every major city in Pakistan was provided the facility of Sui gas connections but the people of Quetta had to wait till 1984 to get the first connection.

The people of Baluchistan have been accused of insurgency and the foreign hand has been blamed for fomenting trouble. However, it is a fact that it is the federal government that has neglected its downtrodden and impoverished brothers and sisters from Baluchistan; leaving them at the mercy of feudal lords and tribal leaders that things have come to such headway. Insurgency has reached such a level that various websites and weblogs demand the secession of Baluchistan. Pakistan’s detractors would hardly be expected to let go of such an opportunity to exploit the dissidents and fish in troubled waters.

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The current dispensation in Islamabad made a good beginning, when at the commencement of his tenure, the President asked for forgiveness from the Balochis. This should have been followed up with overtures to the various groups and allowing for compensations to atone for past negligence and abandon. Instead the matter was left to bureaucratic rigmarole and red tapism, which lost track of the good gestures. Even now the visit of the Prime Minister was opportunity lost since his words carried little weight beyond rhetoric.

Baluchistan has a total area of 347,190 km and its population, as per 98 census is 6.51 million. The population density is 19 persons per kilometer. It has 27 districts and a coastline of over 770 km. The province is resource starved and generates revenue of only Rs.1.6 billion just enough to pay the monthly salary of government officials. The province, therefore, is dependent on Federal Government's grant of Rs. 27 billion, and thus has a deficit of Rs.15.5 billion. In social sectors also, Baluchistan is much below the country average. Its literacy percentage is 26.6% as against national average of 47%. Only 20% have access to drinking water as against 86% of Pakistan. 47% of the population is living below the poverty line.

Under these bleak circumstances, it is only the Army and Navy, who have come forward to help Baluchistan. A military college was inaugurated earlier this year, while the Army Chief announced the establishment of an “education city”. 4,268 Baloch students are benefiting from Chamalang Beneficiary Education Program, and the Baluchistan Institute of Technical Education, managed by the Pakistan Army, has already trained 1,673 individuals; the Gawadar Institute of Technical Education would also start functioning soon; the Army plans to recruit 10,000 Baloch youths by 2012; in addition to the 5000 who passed out last week. The Navy has already established a state-of-the-art naval hospital at Ormara.

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It is the Federal Government that has to get its act together. The National Assembly Standing Committee (NASC) on Inter-Provincial Coordination on January 10, 2011, expressed dissatisfaction over the pace of implementation of the packages for Baluchistan, observing that a lot of work had been done on paper and nothing on the ground. The NASC was, however, informed that, out of 61 proposals in the package, 15 had been ‘fully implemented’, 12 were in the process of being implemented while 34 proposals were in the ‘middle stages’ of implementation. Definitely time is running out and Balochis must be brought back into the mainstream ASAP.

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