Balochistan is situated at an important geostrategic position in the region. It is positioned on the cultural, socio-economic, and geographical crossroads of Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and opposite to Strait of Hormuz. These potentials could make the province an industrial hub with a massive government and private investment in various sectors of the province. However, this potential has not been realized for a myriad of reasons. According to a rough estimation, around 21 million barrels of crude oil pass through Strait of Hormuz daily.
Balochistan shares a 900 km border with Iran and 1,200 km with Afghanistan, which opens access to these mineral-rich and strategically important areas. It also marks an entry point into the resource-rich landlocked provinces of Punjab and KP. Its geographical proximity to oil and gas deposits of CARs adds to its strategic importance.
The important strategic location places Balochistan at the crossroad of a potential intra- and inter-regional trade. Successive governments in Islamabad have been making all-out efforts to bring Balochistan on a par with other parts of the country in terms of development and economic stability as the strength of federation depends on equal level of progress in all federating units. The government is determined to ensure uplift of Baluchi people and provide them facilities in all areas particularly education and health, on a par with the rest of the country.
In order to facilitate maximum deprived students of Balochistan, both Punjab government and federal have increased the number of scholarships from 135 to 360 for the students of Balochistan pursuing higher education. The federal government would provide maximum funds for them in the education sector. The federal government officials also called upon the youth of Balochistan and the entire country to make their mark in the field of education and bring laurels to the country.
The question then arises that despite possessing precious resources, why Balochistan is still underdeveloped. Below, some broad-brush explanations are attempted. One of the major complaints of the people of Balochistan is that although the province is resource-rich, the benefits of abundant resources have not accrued to the province’s residents, at least not to an average Baloch.
The power structure in Balochistan is very complex, which has hindered socio-economic development in the province. One of the reasons for lower socio-economic development in Balochistan is a strong tribal hierarchy. In Balochistan, a vibrant middle class is missing. Instead, Balochistan is divided between a tiny but extremely powerful class of tribal chieftains and the remaining lower class, and a small group of public sector employees. The absence of middle class, which can have an assertive politics to further its social and economic interest, is one of the main reasons for polarization. In other words, one may argue that it is the power nexus of the state of Pakistan and local elites and elected representatives that maneuver the governance in the province in such an exploitative way that only upholds and nurtures their political and economic interest at the very cost of common mass.
There is mistrust between the people of Balochistan and political class. The security situation or the perceived threat of terrorism is hindering private investment in Balochistan. The real estate and construction sectors are flourishing but not the other productive/employment-generating sectors. Investment in real estate is predominantly by wealthy Afghan immigrants. Despite the presence of some quality higher education institutions, the overall quality of education is declining.
Improve infrastructure in far-flung areas to facilitate access for fruits, agricultural produce, cattle, sheep, and goats to the market. Rationalize water pricing to improve the water scarcity in Quetta and the rest of Balochistan. Remove unnecessary security checkpoints to facilitate the transport of traded goods to other cities and provinces. Set up storage facilities and food processing units in public-private ownership mode. Give a fair share to the province in mineral extraction and production. Provide land and utilities at attractive rates so that private investment is encouraged.
There is, thus, a need to address and remove their misgivings. Balochistan is too important and large a province to be left hanging in the status quo. With the right policies and planning, and assimilating the residents of Balochistan into the mainstream, the province can play a substantial role in uplifting Pakistan’s economy. It has already played a huge part in Pakistan’s development by providing natural gas to the whole of Pakistan.
The proactive and constructive participation of nationalist parties such as PKMAP, Balochistan National Party (BNP) and BNP-M (Mengal) group in provincial elections and their participation in Balochistan’s administration can confer sufficient legitimacy on provincial government. A strong and credible Baloch government can strengthen local control over the province, help reduce violence, and advocate for Balochistan on the federal level. Politicians and all stakeholders must come forward and join hands and set aside their political difference in order to uplift the country.
The writer is an Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.