June issue 2009

By | Business | News & Politics | Published 11 years ago

As the insurgency in Balochistan gains momentum, the Baloch raise one question repeatedly: “What has Pakistan given us? Our rights, property and resources have all been confiscated by Pakistan.” Baloch leaders also point out the fact that the federal government always blamed the nawabs, especially the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, for the province’s backwardness. But three years after his death, still no development work has been undertaken in the area, they complain.

But is this true? Not entirely.

Balochistan as a province is arid, characterised by low, erratic and uncertain rainfall. It generates total floodwater of 3.25, 10.79 and 25.23 billion cubic metres during dry, average and wet years, respectively. Ground water extraction outweighs the recharge, particularly in basins supporting the greater chunk of the population. During the last three years, efforts have been made to address this problem, particularly after the 2008 elections. Projects are underway, not only to store floodwater, but also to enhance water-use efficiency.

Only recently, the Mirani dam has been completed while the development of its command area is in progress. The dam, which cost Rs 5.9 billion, has a live storage capacity of 0.152 million acre feet with a command area of 32,800 acres. Another dam is the Sabakzai dam, which is a multipurpose one. Its command area is also being developed by the present government through its own Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP). This dam, costing
Rs 1.58 billion, has a command area of 8,200 acres and will provide drinking water to about 15,000 people. Other medium-sized dams are also in the pipeline. They are: Suklegi storage dam (Rs 7 billion), Basol Dam, Gwadar (Rs 3.12 billion), Hingol Dam, Gwadar (Rs 1.6 billion), Naulang Dam, Jhal Magsi (Rs 2.6 billion), Pilar storage dam, Awaran (Rs 3.5 billion) and Winder storage dam and Lasbela (Rs 2.6 billion). These dams are accounted for in the federal PSDP 2009-10. Besides these, 32 delay action dams are also part of the federal PSDP, out of which 24 have been completed.

Keeping in view the importance of water for Balochistan, a package of 200 dams has been included in the federal PSDP. These dams have a budget of two billion rupees. In the first phase, the tendering of 20 dams has already started.

Construction, extension and improvement of the canal infrastructure in the province is also being given due attention. The Patfeeder canal is being extended at a cost of Rs 3.89 billion, out of which Rs 1.9 billion has been spent, and in the next year (2009-10), over one billion rupees will be spent on it. The Kirthar canal is near completion at a cost of Rs 1 billion. Kachhi canal, a mega project, will provide water to areas which receive less rainfall. Its command area lies in four districts (Bolan, Jhal Magsi, Dera Bugti and Nasirabad). The total cost of the project is Rs 31.2 billion. It has a length of 500kms, of which 200kms are in Balochistan.

Communication links, especially with reference to Gwadar, are being given top priority. Coastal highways as well as highways linking Gwadar to national and international road networks are under construction. Presently, 13 projects worth Rs 72 billion are under progress. By June 2008, Rs 35 billion had already been spent on these projects. During the current year, expected expenditure on these projects is Rs 6.7 billion. The provincial government is spending Rs 6 billion on the construction of the Surab-Basima-Nag-Panjgur-Hoshab Road. This amount will be provided under the federal PSDP 2009-10.

During the present financial year, Rs 42 billion was allocated by the federal government to Balochistan-specific projects. The federal government faced severe financial constraints implementing the PSDP. Prime Minister Gillani announced that the size of the PSDP would be slashed but Balochistan’s share would be kept intact.

The Gwadar Deep-Sea Port project’s phase-1 is almost complete and the port is now functional. Situated 620km away from Karachi, it has three multipurpose berths. One of its distinctive features is the 4.35km navigable channel.

Both the federal and provincial governments are planning to establish a rail link to the Central Asian Republics, in addition to a road link. International border-crossing projects such as Torkhum-Kabul-Pulekhumri-Mazar-i-Sharif-Heratan (with Uzbekistan) and Spin Boldak-Kandhar-Dilaram-Herat-Towarghondi (with Turkmenistan) are also being planned. Several projects worth billions of rupees are either in progress or are being planned to utilise the full potential of the Gwadar deep sea port. Some other important projects are: the Gwadar International Airport (Rs 7.5 billion), fish landing jetties and allied harbour facilities (Rs 1.3 billion), and Gwadar Business Plan (Rs 25 billion).

All these development projects have either already been completed or are in the pipeline. As mentioned earlier, the federal government has announced that, in spite of resource constraints, the budgeted funds will be released to all Balochistan development projects. Why is it then that the people of the province still declare that there is no development and that the federal government has usurped their resources?

The reason for this is not difficult to understand. The Baloch maintain that if the federal government is seen to be undertaking development work in Balochistan, it is doing so for its own ends. Baloch leaders belonging to nationalist parties point out that the biggest beneficiaries of Gwadar are the Punjabi and the Urdu-speaking communities settled in Karachi. Nationalist leader Khalid Lango openly declares, “We do not want a single road or dam built by the federal government as it increases our enslavement. Give back our resources and we will develop our land the way we want to and at the pace that we want. Give us what is ours.” Incidentally, Khalid Lango’s tribe is the largest contributor of men to the Balochistan Liberation Army.

Even government officials declare that although development work is being carried out in the province, the attitude of the federal government is condescending. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, senior government officials of Balochistan declare that, “it is important that development is done for the locals and not at the cost of the locals.”

It is also interesting to examine the political language adopted by the federal government when it comes to development projects. According to the nationalist leader Dr Ishaque Baloch, “The language of the federal government is very condescending. We are an equal part of the federation and, therefore, do not want charity. Our resources are being exploited and we are told that we should be happy with the crumbs. We have gold, coal and copper reserves which Pakistan is exploiting for its own ends and we can’t even get our boys employed there as labour. What kind of a federation is this?”

None of these arguments and demands are new to those who have followed Balochistan’s politics over the years. Unfortunately, the deafening silence and inaction resulting from the failure of Pakistan’s federal system is also not new. The question of what could happen next also remains an old one.