BECAUSE Balochistan is seen as relatively ‘far’ from the national political mainstream in this country, whenever high officials visit the province expectations are high. During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Balochistan last week, a number of promises were made to the people of Pakistan’s geographically largest but also its most underdeveloped province. Mr Khan rightly pointed out that to ensure a strong country, all federating units must taste the fruits of development. Unfortunately, despite its mineral wealth Balochistan has failed to see accompanying development over the decades, which has played a large part in fuelling alienation. Speaking in Kech district, Mr Khan reiterated that under the CPEC umbrella, the “government is giving all attention to speedy development of” Balochistan, while urging the province’s youth to focus on their education. Mr Khan also laid the foundations for a number of infrastructure and social projects in the province during his visit.
There has for long been talk of bringing Balochistan into the political mainstream, and several elected governments have launched well-meaning steps to improve basic indicators in the province. However, there seems to be no holistic plan to address Balochistan’s problems. What is more, the fact that the province has often been viewed purely through the security lens has also prevented improvement in the socioeconomic situation. Take health and education; according to one figure, around 60 to 70pc of Balochistan’s children are out of school (the figure touches 78pc for girls) while in the health sector, the province has the country’s highest maternal mortality rate. If Balochistan is to reap the benefits of CPEC or other infrastructure projects, then it needs to have an educated and healthy population. Mr Khan’s focus on education is well-placed; now this vision must translate into accessible schools in all of Balochistan’s districts where its children can get a decent education. Some have attributed Balochistan’s backwardness to the sardars that operate in many parts of it. While this contention cannot be ruled out, it is the state that bears primary responsibility for lack of development in this federating unit. In fact, the state’s use of Balochistan’s resources and its lack of attention to socioeconomic development are among the factors that have fuelled separatist militancy in the province. This alienation can be reversed when the people of Balochistan see that both the centre and the provincial government are doing everything possible to bring prosperity to this neglected corner of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2020