Written By: Brig Usman Saeed (R)
Balochistan constitutes 44% of Pakistan's total landmass with Balochi-Pashtun mix population of 12.34 million (2017). It, however, seriously lags behind in socio-economic development when compared with other provinces. History of development neglect dates back to British era that set low priority for socio-economic developments here and confined focus on building roads and railway system leading to Afghan and Iran borders within the framework of military threats along western borders. Resultantly, this province remained at the bottom in terms of development in the sub-continent. Balochis pinned high expectations for fast track removal of economic inequalities, enhanced political and civil services representation in national politico-executive systems, fair distribution of fiscal resources and high national priority for socio-economic development programs in the province. However, Pakistan has remained in the grip of external threats since inception. The externally sponsored security challenges since partition didn’t let the state shift its focus to the internal socio-economic developments in remote regions of Balochistan and other provinces. Prolonged spell of low key developments under multifarious pretexts has given rise to poverty, unemployment and low development of human resource ending up in public frustation and discontent. Armed confrontation in the sixties, seventies and presently have roots entrenched in frustration and policy failures. Terrorist acts in the province are externally sponsored in conjuction with dissident elements with motives to exploit internal situation and bleed our national resources in counter-terrorism efforts. Balochistan as a whole widely condemns terrorism and expresses deep hate against such subversive acts that impede with them to attain cherished goals of socio-economic development. One can enumarate failures but prudence demands looking forward and cover lost ground in the light of new opportunities emerging after 18th Constitutional Amendment 2010 that accords maximum autonomy and self-governance charter to the provinces. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, mines and minerals as well as numerous other business and trade opportunities in the province provide glimmer of hope that this province shall become a showcase for national development if policies are prudent, effective governance is practiced, transparency and accountability is instilled at all tiers of executive machinery, optimal utilisation of allocated budgetary resources is carried out, indigenous development of mines and minerals and most importantly, and, with effective dismantling of terrorist networks.
Balochistan leads the national mineral inventory though it is largely under explored. Tethyan Metallogenic Belt that originates from Hungary and passes through Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan (Balochistan) and terminates in Afghanistan. This belt has 90% of world's copper and gold deposits. Precious metals like molybdenum, gold and rare earth elements are found in Reko Diq and other sites are yet to be explored. A family of 15 different rare earth metals are of extremely high commercial and strategic value. Whereas, value of gold in Reko Diq deposits explored so far is in excess of USD 1.5 trillion and the other mineral resources are estimated at a value above multi trillions USD. Saindak copper and gold deposits in Chaghi are estimated at USD 250 billion. Out of three copper ore bodies in Saindak, two are already leased to Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) in years 2002 and 2017 respectively. Chinese have exhausted first South Ore body of 111 million MT with 0.443% copper in 15 years while commercial production from the second North Ore body is in progress. The exact economic dividends shared with Pakistan have not been made public. We should, however, examine our JV (joint venture) experience with foreign countries and redefine mine/mineral policy for the future. Ideal mineral policy would be in favor of complete exploration and mining utilising indigenous skills for optimum economic benefits for the country.
Apart from mines/minerals, huge energy resources of this province are yet untapped. Kohlu/Dera Bugti alone has gas reserves of 22 trillion cubic feet (TCF) valued at USD 110 billion or more which can last for 100 years. Unconventional energy resources comprising shale gas/oil, tight gas/oil, coal based methane etc. are not yet estimated in Balochistan. Additionally, Balochistan’s coastline of 560 km along Arabian Sea provides scenic beaches and islands like Astola near Pasni. Astola is worth development for attracting international tourism. Astola was discovered by Admiral Nearchus of Alexander Army in 326 BC on his return from India. Introduction of Ferry service between Karachi and Gwadar extending up to Iran and UAE can increase tourists’ attraction. Pakistan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Arabian Sea was estimated to be endowed with 40 billion barrels of oil and 200 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas reserves besides copper and other metal deposits yet unexplored a decade ago. National Institute of Oceanography and other organisations can render services for result in exploratory works in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of North Arabian Sea along Balochistan.
