The two-day Balochistan Development Forum held in Islamabad last month attempted to create political consensus on the development agenda for the province
“The development of Balochistan is close to my heart,” said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the inauguration of the Balochistan Development Forum 2015 held in Islamabad last month.
At this two-day conference on development that focused on dialogue between the Balochistan government and its development partners, the premier said, “In the past year, the federal government released 100 per cent funds to Balochistan for its development and non-development activities. Development projects that are underway to improve Gwadar’s infrastructure will make Balochistan a hub of trading and a notable destination for regional and international investment.”
These are tall claims. However, many analysts and development experts fear the government may fall short on these claims. “The coming budget will prove the seriousness of the government,” says Dr Kaiser Bengali, Chief Minister’s Policy Reforms Unit head and consultant for economic affairs.
The Balochistan Development Forum (BDF), an initiative of Chief Minister’s Policy Reforms Unit (CMPRU) with technical support of the UNDP, showcased the development agenda, vision and sector-wise development potential of Balochistan. Separate sessions were held on development issues, vision and direction, post-18th amendment challenges and opportunities, natural resource management and social development.
Balochistan is the only province in the country that has drafted the Comprehensive Development Strategy 2013-2020, which highlights means to achieve growth, improve livelihood and prosperity.
The CMPRU is an autonomous unit of the government of Balochistan. It works under the direct supervision of Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch. It was launched by the UNDP Pakistan in September 2013 as part of the Strengthening Participatory Federalism and Decentralisation (SPDF) Project. “The basic objectives of this unit are implementation and transition management of the 18th constitutional amendment, to reform the policies which will lead to the complete distribution of powers to the province,” says Amjad Bhatti, national technical advisor SPDF project of the UNDP.
“The Forum showcased that the provincial government has a roadmap for development,” says I.A. Rehman, noted human rights activist.
“UNDP analysed the situation of all four provinces regarding challenges and expertise to implement the 18th amendment and we found that Balochistan which spearheaded the movement for provincial autonomy in the country paradoxically needed more robust help in technical operationalisation of the 18th amendment. There is deficit of both infrastructure and institution,”adds Bhatti.
According to him, the idea of conducting BDF was to see the province in the development paradigm instead of security paradigm. “The Forum not only created a political consensus on the development agenda of Balochistan but also marketed and displayed this agenda to rest of the country and the world as well,” says Bhatti.
He further adds that chief minister’s reform unit CMPRU, under the leadership of Dr Kaiser Bengali, has been working in the right direction. He admits that law and order is a big issue in the province — “but the government has already shown its commitment to people of Pakistan by conducting local bodies elections, as it reflects political will of the current coalition government in the province which is keen to speedily implement the 18th amendment. Already 18 laws have been adopted to give effect to devolution of authority from the federation to the province and the new articles of the constitution.”
Seemingly, Balochistan is more committed to the implementation of the 18th amendment than other provinces. CM Balochistan Dr Malik said in the concluding session of the Forum that reforms and changes in the laws and rules of business were a necessary step to fully deliver the benefits of the fiscal devolution under the 18th Amendment. He added the Article 172(3) which empowered provinces to have a joint and equal ownership and control of natural resources, if followed up in its true sense by amending relevant laws, will not only help Balochistan overcome its historical deprivation in development but will also take it to the level where it can provide resources for the development of the rest of Pakistan.
“Balochistan needed to have a three-pronged strategy for inclusive development in the province, which included institutional development, infrastructure development and human resource development,” he said.
Dr Malik also urged the international community to share their technical knowledge and expertise and invest in social sectors through coordinated efforts.
The CMPRU released a series of publications during the forum on education, health, youth profiling, water resources, minerals and natural resources, public finance and legislative agenda of the province, providing candid analysis of these sectors, something rare in official publications.
The report on education reads that 60 per cent of children aged between 6 and 16 in the province are out of school while 26 per cent of the total 12,103 schools are shelter-less and 8.1 per cent of class X students cannot read English at all.
The gender disparity rates are quite disturbing in the education sector, according to the report. In 2010-11, girls accounted for 40.9 per cent of the enrolment in primary school, 44.32 per cent in middle school and their share fell to 36.1 per cent in high school.
