An ambiguous fate for Balochistan’s politics and economy
At a time when the people of Balochistan were expecting some deliverance from the elected representatives of this province, Chief Minister Jam Kamal submitted his resignation to the governor. He stepped down hours before a vote of no-confidence was scheduled against him.
While the disgruntled members of the Balochistan Awami Party and opposition benches can now celebrate their long-awaited victory, it is unfortunate that a political uncertainty was allowed to brew in the province for the last six months. Unfortunately, many in Balochistan feel that this was nothing new. The province continues to face such short-circuited tenures of elected leaders and in turn is unable to see the development initiatives of any of the past governments being completed.
Such a governance model continues to deepen the structural issues which are preventing the province from being at par with the rest of Pakistan. Unfortunately, PM Khan’s plans that should focus on inclusive economic growth, social justice, protection of the environment and natural resources of Balochistan are not becoming a reality.
The security situation in the province has remained a disadvantage for local business activity and recent blasts near the most well known hotel in Quetta have been termed a strategic strike on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As the situation in bordering Afghanistan remains fluid, this geographical uncertainty is also culminating into keeping economic and business interests away from the province.
Amid such a scenario, the role of the center and state remains confusing. Some have said that the federal government allowed the Chief Minister to fall. In fact, the Senate Chairman’s role in encouraging anti-Jam Kamal forces was discussed in the media time and again. Does this mean that the choice of Chief Minister in Balochistan was wrong in the first place?
Second, should the Chief Ministers in the provinces face the same ‘musical chairs’ kind of treatment we have seen in the case of federal Cabinet members? Certainly, the costs of such moves are detrimental and beyond any fair estimation. While the political crisis in Balochistan was brewing, it was not the government institutions at the federation which felt concerned, but the development partners who have investments in the province and were seen running around for information regarding the end-game. The CPEC and trans-boundary programs under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Iran-Pakistan energy cooperation and border trade program present some game changing opportunities for the country as a whole and not just Balochistan.
While the political crisis in Balochistan was brewing, it was not the government institutions at the federation which felt concerned, but the development partners who have investments in the province and were seen running around for information regarding the end-game.
Dr. Vaqar Ahmed
To deliver on mega initiatives in the province, a more sincere effort by the state will be required, which in turn improves the current social contract and state-citizen relationship. The weak dialogue between citizens and public officials at all levels in the province is not allowing accountability and trust to gain ground.
The federal government also needs to evaluate what the countless commissions and task forces on the uplift of Balochistan have delivered. Why have such efforts not culminated into building the necessary social capital which could create stakes for local communities in managing their own institutions and resources? Why is it that improvements in capabilities of local communities (through voice and accountability initiatives), more jobs for the poor and better capacities of civil society organizations in Balochistan could not come about? Why does increasing youth engagement remain elusive? All recent surveys indicate that the educated youth in the provinces rarely see their futures amid this mayhem; forcing them to move to other cities. They are unable to find political ideals at home who could instil hope and purpose.
For Balochistan’s political elite, priorities boil down to securing more and more share in resources that flow from the federal government, public sector development program (PSDP), and provincial government’s Annual Development Program (ADP). Such elitist elements are only seen in the province or their constituencies once they come to power.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this elite has an interest in keeping Balochistan’s economy informal and undocumented. Any corporatization and competition policy for fair businesses cannot reach beyond Quetta. PSDP and ADP projects are marred with inefficiencies because of weak accountability and a policy of ‘no-questions asked’ by the federal government. Political intervention at the level of project selection, design and implementation has broken down the main essence of development planning.
This milieu has significant socio-economic costs which continue to increase as a result of recurrent political turbulence in Quetta. Friends in Beijing have also been vocal about this. They want to see our house in order!
- Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an economist and former civil servant. He tweets @vaqarahmed