A map showing the extensive area comprising the “Empty Quarter”, one of the most underdeveloped areas in Balochistan despite having produced five chief ministers | Photo from the book
A map showing the extensive area comprising the “Empty Quarter”, one of the most underdeveloped areas in Balochistan despite having produced five chief ministers | Photo from the book

'Balochistan is the most deprived province.’ This is the oft-repeated line used by nationalist politicians of Balochistan. But such claims are mere rhetoric. These politicians are often unable to present any evidence with which to back up their concern. However, Dr Kaiser Bengali, in his new book A Cry for Justice: Empirical Insights from Balochistan, presents a case of the region’s state of deprivation in a very articulate manner. The book, which focuses on political economy, provides a concrete, factual basis that can be used to plead the case of deprivation of Balochistan in the federal structure of Pakistan.

Dr Bengali is a noted economist who, from 2013 to 2016, served as the head of the Chief Ministers’ Policy Reforms Unit (CMPRU) in Balochistan. During his stint as CMPRU chief, Dr Bengali and his team produced research papers on various issues concerning the province. This book is largely made up of data collected during that period and presents the case of deprivation of Balochistan by focusing on five areas: gas extraction, economic underdevelopment, social protection, share in federal civil services and representation in Pakistani parliament.

Dr Bengali describes in detail how Pakistan benefitted from the gas field at Sui. From 1952 till 1969, Sui was the only field supplying gas to the country; till the late ’80s it remained the country’s largest producer of gas. However, Balochistan received gas supply for the first time in 1982. Sui gas had a high shadow price, but it was sold to consumers in other provinces — especially fertiliser producers in Punjab — at a lower rate. According to Dr Bengali’s calculations, Balochistan had paid subsidies of Rs 7.69 trillion from 1955 to 2014. That speaks volumes about the region’s contribution to the economic development of Pakistan, whereas it itself has remained economically backward. In order to compensate for these causes of deprivation, Dr Bengali suggests that Balochistan must be provided with 20 percent subsidy on natural gas for the next 20 years.

Despite a few omissions, Dr Kaiser Bengali has done a service to Balochistan by eloquently presenting the case for the sense of deprivation that the province experiences

The book also mentions an interesting happening, not publicly known before, which shows the federal government’s lack of interest to end loadshedding in Quetta. In April 2014, a private company requested the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGC) to supply it 9.5 MMCF of gas so that it could establish a 50 megawatt power plant in Quetta. This plant, if established, would have ended electricity loadshedding in Quetta, but the federal government declined this request on the grounds that the SSGC didn’t have the required gas supply. This was a clear violation of Article 158 of the Constitution which states that provinces producing gas would receive gas in precedence over other provinces of Pakistan. Consequently, today Quetta faces around 10 hours of loadshedding even in the winter.

Dr Bengali argues that development started in Balochistan in 1970 when it was given the status of a province. The projects that started at the time, such as the Pat Feeder Canal, the RCD Highway connecting Quetta with Karachi and Taftan, and the establishment of textile mills in Quetta and Lasbela, provided the impetus for economic growth. However, there were no attempts to increase economic growth in the ’80s and ’90s. As a result, research shows that in 2001, 88 percent of Balochistan’s population was highly deprived as opposed to only a quarter of the total population of Punjab.

The book points out a new term: the “Empty Quarter” of Balochistan. Dr Bengali argues that the area comprising districts Kharan, Washuk, Panjgur, Awaran and part of Kalat and Khuzdar makes up a quarter of the region’s land area, and it is the most deprived in terms of infrastructure and human development indicators. What Dr Bengali does not mention is that this same Empty Quarter produced five chief ministers for the province, including the last three. This highlights the failure and apathy of Balochistan’s politicians towards their own constituencies.

The third area on which the book focuses is the social protection provided to the underprivileged sections of society in the form of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). Dr Bengali, who was among the founders of the BISP, reveals that only 3.7 percent of BISP beneficiaries are from Balochistan whereas the population share of the province is 5.1 percent. To provide context, 34 percent of BISP beneficiaries are from Sindh, which has a population share of 23.04 percent. There can’t be a bigger injustice than this for Balochistan which is the most backward province and yet does not get its share in the only nationwide social security net of the country.

Affairs of the federal government are run by the bureaucracy and, again, Balochistan is not getting its due share; it has only 4.1 percent share in federal government jobs, despite its population share of 5.1 percent. In 2006, a cabinet committee made a set of recommendations to increase Balochistan’s share in the federal bureaucracy, but none of the recommendations were adopted. Dr Bengali suggests that Balochistan’s quota should be increased to 10 percent so that the area’s people can get proper representation in the federal government apparatus. In this chapter, Dr Bengali fails to mention the issue of fake Balochistan domiciles acquired by people from other provinces. This results in people from other provinces getting jobs earmarked for Balochistan. Furthermore, fake domiciles render any increase in job quota of Balochistan ineffective.

The issue of under-representation in parliament is also discussed in the book. The size of a national assembly constituency in Balochistan is 18 times greater than a constituency in Punjab. This automatically makes it difficult for politicians in Balochistan to carry out election campaigns and as a result, they use undemocratic means to win elections. So, the size of a constituency also affects democratic principles, and subsequently damages the public interest. The solution to this critical problem, as highlighted by Dr Bengali, lies in doubling Balochistan’s share in parliament beyond its share of the population. This will not only strengthen democracy in the region, but will also be a gesture of goodwill on the part of the federal government and other provinces.

Dr Bengali is criticised by some in Balochistan for his term as chief of the CMPRU. His detractors claim that he enjoyed perks in the name of policy reform for three years and made no practical progress. All this criticism notwithstanding, Dr Bengali has done a huge service to Balochistan by authoring this book — service that even the academics of the region failed to do. He has eloquently presented the case of deprivation of Balochistan with

facts extracted from the records of the federal government. A Cry for Justice can be used by researchers who want to further explore the deprivations of Balochistan, and the alarming facts the book presents should be more than enough for the federal government to realise how it has wronged the province. There is also no harm in adopting Dr Bengali’s suggestions for all the five aforementioned areas.

Lastly, such books, as the one Dr Bengali has penned, can prove, with the help of empirical evidence, how certain people in Balochistan, including politicians, sardars, bureaucrats and government employees have contributed to keeping their province deprived.

The reviewer is a Quetta-based freelance journalist and editor of the online publication Balochistan Voices

A Cry for Justice: Empirical
Insights from Balochistan
By Dr Kaiser Bengali
Oxford University Press,
ISBN: 978-0199408047

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 25th, 2018


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