Who are you calling Southern Balochistan?

New federal government package badly named and murkily planned
A boy walks with his camels in Jaffarabad district in Balochistan December 8, 2017. Photo: AFP
A boy walks with his camels in Jaffarabad district in Balochistan December 8, 2017. Photo: AFP

The federal government is going to announce a package for what it says are the underdeveloped districts in the insurgency-prone province of Balochistan. On a visit on September 11, Prime Minister Imran Khan explained his intentions for the southern districts. Close on his heels, Asad Umar, who is the federal minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, visited the southern districts of Khuzdar, Kech, Awaran, and Gwadar. Northern Balochistan was left scratching its head.  

The initial details were sketchy but it appeared that the package would be for work on food security, water, energy, tourism, jobs, internet, infrastructure and regional connectivity.

Balchistan has a history of receiving packages from the central government. Over the last decade, for example, it got the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan Package by the PPP government in 2009. In 2017, the PML-N government sent the Equalization Package.

This PTI government is optimistic its package will not meet the fate of earlier ones. The people of Balochistan, both in the north and south, are less enthused.

Their first question is how the package was named for Southern Balochistan. When these words started to be said on TV and in the newspapers, mainstream nationalist parties and intellectuals flagged them. Former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch who runs the National Party, said it was a conspiracy to divide Balochistan.  

Another former chief minister, MPA Nawab Aslam Raisani wryly remarked: “There is only one Balochistan and there can be no Southern, Northern, Eastern or Western Balochistan.”

Balochistan National Party-Mengal said this was unacceptable. Rauf Mengal argued: “Plots are being made to divide Balochistan on geographical bases and for undefined reasons Balochistan is being divided into South and North regions.”

The All Parties Alliance Gwadar said: “The boundaries within the province are being redesigned and the term of South Balochistan is being used to divide Balochistan and efforts are being made to establish a new region within Balochistan.”

It did not help when shortly after, President Arif Alvi signed off on an ordinance promulgated to set up a Pakistan Islands Development Authority for “development and management of islands in internal and territorial waters of Pakistan.” Sindh and Balochistan saw this as Islamabad muscling its way into their coast. Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP called the ordinance a “crude attempt to bring the coastal areas of the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan under control of the federal government.”

Before this package, no one had categorized Balochistan like this. Bureaucrats use the word ‘divisions’ for administrative units in the provinces but rarely use geographical classifications. This is only used in Balochistan by the Frontier Corps Balochistan that was divided into North and South regions in 2017. It did not escape people that the districts believed to be in the package are the same as those in the FC grouping for North and South.

But, now, let’s turn to the rationale behind the package and what the government hopes it will do. For instance, some people think that the government may want to work on districts that have been worst affected by the insurgency. This argument doesn’t work, however, because the insurgency is not limited to just those areas and districts where there is violence—Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Kachi, Harnai, Mastung, Kalat—are not on the list.

Then, if the government wants to help the most underdeveloped areas then again the package seems limited. For, if this were the case, then districts Barkhan, Harnai, Jhal Magsi and Killa-Abdulla should be on the list. They are ranked “very low” for human development on the index by the United Nations Development Program Pakistan.

It isn’t clear if a mere development package will tackle festering political and constitutional problems. Balochistan has perennially raised questions over the way the Center approaches it. Historically, Islamabad has preferred superficial development initiatives, undesired administrative interventions, and military operations. “The strategy to resolve the Balochistan issue with power will never be successful,” says Dr Abdul Malik. “The Balochistan issue is political and can only be solved politically.” Men like him argue that the Center needs to realize that development and financial packages are not a substitute for political empowerment and constitutional guarantees.

The less clarity the federal government offers on the proposed package, the more unwanted political controversy it will attract. This will only give more oxygen to the fears that the package is just a ruse to divide Balochistan.  

Development interventions designed to serve geo-strategic interests instead of local requirements are doomed to fail. This approach will only further alienate the people, who will not engage or take part in it. Unless the federal government understands these points, it risks just adding to the list of undelivered packages for Balochistan.

The writers are researchers based in Balochistan and can be reached at @SamandKhan and @Hamalkashani

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