Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Balochistan, poverty and rule of law

http://nation.com.pk/columns/03-Oct-2017/balochistan-poverty-and-rule-of-law

October 03, 2017

A nation born from the womb of ethnic discord was liable to suffer from its inflictions left over in the wake of partition. A time had come in the history of Balochistan when the Punjabis were driven out of the province just as there had come a time when the Shias from Hazara community were targeted by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a radical Sunni organization. At another time a segment of native Baloch stepped up their drive to part ways with Pakistan. Five military operations had been carried out since to quell this separatism. Pakistan army is heavily deployed in the province and arguably has a say in the political decision-making process. Though things have been brought under control and with CPEC promising a better future to the region, in particular with the development of Gwadar, a general antagonism is still evident in the people of Balochistan owing to persistent poverty.

Presently the malnutrition rate is increasingly high in Balochistan. This was revealed by the World Food Program in its press release issued on the occasion of the signing a new programme with the provincial government’s Planning and Development to prevent stunting among children in Pishin district of Balochistan. The aim of the programme is to break the inter-generational cycle of stunting and malnutrition across Pishin.

According to the figures shared by WFP, half of all children under five are stunted, and 16 per cent of Balochistan’s population is malnourished. Adding on to this stressful situation is the fact that 70 per cent of children and three-quarter pregnant and breastfeeding women are anaemic.

“Four out of five households in Balochistan cannot afford a minimally nutritious diet,” said WFP Representative and Country Director in Pakistan, Finbarr Curran.

A more stunning and self-revealing statement came from Mr Baseer Khan Achakzai, Director Nutrition, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination, who said: “One of the reasons for stunting and wasting among our children is that their parents are sometimes not able to provide them with a nutritious, balanced diet,”

When parents are not able to provide a nutritious and balanced diet to their children, it means the parents themselves are not getting enough food. This persistent and pervasive poverty is alarming, and Pishin like many districts of Balochistan is fighting his calamity since as many years.

Balochistan is mired in poverty, and its economy depends entirely on agriculture still the government allocated only Rs 8 billion for agriculture, in the 2017-18 annual budgets but allocated a hefty Rs 35 billion on law and order. For health, Rs 16 billion was stashed aside. With such spending priorities, neither poverty nor health issues can be adequately addressed. Have we forgotten the story of the people of Sui in Balochistan who had been kept deprived of gas while it was transported across the country? The situation has not changed much, though. Balochistan fulfil 40 per cent of Pakistan’s energy needs and 36 per cent of its gas production along with minerals. Yet 46.6 per cent of households in Balochistan have no electricity and only 25 per cent of villages have rural electrification. Pakistan is fast becoming an urbanized country with 40 per cent urbanization but 75 per cent of Balochistan population remains rural.

Maybe it is in the DNA of self-styled democratic government to keep its population busy in making their ends meet. Instead of putting governance as its top political agenda, to frustrate the designs of the international establishment, and the separatists seeking independence, the political structure developed for the province has been kept hostage to the greed and avarice of the landlords, Nawabs and a non-performing government. Last year the National Accountability Bureau recovered Rs 730 million from the home of the Finance Secretary Balochistan, Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani. This is just one example.

Why is it that Pakistan does not do to make itself sustainable? Pakistan is perhaps averse to invest in governance, the reason why institutions have been deliberately kept weak. When the parliamentarians claim to achieve power through the strength of the vote, it becomes their moral responsibility to deliver. The Panama papers have revealed many dark sides of this moral responsibility, taken as a liberty by the elected representatives to increase their fortune. Either the leaders can multiply their assets, or they can improve the quality of life of their voters. Ours went for the former, and we have the worst example of poverty, malnutrition, and underdevelopment in the name of Balochistan that comprises 40 per cent of Pakistan’s area and a 900-kilomtere coastline.

In his recent address to the youths of Balochistan, General Bajwa, the Chief of the Army Staff, said that Pakistan was incomplete without Balochistan. Absolutely true, but the stability of Balochistan depends on the rights given to its people rather than the state resorting to silencing the dissenting voices through policy of suppression.

Though Pakistan is still moving in the circle of identifying and getting rid of its corrupt leadership, time would arrive when this jinx will break and real issues, concerning people will be acted upon. Even if it is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that has brought Balochistan into the mainstream, the fact, that the meaning of life will change for the Baloch is fast becoming a reality.

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