Another report on the youth of the province reveals that 67 per cent of female youth and 29 per cent of male youth of the province are illiterate, while 86 per cent female youth and 31 per cent male youth in the province are economically inactive.
The report on public finances indicates that the province spends 18 per cent of the current expenditures on law and order.
The CMPRU with the support of the provincial government and the UNDP has successfully mapped the rural settlements in all 30 districts of Balochistan. The 233-page survey includes elaborately drawn maps, the number of revenue villages, its rural settlements, population, water resources and communication network.
“The Forum showcased that the provincial government has a roadmap for development,” says I.A. Rehman, a leading human right activist and political analyst. “This has happened for the first time in Pakistan that a government has brought everything in public. People have questioned and criticised, which is a good step towards democratic planning,” he adds.
If the current government is allowed to work independently, Rehman says, Balochistan will soon leave other provinces behind. “There is a strong political will to develop the province. I hope the rulers of Islamabad will not influence the province and provide them a free hand.”
But not everyone in Balochistan is happy with the Forum. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, former CM of Balochistan and leader of Balochistan National Party (BNP), termed it a fruitless exercise, where precious government resources were spent in five-star hotels. “Security of life and finances is a pre-requisite for development and investment in Balochistan but Dr Malik’s government can guarantee none. At the moment, only graveyards are developing in Balochistan…” he told the media.
Some Quetta-based political analysts think the Forum was a good step. Jalal Noorzai, a Quetta-based senior journalist, says, “We endorse the idea but show us something on ground. Books and reports will not solve our problems. There is no change in the law and order situation, sectarianism and militancy are on the rise”.
He adds, “The government of Balochistan is not empowered even to get into some kind of an agreement, say, with Iran on energy, while CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has been signing agreements with Turkey”.
Noorzai thinks Balochistan is a poor province and millions of rupees were spent on the Forum — “There was no need to hold the forum at lavish venues. Most of the secretaries presented their progress reports at the forum, while we need to know their exact roadmaps for the development”.
But Dr Kaiser Bengali, head of the CMPRU, defends the decision to hold the forum in Islamabad. “First, I want to inform all my friends that we have conducted forums in Quetta before. Our objective to conduct it in Islamabad this time was to put Balochistan before the public and the international community,” he says.
He thinks that we need to tell the world that Balochistan has chalked out a roadmap for development — “No other provincial governments or the federal government has come up with such an elaborated development strategy as yet.”
He says an ambassador of an important country has shown interest in investing in the fishing sector. “He attended the forum and met us after our session on the opportunities in the fishery sector and asked to arrange a visit of him to the province. Two other ambassadors have also shown interests in how they can invest in different sectors,” he says, adding, “So, we have not conducted it in Islamabad to waste money but to tap investments.”
Balochistan is extremely resource-rich, therefore, says Bengali, the development strategy emphasises the need to remove the infrastructure deficit and develop the primary sectors to create a sound basis for further growth of secondary and tertiary sectors. “We have chosen infrastructure, water, education and health as priority sectors. Fourteen cities and towns have been identified as growth centres and we have been planning to construct around 6500km of road infrastructure to connect these centres to surrounding areas and rest of the country,” he adds.
According to Bengali, the Forum is hoping to create 1.5 million jobs in these growth centres which will result in migration of the population towards these centres, making it easy for the government to provide them other social services, like education, health and security. “I believe that peace will come when the government will bombard the province with jobs and opportunities instead of bombs,” he says.
This largest province of Pakistan, comprises 44 per cent of the national territory but only five per cent of total population of the country resides in the area, making it the smallest and the most-underdeveloped province of the country —with a poverty rate of 48 per cent, extremely low literacy of 45 per cent, accounted by extremely low level of school enrolment in rural parts of the province and a gender parity index of 0.58 for primary education.
Seventy per cent of the population of the province lives in scattered, sparsely populated settlements around water resources amid arid and rugged terrains. The province lacks proper road network and road density is still just 0.15km per square kilometre, which is less than half the national average of 0.32km per square kilometre and the lowest among the four provinces of the country.
Though Pakistan’s overall performance on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is not satisfactory, the situation in Balochistan is more challenging. The province lags behind national averages on all MDG indicators and it is estimated that by 2015 none of the goals will be met in the province.