‘Balochistan has no say in national policy making’
Given that many often question the truth about the conditions in Balochistan, economist Kaiser Bengali’s ‘A Cry for Justice: Empirical Insights from Balochistan’ was launched at the Karachi Literature Festival to debunk myths and mysterious surrounding the country’s largest province.
Moderated by journalist Hifza Shah, the panel discussion at the book launch included veteran human rights activist IA Rehman and former diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. Commending the book, Rehman said it was a departure from the past when sweeping statements were often made about the province, but now there was empirical evidence to show that Balochistan has suffered and continues to suffer systematic economic exploitation, discrimination and neglect.
Sharing information from the book, Bengali said that according to the estimate of the year 2011, the approximate Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of all three provinces was 4.9 per cent, while for Balochistan, it was 2.8 per cent, which shows that the province was lagging behind. It appears that if the policies and attitudes remain unchanged, it would fall lower, he said.
He added that ✔ Balochistan received gas 27 years later and even now only 8 to 9 per cent of the province receives it.
✔ “Ironically, the subsidy given to commercial and domestic sector is at the expense of Balochistan,” he said.
✔“From 1965 to 2015, resources worth Rs7 trillion have been transferred to other parts of the country.”
🔴Quoting figures from the 25-year development expenditure analysis, Bengali said that from 1990 to 2001, the average share of Balochistan was 3.9 per cent of the total development expenditure in the country, which translates into 0.18 per cent of GDP.
Distorted civil services
Speaking about the state of civil services in Balochistan, he said that according to the analysis of federal services, there were 42 divisions in the province and with 11 offices catering to the President House, Supreme Court and others, it made 53 divisions.
“It is surprising to see that [in federal civil services] not even a single employee from Balochistan has been appointed even in Grade 1-4, including those in President House. In 31 of the 53 divisions, no one from the province is serving in Grade 20 and same goes for Grade 21 and Grade 22,” he pointed out.
Bengali further said key [federal] ministries or offices, including cabinet, commerce, defence, communications, petroleum, planning and development, water and power, secretariat, national assembly, election commission and NAB, didn’t have any grade 20, 21 and 22 officers from the province. “Basically, Balochistan has no say in national policy making,” he said.
“There has been a federal quota in provincial [civil] services and as the grade increases the share goes up as well. For Grade 17 civil servants, 25 per cent is federal quota and 75 per cent is provincial, but in Grade 21, 65 per cent is federal quota and 35 per cent is provincial. In Grade 22, the appointment is just federal,” he said.
In the provincial police department, the IG, AIG, DIG, SSP – the top four ranks – are not held by anyone from Balochistan because provincial appointments cannot take place. Even in the electoral system, Balochistan is discriminated against because one size fits all is being followed, he said.
According to the size of national constituency, Punjab is on 1,388 square kilometres, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 2,129, Sindh 2,310, whereas Balochistan is spread over 24,799 square kilometres and its population is lesser than its area.
“We have taken much from Balochistan and given very little to it,” said Bengali. “How can a province be so rich in resources and yet suffer from abject poverty. This is a saga of massive resources transfer, colonial style political and economical management.”
Speaking about actions that can be taken to fix the problems, he said, “We need to triple the price of gas, create a 20-year Rs7 trillion development budget for Balochistan, correct the distortions in civil service rules, enhance its share in the ISP and amend the electoral regime to suit its conditions. It’s the constructive force of justice not the destructive power of retribution which will bring peace and prosperity.
Referring to the figures mentioned by Bengali, IA Rehman said it wasn’t new news and the Baloch, who were simple people, had been trying to voice the injustices since the last four decades. “I feel we are unable to comprehend the working of a federation which led to such grave injustices. The province was always dubbed as a ‘deficit’ area, yet Rs7 trillion were extracted out of it,” he said.
Speaking about provincial autonomy which seems to be absent in Balochistan, he said the 18th Amendment was the beginning of a reform, but wasn’t a great shift of power. He lamented that there were also plans to curtail the rights given by 18th Amendment.
Rehman stressed on the need to have a serious dialogue with an intention to propel the Baloch people using provincial autonomy. “Our country’s progress will only be ensured if the citizens are treated equally. When a flood strikes Punjab, the roads get repaired quickly. I saw this myself that it took 11 years to repair a road after floods destroyed parts of Balochistan,” he said. “When we would not assure them [the Baloch] that they are equally important as anyone in Lahore or Islamabad, then we can never prosper.”
Rehman added that public narrative needs to change as well, and if the Baloch ever rebelled then it was their right and the people need to understand the root cause instead of dubbing them traitors.
“Yesterday, Tariq Khoso recounted how Allah Nazar, who was a brilliant student, was pushed into rebellion. He didn’t choose that path, we forced him to it. So if we keep treating them like we treated Bengalis, the consequences won’t be any different either,” he said.
Fearing difficult times ahead, Qazi, the former diplomat, said that it was criminal governance not bad governance and sustained transfer of income from East Pakistan to West Pakistan, without benefits in proportion, which led to a kind of alienation, which was widespread and legitimate.
“It prepared the ground for Indian intervention. The same process is taking place in Balochistan today,” he warned. He added that unlike East Pakistan, the population in Balochistan is lesser and there is a tendency to say that they can be crushed because there are just pockets of rebellion and resistance.
Qazi said Pashtuns weren’t as alienated as the Baloch and Balochistan is the only province which cannot govern itself today. “When the Baloch meet each other their narrative is that they are exploited and forcibly incorporated, while the latter is not true. Its accession to Pakistan through Shahi Jirga was legitimate and undisputed but the degree of alienation has become so high and unaddressed that the other narrative has begun to surface,” he said.
He stressed that the Balochistan issue hasn’t been created by India but India has exacerbated it and we have shown since 1971 that we have refused to draw any lessons from any setbacks in our history. “We have learnt nothing because we intend to learn nothing. A new title has been given to the Baloch – ‘hamaray naraz Baloch bhai’ – and this is a term of contempt,” he said.
Rehman also said that the impression given in 2008 that democracy had been restored in the country wasn’t true for Balochistan. He recounted that when he asked the then chief minister, Abdul Malik Baloch, about enforced disappearances, he ignored him. “When I repeated, he dodged the question so I decided to not embarrass him any further. So even today, the civilian government virtually has no role in the province, which has to change before grave consequences.”