Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mirage of authority--Editorial

‘DEVELOPMENT in Balochistan’ is once again the buzzword. Some big numbers were trotted out during the high-powered, two-day forum on the subject that concluded on Tuesday. Rs10bn to be released annually under the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package, Rs80bn out of Rs162bn already transferred under the Seventh National Finance Commission Award, etc.

Several ambitious infrastructure projects were also highlighted by the prime minister in his address, including under-construction highways, a 300MW power plant in Gwadar as well as plans for the education sector.

On the second day though, Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik spoke some plain truths. He stated that the basic reason for Balochistan’s continued state of deprivation is that the benefits of devolution contained in the 18th Amendment have not accrued to it.

By virtue of the amendment, Article 172 (3) of the Constitution confers joint ownership of “mineral oil and natural gas within the province or the territorial waters adjacent” upon the federal government and the province concerned.

However, because the rules of business pertaining to natural resources have not been amended by parliament, the centre’s authority endures as before, thereby making a mockery of the notion of self-empowerment.

For a province like Balochistan whose vast natural resources are its principal asset, this lack of agency is particularly devastating. Even more so when the centre, in collusion with the unrepresentative governments that have ruled the province for the most part, has shamelessly exploited Balochistan’s natural wealth without any regard for its future or that of its people.

It has thereby created deep-seated grievances which, in a complex geopolitical arena, have provided fertile ground for insurgency to take root. From time to time, the federal government has rolled out grand schemes with the avowed aim of addressing the province’s problems. Among these is the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan project, announced in 2009.

The fact that six years later the province remains the country’s backwater in terms of human development indicators, with its population caught in a vicious battle between security forces and insurgents, illustrates the bankruptcy of the state’s approach.

Injection of funds is no panacea: in any case, much of Balochistan’s share still does not come to it directly. It is after a long time that the province has a government with some claim to being representative, despite the flawed process that brought it about. Only if it is truly empowered can there be any hope of change in that troubled land.

Published in Dawn January 22nd , 2015

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