Taking Balochistan For Granted Is A Recipe To National Disunity

Taking Balochistan For Granted Is A Recipe To National Disunity
A lesson needs to be learned from the past blunders that taking Balochistan for granted is not only a recipe for national disunity but also a threat to the security and stability of the province, writes Ishaq Nasar.

“Balochistan is of utmost importance: while it may contain only a small minority of Pakistan’s population, without it there is no Pakistan,” wrote renowned British journalist and author of groundbreaking book Prisoners of Geography, Tim Marshall. Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of territory and the smallest in terms of population. The province expands over 347,190 km area which encompasses 44 percent of the total landmass of Pakistan. The Population Census of 2017 says that the population of Balochistan stands at 12.34 million, which is less than 6 pc of the total population of the country.

Enough has been said and written about Balochistan’s geostrategic importance and lucrative mineral wealth. This piece aims at exploring the issue of underrepresentation of the province in key decision-making institutions.

Kaiser Bengali, an eminent political economist, aptly points out that the political infrastructure of Balochistan is ‘vulnerable’ enough to precipitate a shock from the Center. The province has been overwhelmingly dominated by regional ethnic-nationalist parties, whereas mainstream national parties only maintain a token presence. This often results in a nominal representation of the province at the national level.

In a democratic (majoritarian) set up, minority interests are always safeguarded to maintain equilibrium between the center and its federating units. In Pakistan, however, the subsequent governments at the center have never bothered to understand this basic principle of majoritarian rule.

The number of representatives in the National Assembly from Balochistan is too small (17/342) to matter. Therefore, it is always hard for them to make their voices heard in the parliament, which is predominantly occupied by the representatives of other provinces.

This token representation of the province in the national legislature has created a sense of deep alienation among the people of Balochistan. They perceive that their lack of numerical strength and exclusion from effective decision-making power leave the most pressing issues of the province unresolved. For instance, in the current federal cabinet, not even a single member has been inducted from Balochistan.

Balochistan is being deprived of its due representation in the parliament because of the ‘abstract principle’ of delimitation of constituencies on the basis of head-count rather than area.

Some constituencies of Balochistan encapsulate five districts. NA-258 consists of Loralia, Musa Khel, Ziarat, Dukki, and Harnai & NA-259 encompasses Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Barkan, Sebi, and Lehri. Only the area of Kharan constituency (NA-268) is equal to 80 percent area of KP province.

A single representative is being elected from this colossal constituency. Most constituencies of Balochistan are unnecessarily vast and it becomes a cumbersome task for the candidates to cover their constituencies during election campaigns. Candidates also prefer to campaign only in the areas adjacent to the city while leaving peripheral areas untraveled due to scarcity of time and resources.

Another effect of large constituencies is that it prevents MNAs and MPAs from working on development in their respective constituencies. Development funds issued to every MNA and MPA from PSDP aim at uplifting their constituency by initiating various projects like the establishment of a college, university, or technical institute, etc. They, however, find it grinding to ensure even development in their constituencies because of the sparse population spread over a huge landmass. Owing to this reason, educational institutes, medical centers, and the overall infrastructure of the province are in a dilapidated situation.

In its last session before coronavirus pandemic unfolded, a bill moved by the senate committee to approve an increase in the number of seats for Balochistan in parliament was a commendable step. Such initiatives have the power to reduce the sense of deprivation of people, who have been kept impoverished and underdeveloped for decades. Increasing the number of seats from Balochistan in the National Assembly would not only prove instrumental in matters of securing provincial interests in the federal legislature but it will also improve service delivery in the province.

Introducing the method of direct elections for senate, on the pattern of the US senate elections, would likely foster competition among mainstream national parties in the province. Furthermore, the empowerment of the senate and strengthening its say in key decision-making processes ought to placate the resentments of smaller provinces toward the federation.

Likewise, the inclusion of at least two representatives from Balochistan into the federal cabinet would dilute the sense of alienation among the people who believe that the province is being treated as a colony by the Center.

Apart from this, incorporation of genuine representatives from Balochistan in high-decision making bodies like Council of Common Interests (CCI) and convening their regular meetings would also pacify the deeply-ingrained feelings of alienation of the province toward federation.

Similarly, giving the due share in CPEC projects would not only uplift the poor people of Balochistan but will also revive its relations with the federation. Gwadar, the proverbial ‘jewel in the crown’ of the province, is under the strict supervision of the Center. Locals should be given their due share in the governance of this city.

A lesson needs to be learned from the past blunders that taking Balochistan for granted is not only a recipe for national disunity but also a threat to the security and stability of the province. The state’s apathy towards the problems of Balochistan has only added to the complication of the latter’s relations with the former on all issues of national importance. Alleviation of resentments, reducing the intensity of insurgency, socio-economic development, and political mainstreaming of the province is of paramount importance to implement the above-mentioned proposals.

The author is a freelance journalist based in Quetta.