February 1, 2018
The latest economic package announced by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi during his visit to Balochistan for the inauguration of the Gwadar Free Trade Zone is at least the third such package promised by the PML-N government. The first was by Nawaz Sharif soon after coming into power in 2013 when he promoted what became the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and claimed it would lead to a new era of development in the province. The second was just a few months ago by Abbasi himself. He vowed to spend Rs20 billion over the next 10 years to provide gas, electricity, education and clean drinking water. In its latest iteration, the package for Balochistan includes assurances that there will be equal development across every district of the province. Based on past performance, there is reason to doubt that the new package will live up to its promise. On Tuesday, Senator Usman Kakar from Balochistan complained that the pace of development projects was much slower than that in other provinces, with projects that were meant to be completed within three years still barely off the ground. So far, most development in Balochistan has been more talk than action. CPEC was supposed to be a ‘game-changer’ for the province but many projects were eventually shifted to Punjab because of the security situation and lack of infrastructure in Balochistan.
The biggest problem with the economic packages announced for Balochistan is that they end up pushing development projects in a void. The government seems to believe that development schemes like the port in Gwadar will be sufficient to erase the decades of alienation felt by the Baloch people. This approach fails to recognise that such projects are opposed because of the long-standing feeling in the province that they will not benefit locals. Successive governments have failed to address the grievances of the Baloch. This latest package will not change that. With only a few months left in the government’s tenure, the package may be seen by some as an attempt to win votes rather than as a genuine effort to ensure that Balochistan has greater control over its resources. After the PML-N’s recent troubles with the Balochistan Assembly, there may be a danger of analysts dismissing the package as political manoeuvring before the Senate elections in March. To show it genuinely believes that Balochistan is as worthy of development as the rest of the country, the government will first have to show it understands the province’s problems