Energy lines are planned from Iran, Gulf states and Central Asia through Balochistan with windfall of royalty for the province. Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipelines and Turkeminstan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipelines have feasibilities finalised for years but pending execution due to geo-strategic constraints. Iranians have already built maximum length of their share of pipeline from South Pars Gas Field. Hopefully, these lines shall be laid as planned in the near future. Chinese Xinjiang-Gwadar road link shall yield rich economic dividends for this province. Regional connectivity with Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan is likely to create new commercial trade centres within the province. Upgradation of Quetta-Taftan Railway line to European gauge standards, construction of Karachi-Gwadar coastal railway line and connectivity with Iranian railway system will usher in a new era of tourism between Europe and Pakistan via Iran. Connecting Gwadar via Afghanistan with Mary (Turkeminstan) will be a source of promoting tourism & international business/trade. Historically, Mary (ancient name Merv) was founded in 6th century BC by Cyrus the Great. It was captured by the troops of Caliph Umer RA. In 671, Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan sent 50000 troops to Merv. Merv was a base of operations for Muslim commander Qutayba ibn Muslim for conquests in Central Asia i.e., Balkh, Bokhara, Fergana, Khorasan. It became the largest city in the world during the 12th century AD. Imperial Russia occupied it in 1884, while British Indian Army sent troops to Merv to resist the Bolshevik revolution. It was the centre for cotton production. Huge natural gas reserves are found near Mary (Merv). Textile, fertilizer, vegetable oil, cotton etc. are a great attraction for the business community.
Upcoming modern Gwadar Port and City Project architecturally designed by renowned international firms is a game changer for the country. Balochistan shall be the major beneficiary. It is likely to open new vistas for international business and trade. Its connectivity with rest of the country has been acheived through newly built expressways i.e., Karachi-Gwadar Makran Coastal Highway, Ratodero-Gwadar Motorway, and Peshawar-DI Khan- Zhob-Quetta-Gwadar Expressway.
In this information era, Balochistan's promising economic future is known worldwide. External/internal anti-Pakistan forces are now active in sensitive regions of Balochistan with clandestine mission to retard the pace of socio-economic developments in the province. Though reduced in intensity, the sporadic terrorist activities in areas like Turbat, Panjgur, Khuzdar and other districts have nefarious designs to keep the pot boiling with internal security concerns. One of the impact is that construction workforce, educationists, doctors, engineers, and other semi-skilled workforce from other provinces is reluctant to fill shortfall of productive workforce in this province. All districts of this province are long due for modern outlook of public offices, tertiary hospitals, educational institutions, sanitation facilities, recreation resorts etc. But all this is not achievable without entry of professional workforce from other provinces.
Rural areas suffer equal state of neglect if not more. Balochistan is 93% rangeland and hardly 30% out of it is suitable for agricultural purposes. Livestock is the mainstay for survival. Water is extremely scant and so are other amenity resources in rural areas.
Thin population density, and that too scatterred far induces constraints for town planning and development of healthcare, education, sanitation and other facilities in tehsil and lower levels. Widespread poverty and absence of medium and long term plans have left a serious challenge for civil-military leadership as how to move further in a short time and implement a road map that fights poverty, unemployment, socio-economic deprivations and above all, eliminate terrorist networks that are frustrating the economic development plans.
Key recommendations emerging to improve Balochistan situation can be summarised in ensuing paragraphs.
Law and order situation in all the divisions and more specifically in Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Awaran and Kharan districts must be addressed as first priority. Frontier Corps (FC) alone is not enough. Balochistan Levies and police should be restructured, modernised and equipped with modern arms, surviellance equipment, aerial mobility and bulletproof jackets/transport in accordance with internal security situation.
