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The Paradox Of ‘Development’ In Balochistan

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Successive governments have failed to introduce meaningful and long-lasting reforms in Balochistan due to which the province’s population continues to suffer even 70 years after independence, writes Mir Sadat Baloch. 

It’s been almost 100 years since Pakistan Muslim League insisted reforms in Balochistan, but the province remains undeveloped till date. Balochistan’s representatives continue to express their grievances about underdevelopment and political deprivations, but to no avail.

Despite tall claims of development, the situation on ground remains just as dismal as it was decades ago. In theory, Balochistan is the richest province in mineral resources, but the truth is that it is the least developed province of Pakistan. Balochistan did not witness any meaningful economic development at least twenty years after independence, except for the discovery and extraction of natural gas at Sui.

This attitude of negligence towards the province continued for the next three decades. During 1970s, the average gross regional product (GRP) growth of the province was mere 2 per cent, resulting in 5.2 per cent fall in per capita income.

The growth picked up to a promising 5.9 per cent in 1980s but fell to 3.5 per cent in 1990s and then further to 2.8 per cent over 2000-11.

From 1970s to 1990s, the average per capita growth was 0.3 per cent implying stagnancy and zero growth.

The situation remained disappointing, as the GRP growth during 2000-11 has been the lowest at 2.8 per cent compared to 4.5 per cent in Punjab, 4.7 per cent in Sindh and 5.5 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The high GRP growth rate in 1970s and 1980s can be attributed to four major public investment initiatives in 1970s: 1) construction of Pat Feeder Canal, 2) construction of RCD highway, 3) establishment of two large textile mills, 4) private industrial investments in Hub Chowki. However, the next two decades of 1990s and 2000s witnessed no major investment initiatives. 

Balochistan’s share in federal PSDP allocation has varied from a low 2 per cent to as high as 11 per cent over the last thirty years resulting in an erratic development path. The increase in federal PSDP is associated with the beginning of the Gwadar project from 2001 onward.

The progress of Balochistan was commanded by schemes related to Gwadar Port, security agencies and federal administration. The uplift of Gwadar is linked to prosperity of Balochistan whereas in reality it is driven more by national strategic goals.

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As economist Kaiser Bengali asserts “Schemes relating to security agencies and civil administration include offices and residences for federal security and civil staff and can be considered as investment to strengthen the writ of federal government and protect expected foreign investment following the initiation of the Gwadar project.

While being legitimate objectives in themselves, they cannot be classified as contributing to the welfare of the people of Balochistan.”

After the Gwadar project, Balochistan’s component of federal PSDP schemes jumped from a mere one per cent during 1990-2001 to 17 per cent during 2002-16. However, if we exclude the Gwadar related schemes the share drops significantly. These allocations can be contemplated uplifting compared to past, but sadly the actual releases are always less than the allocations.

The percentage of releases for some schemes has been as low as 0.1 per cent of the allocation amount (2004-05 PSDP Kuchlas-Zhob road only 0.1 per cent was released and in 2009-10 PSDP only 1.05 per cent of allocation was released for construction of small and medium dams).

Only blaming the federal government for disparities in Balochistan is not rational as the performance of the provincial government was no less than discouraging.

The people of Balochistan reckoned a change in their fortune at the start of the present decade after the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment and the 7th NFC Awards in 2010. Astonishingly, fiscal autonomy has turned out to be a zero sum equation for Balochistan. Public Sector Development Programme in Balochistan has been a sadder story.

During 2017 and 2018, no new project has been undertaken due to the incompetence of government resulting in more suffering for people whose livelihood depends on such projects. The performance of pervious provincial governments has become even worse. The allocative efficiency of the provincial PSDP has remained quite low over the years.

Ideally, the allocation should be based on a prioritisation exercise keeping in view the challenges in the province. The second issue is the lack of proper evaluation and impact assessment system. As the UNDP report indicated financial allocations are mostly done on the basis of what could be best described as an incremental approach: a certain fraction is added to the departments previous years’ allocation every year without a rigorous investigation of the department needs and impact of previous allocations.

Sluggishness in economic development in Balochistan can be ascribed mainly to the lack of an effective administration and good governance.

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When we discuss governance in Pakistan, our focus is mostly on the formal actors such as the government and military while we overlook informal factors such as influential landlords, religious leaders, financial institutions, business mafias and political parties. Coupled with these actors, the role of media and international donors is fundamental.  While in Balochistan, these actors narrow down to “Kitchen Cabinets” or informal advisor (the current government holds the record for such appointments).

In Balochistan, we cannot ignore the locally powerful families that have been taking turns for the position of Chief Minister/Governor. They have occupied a position of power for almost 35 years since the founding of Balochistan province 49 years ago.

We must realise that an effective administration and good governance depends on the socio-political structure of the society. However, if there is a clash between the political structure and social values then governance is confusing duty. This volatility will lead to erratic and risky behavior by the rulers.

In transitional societies like Balochistan, the political structure and social values must be compatible. On the contrary, we are trying (and failing) to create an operative democratic administration based on egalitarian norms and rational decision with the help of the political elite that has irrational, impulsive and despotic tendencies.  This paradox is resulting in unsuccessful and unproductive governments in Balochistan.

Even the Machiavelli idea of state recommends converting the coercive order into authority with the help of norms and values. The political elite in Balochistan is not willing to consolidate their performance based on egalitarian norms. The need of the hour is a gradual restructuring of the society based on prevalent social norms and values such as hard work, righteousness, transparency, accountability, responsibility, obligation, integrity, loyalty, magnanimity, and scholarship.

The politicians of Balochistan need to do more than just creating new political parties or taking incremental regimes to put Balochistan on path of development. Most importantly, the people of Balochistan have to take a leap of faith and stand for themselves or else bad governance and underdevelopment will continue to reign supreme.

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