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BALOCHISTAN DIARY-II: Banking on twin strategies

Published 17 Sep, 2020 06:59am

As the second largest city in Balochistan after Quetta, Turbat’s central areas give a manicured look. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, the former chief minister of the province during the PML-N government, hails from here and is said to have spent funds for development in a transparent manner. It shows. Well carpeted roads with neat markings and clean surroundings, Turbat is a good example of putting money in the right places in the right manner. But there are problems. For instance, there is no fuel available here except smuggled Iranian petrol. In addition, schools and health facilities are inadequate, despite the establishing of some good projects. Security remains an issue.

Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan is responsible for securing the region. FC has also now been divided into a north and south force. FC South is the main force responsible for ensuring safety and security (and battling militants) in this region. It was only recently that an FC soldier killed an innocent man, Hayat Baloch, after an IED had hit a convoy. The incident could have sparked a blowback but officials say the commander of FC South handled the matter deftly and with empathy. The shooter is now in police custody and will go to trial.

FC officials say one of their main focuses is to facilitate development and enhance skills of the local population. They say FC has advertised for recruiting 1,500 people from the area and have relaxed recruitment requirements so more people can join. The security challenge remains a potent one as 76 FC personnel have been martyred since the force was raised.

The districts of Kech (Turbat), Panjgur and Awaraan have been the centre of militancy for the last few years. This remains a troubled area but officials say the situation has improved significantly in the last few years. Former chief minister Dr Malik acknowledges this. Sitting with a group of local influentials in a small building in Turbat, Dr Malik had mixed reviews about the current state of affairs (he wore a mask, unlike most people in this region, and declined to shake hands as per Covid-19 SOPs). While admitting that a few years ago it was unsafe to travel on the main roads we had traversed to see him, he said now there was peace and safety. However, he lamented that efforts to speak to aggrieved Baloch tribal leaders — many of whom supervise and finance militant groups from abroad — have not been followed up. Dr Malik said when he was the chief minister he had reached out to these sardars with the knowledge and support of the Pakistani top leadership in order to address any concerns that were deemed genuine. However, these efforts had fallen by the wayside once he left the office.

What emerges from these conversations is that the state and governments have to pursue twin strategies in Balochistan in order to bring it at par with other regions of Pakistan: economic and social development coupled with political outreach to those presently outside the system. There appears some recognition within the civil and military leadership — evidenced by the proposed package to be announced by the prime minister — that gigantic effort is required to improve the situation here.

For instance, a cadet college spread over 300 acres is being constructed here with the help of the UAE government. Within this expansive boundary there will also be an Army Public School (APS) that will admit a thousand students, in addition to the nearly 400 in the cadet college. A worthy project by all measures, but dozens, if not more, such high quality schools are required to cater to the needs of the population. FC South has taken an initiative of running online courses for practical trainings and approximately 4,000 students will be enrolled. Another 5,000 children are studying in 13 public schools run by the FC. And yet, much more is required to be done by the state and governments. Hopefully Planning Minister Asad Umar will get things moving now that he is personally visiting the area and speaking to the relevant people.

AWARAAN: This district has also been ravaged by militancy, violence and underdevelopment. As we travel on cratered roads lined with ramshackle buildings, it is obvious that this area needs urgent attention. One official says there has been no deficit of attention, but mostly on paper. According to him, Rs23 billion has been allocated for Awaraan in the last six years. It is hard to see where this huge amount was spent — unless of course it wasn’t spent. One example explains this: A project was approved, one per cent of work was done, and 90pc of payment was made. Project over.

Such leakage in public projects is a major issue here. Unless this problem is addressed, no amount of funds would make a difference on the ground. And it is what happens on the ground that really matters now. This is one reason, officials say, the military and FC South are increasingly monitoring project implementation and even running schools themselves. This can be a stop-gap arrangement but in the long run governments will need to fix their system of governance if Balochistan has to see the fruits of development promised so often in the past but rarely delivered.

Opportunity beckons though. With CPEC rolling out swiftly, highways and motorways being carpeted across the region and the Gwadar port promising greater shipping traffic, an industrial zone and enhanced energy production, there is a real chance that Balochistan could reap the benefits of development. The security situation is getting better with the deployment of 44 SSD and FC South and the prime minister appears ready to inject a significant dose of financial help through the package expected soon. The provincial government needs to focus now on upgrading its system of governance so that money allocated equals money spent. If all these various initiatives are implemented as planned, Pakistan may have a real shot at integrating Balochistan ever deeper into the federation by providing the people of the province the opportunities, facilities and rights enjoyed by the citizens in other parts of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2020


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