If someone has to witness the strangest paradox in Pakistan, no province is better suited for this observation than Balochistan. According to the Geological Survey of Pakistan, out of the 50 minerals extracted nationally, 40 are obtained from Balochistan. The province has more than 200 million metric tons of coal deposits, one billion metric tonnes of copper, 300 million ounces of gold, 2.5 billion metric tonnes marble and 1.5 billion tonnes of granite. It has the largest range-land for livestock grazing, over 750km of coastline that is rich with fishery, and for decades it has supplied cheap natural gas to the industrial areas of Pakistan. Despite being resource rich, the province has acquired the status of a “lagging region”, where living standards and social indicators are amongst the lowest in the country.
Many scholars admit that poverty breeds frustration and resentment, begetting political and ethnic violence, something very much visible in Balochistan. Macartan Humphreys of Harvard University in his paper, Economics and violent conflict, points out that economic factors such as poverty make some societies susceptible to conflict. The American political scientist, Dixon Homer, is of the view that bad economic conditions, weak public policy, unjust distribution of resources and poverty foment violence.
It is no coincidence that with the highest levels of poverty, Balochistan and Khyber Pakh-tunkhwa have witnessed some of the worst acts of violence. The co-relation between poverty and violence indicates that any policy aimed at improving the economic condition of Balochistan will also help in curtailing the level of violence. This can be accomplished by adopting policies focusing on three important factors namely spurring growth, improving service delivery and financing development.
First and foremost, Pakistan should actively pursue peace in Afghanistan; any possible trade route from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean, going through Balochistan, will stimulate unprecedented growth in the region as trade routes and ports always spur development. New centers of commerce emerge, thereby uplifting the entire regions economically. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and TAPI are right steps in the right direction. Additionally, growth generation can be achieved by properly exploiting the natural resources of the province, shifting sectoral composition of the economy from agriculture to manufacturing, and offering incentives to the private sector to invest in the province.
Delivery of basic services can be improved by decreasing public sector personnel (in per capita terms, Balochistan has the largest bureaucracy in Pakistan), giving public sector personnel adequate training, freeing bureaucracy from political influence, and improving standards of public health and education. As far as the scale of labour productivity is concerned, Balochistan performs poorly. Improvement in education and skill development is of the essence. As the proper exploitation of minerals can bring an economic boom to the province; therefore, the provincial government should develop education and research facilities exclusively focusing on metallurgy and mineralogy. Having better and quality education will provide human resource, which is necessary to drive the growth engine.
Growth generation and improvement in services require capital. Right now, Balochistan collects 6 to 7 percent of its revenue indigenously, borrowing the rest from the federal government. It is imperative that the provincial government broadens its tax base and plugs leakages in its tax system by discouraging political bias in funds allocation, and by making sure that public funds are dispensed on need basis.
Today, there is widespread poverty in Balochistan; the people are chained in tribal shackles and the increasing violence is harming the ethnic fabric of society. It is because Balochi tribal chiefs and our national leaders have ignored the common needs by shrouding deprivation in the cloak of provincialism and ethnicity. If economic growth had seriously been pursued in Balochistan, its endemic problem of tribalism would have withered away. Only by instituting the right economic policies, poverty and violence in Balochistan can be curtailed, resulting in prosperity at the provincial and national level.
n The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist.