THROUGH a series of publications released last week, the Balochistan government has revealed its development vision that should be widely discussed by both experts and common citizens.
A study on the legislation carried out by the coalition government confirms its keenness 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.
The laws in the latter category that deserve special attention are: the Civilian Victims of Terrorism (Relief and Rehabilitation) Act, the Compulsory Education Act, the Introduction of Mother Language as Compulsory Additional Subject at Primary Level Act, and Cultural Heritage Preservation Act.
The bills in the pipeline provide for a new health policy under WHO vaccination requirements, reform of the juvenile justice system, protection and welfare of children, prohibition of private money-lending, and welfare of senior citizens. The emphasis on child rights and public welfare can only be welcomed.
Another study offers a candid analysis of the state of school education in the province, something rare in official publications: 60pc of children aged between six and 16 are out of school; while 85pc of pupils are enrolled in government schools, 30pc of the students in Khuzdar district and 40pc in Sherani are in madressahs; out of the 12,103 schools 3,134 (26pc) are shelterless and 6,164 (50.9pc) consist of one or two rooms; 8.1pc of class X students cannot read English at all.
However sound a proposed development strategy for Balochistan may seem, the pitfalls cannot be ignored.
The gender disparity rates are quite disturbing. In 2010-11, girls accounted for 40.9pc of the enrolment in primary schools, 44.32pc in middle schools and in high schools their share fell to 36.1pc. In Quetta district, girls are more keen on education than elsewhere. There too there were fewer girls in primary schools than boys during 2008-2011 and also in middle schools in 2008-2009. In 2009-10 they outnumbered middle schools but fell below them in 2010-11. However, in high schools girls have consistently outnumbered the boys — 34,638 girls to 26,990 boys in 2008-09, 34,639 girls to 27,218 boys in 2009-10, and 35,490 girls to 29,144 boys in 2010-11.
The effect of social customs, the law and order situation and urban culture on children’s education can easily be appreciated. It is also easy to understand the provincial government’s decision to give priority to education and the maintenance of peace.
Perhaps the most important research document produced by the Chief Minister’s Policy Reform Unit (CMPRU), with the generous support of the government and the UNDP, is the mapping of rural settlements in each of Balochistan’s 30 districts. The elaborately drawn maps in the 233-page survey show each district’s location in the province and the number of revenue villages and rural settlements in it and their population. Also marked on these maps are water resources available in each district and its communication network.
Arrangements have been made to incorporate changes in population or otherwise that may occur over time and to make the whole data available to the public online. The importance of this basic data to planners, policymakers, political activists and even ordinary citizens cannot be exaggerated. It should be possible, with the help of this data, to plan development of water resources and rail/road links on the basis of sound feasibility and in the interest of the people.
If this data is properly disseminated in national languages, the citizens can fix development priorities themselves and can also effectively critique the official plans. This could lead to development through a political consensus.
Finally, the provincial government has introduced a concept note on the Balochistan development vision and strategy prepared by the CMPRU. This core programme for development has been inspired by the belief that Balochistan “possessed tremendous development potential which needed to be harnessed in a planned manner to provide jobs to all and to eliminate poverty and all forms of deprivation”.
The strategy emphasises the need to remove the infrastructure deficit and develop the primary sectors so as to create a sound basis for the further growth of secondary and tertiary sectors. The infrastructure sectors chosen for priority treatment are water, surface communications (road and rail), energy (based on local materials), education and health. Priority is to be given to the following productive sectors; minor crops (fruits and vegetables), livestock, fishing, forestry, mining, small and medium industries (based on local materials).
The programme envisages the development of six economic corridors. For example, the first corridor comprises the northeast districts that produce high value non-staple products — fruits, vegetables, wool, and minerals (coals, chromite, etc), and the sixth corridor comprises the coastal belt with a large potential for fishing industry. Fourteen cities/towns have been identified as growth centres and the strategy envisages the construction of national highways (3,509 kilometres) and provincial highways (2,933km).
However sound the underlying logic of the proposed development strategy and however infectious its author’s (Dr Kaiser Bengali) exuberance and his slogan of 1.5 million jobs for the 1.5 million families may be, the bumps on the road cannot be ignored. To realise its development vision, or any variation on it, Balochistan needs the fullest possible entitlement to self-rule, a privilege it has never had, peace and stability and wise heads and firm hands to manage its affairs.
The challenges Balochistan faces are enormous. The democratic experiment is under attack from the feudal/tribal elite. The nationalists who have given up on Pakistan are far from placated and it would be foolish to pretend that they alone are in the wrong. The role of security forces in the province’s affairs needs to be harmonised with the dictates of government by the will of the people. Above all, Balochistan’s development goals and plans must be owned by the people.
Only time will tell as to what extent Balochistan’s people’s dream of escape from poverty and exploitation will be realised but nothing should detract from the fact that they have a dream worth fighting for.
Published in Dawn December 18th , 2014