Grand Jirga comprising eminent leaders should meet and pursuade the dissidents to give up militancy in the interest of province.
Intelligence system must remain active for cataloging collaborators, sympathisers, weaponary, morale, logistics, financing systems, relationship between the militants and locals, foreign support and above all terrorist cells/ killing squads present in built-up-areas of troubled regions and keep a vigilant eye on routes from where terrorists may sneak in or out under the guise of peaceful citizens.
Bulk of the population distances itself away from terrorists; it is now easier to mobilize popular support for the government. Reasonable concessions should be extended to those who voluntarily give up militancy. There is no need for the application of brute force in such cases.
Mines/minerals cannot be doled out to foreign companies when we have scientists who can develop these locally. More than 50 metallic and non-metallic minerals have been discovered. We should establish Mineral Development Authority headed by eminent scientists (PAEC/NESCOM service background) and members from geology, economy, engineering backgrounds. This authority should be created in each province and assigned the mandate for indigenous development of precious metals like gold, copper, platinum, molybdenum, rare earth metals, etc. for the country. Special Planning Division (SPD) at the federal level should be responsible for financing and the security of this authority.
Long term and focused strategy for districts and lower levels’ development is necessary. Master plans for cities should be developed and executed by engagement of experts from the market. Town planning of new towns at a scale of one per administrative division should figure high on agenda and implementation. All prerequisites such as modern healthcare systems, educational institutions, electricity, public transport, water and sanitation systems should be important features of the new towns. When developed, scattered population should be encouraged to relocate in new towns. Workforce shortfalls should be met first from natives of Balochistan and the deficit may be met by other provinces. Balochistan should devise special financial incentives and security packages for doctors, nurses, lady health visitors, engineers, teachers and skilled labour from other provinces on 3-5 years contract/deputation employment basis.
Other provinces should enhance the quota for Balochi students in engineering and medical colleges including vocational and paramedics institutes till these facilities are available in Balochistan.
Agriculture, livestock and small industries should be given financial incentives for developments in all districts. We may begin from insurgency prone areas. Panjgur and Turbat are fertile for dates. Date syrups are expensive worldwide. Hence there should be an initiative to set up plants here for extraction of date pulp/syrup. Likewise, Kharan is rich for surma (antimony), Saffron, fig and dates. Setting up processing units can be beneficial for value addition and generating economic advantages for the locals.
Fisheries in Arabian Sea along Balochistan coastal belt has immense potential that is largely unexploited. Arabian Sea is internationally considered the most biologically productive area but we live with self-imposed road blocks. Processing plants on Balochistan coastal belt are mostly outdated or non-functional. Whichever facilities are functional they are running on low capacity. We should develop sustainable fishing policy consistent with international standards for quantum leap in this sector. Coastal areas should have cultivation of palm oil plants. Industrial zones should be encouraged alongside newly built expressways.
Water is scant in all the districts. There is an urgent need for construction of small water dams all over Balochistan. Politics on dams should not impede progress. Dams like Mirani, Shadikor, Sawar etc. should be operational and replicated wherever feasible.
Gwadar Sea Port and city development projects must pick up momentum. Fifteen projects are lined up here for early completion. Housing Schemes planned under private sector must commence. Construction in free zone and industrial estate should keep pace with developments in seaport. Water desalination plants, and gas and electricity are important prerequisites for development activity here.
Pakistan-Iran railway lines and connectivity with Central Asian Republics should get priority in allocation of funds.
Free zones should cater for abundant space for interested countries from Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and others for setting up their industries and corporate offices.
There is a need to constitute an apex implementation committee headed by the CM Balochistan to monitor implementation of development plans.
Conclusively, nothing will move on ground unless we have result oriented, visionary, trustworthy, strategically focused, and honest team for decision making/implementation procedures.
The writer is a retired Brigadier and has served in National Accountability Bureau and Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission Islamabad.