Balochistan is witnessing a gruesome wave of terrorism. In this year alone, 17 attacks have been carried out by different Baloch groups taking 51 lives. In March so far, there have been three terrorist attacks in Sibbi. Before pointing fingers at hostile foreign elements, it is important to dissect the roots of the insurgency. This is not to suggest that there are no foreign hands meddling in Balochistan but to frame the conflict in a purely ethno-separatist lens might be myopic and reductionist.
The relationship of the state with Balochistan, the country’s largest province has been one of neglect and exploitation. Over the years, this has bred a sense of deprivation and an insurgency that is now turning into suicide terrorism.
Balochistan fares the worst in all human development indicators when compared with rest of the provinces. More than 80% of the population living in rural areas is below the poverty line. In his book, A Cry for Justice: Empirical Insights from Balochistan, Kaiser Bengali gas is right to assert that Balochistan has been used as a colony by the center where resource extraction has resulted in neglect and exploitation. This is evident by the fact that natural gas was discovered in 1952 and by 1955 gas was being supplied to the rest of the country. Yet Balochistan remained deprived of gas for three decades.
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Pakistan recently formulated its first-ever national security policy
The document acknowledges that socio-economic inequalities between regions have been used to generate a narrative of grievance based on under-development in their regions. Public and official acknowledgment by the state in a policy document is a welcome step.
However, the NSP doesn’t come up with any concrete solutions and instead proposes the tried and tested development packages formula to address the inequalities. An analysis of the development package reveals that such schemes have not worked in the past. In 2007, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) announced the Aaghaz e Huqooq e Balochistan development package where millions were doled out in political, administrative, and economic initiatives. In 2017, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) granted the Equalization Package 10-year development package.
None of these packages could produce the desired result
The current government is following a similar path. In 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the South Balochistan development package worth Rs601 billion with 199 projects in nine districts. If history is any guide, this package too would fail to provide any dividends for the people of Balochistan.
The reason is that the development package formula is a top-down approach colonial approach meant to coopt and appease local elites for the state’s short-term strategic objectives. It doesn’t take into account the fact political participation and community empowerment is necessary to ensure that funds are utilized for the right purpose. The end result is that millions of rupees in the name of funds vanish in the pockets of elites with not a single penny spent on the welfare of the people.
Political participation and empowerment are missing from policy planning and implementation. The voice of the Baloch is absent from the whole process. It is the interests of the state which guide the development agenda.
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For development to actually take place, it is important that the local population should be allowed to play a direct role in decision-making and planning processes. That will only be possible when the 18th Amendment is implemented in its spirit and free and fair provincial and local bodies elections are held in the province. This will ensure that parties and individuals sincere with the people are elected. Unfortunately, these are the ones who have been at loggerheads with the state and have left the mainstream politics.
The capacity of local institutions to deliver is a point of concern
For that, capacity building of local institutions and officials should be conducted in specific districts as a pilot. Priority should be given to health, education and rural development since spending millions on infrastructure has not produced any dividends in the past.
A case in point is the Balochistan Rural Development and Community Empowerment (BRACE) Program. Funded by the European Union and implemented by Rural Support Network Program, BRACE aims to strengthen the capacities of local authorities and empower citizens and communities to implement community-driven socio-economic development interventions. It includes components on capacity building for government officials, training of local bodies, technical & vocational skills training and micro health insurance.
A similar program should be launched in the other districts. Education should be included in the intervention by providing the infrastructure and then building capacities of staff and administration. Investing in education is the safest way to secure Balochistan’s security since the sense of deprivation in the youth leads them to join separatist militant outfits. In the latest round of the insurgency, it is the middle class youth who is at the forefront of insurgents groups like the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA).
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Balochistan needs a long-term political and economic policy that is independent of the interests of the state. This will begin with the acknowledgment from the state for years of neglect. This can help mitigate the pervasive sense of deprivation and persuade the nationalist leaders to come back to electoral politics since they are sincere with the people. It is high time that the state learns from its mistakes. Otherwise, it might have to pay a heavy price for its negligence.