QUETTA: The state’s response to the latest Baloch insurgency can easily be summed up: bullets and rupees.
The extrajudicial elimination of armed insurgents and supporters of Baloch separatism by the security forces along with pouring record sums of money into provincial coffers for development and current expenditure represents a two-pronged approach to tamping down the insurgency.
Some security officials believe the approach is working. “Shops are reopening, property prices are going up, settlers are returning,” argued an official dealing with the military side of the state’s response.
But others are not so sure. Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani suggested the downturn in insurgent violence is only a `lull’.
“The problem has not gone away,” Raisani said.
Such thoughts were echoed by other security officials. IGFC Maj Gen Obaidullah Khan said, “All insurgencies have the same cycle. Violence goes up, then the state responds militarily and then the political machinery kicks in. But the political side just isn’t up to the task at the moment.”
Security forces vs civilians
It’s an old problem in Balochistan: civilian officials claim the security forces compound insurgencies by trying to quell them using violence; security officials claim corruption and incompetence of civilian governments undermine military gains.
In truth, both the security and civilian arms of the state are to blame.
Of the security forces’ approach, a local politician asked, “Say they eliminate all the militants; then what? If you have no plan for what comes next, you risk losing those areas all over again.”
Agha Hassan Baloch, central information secretary of the BNP-M, said, “The problem is the state still hasn’t understood what the problem is. It’s not just about building roads and drains and providing jobs. They need to end the military operations and go back to the barracks. Recover the missing people. Find out who is responsible for the dead bodies turning up.”
But civilian officials from the chief minister downwards suggest they have been rebuffed by the security establishment when trying to broach the issue of ‘kill and dump’ operations, the security forces’ violent approach to dealing with separatists over the past year.
On the civilian side, at present a significant part of the problem appears to be that popular nationalist parties like the Baloch BNP-M and NP boycotted the Feb 2008 elections, leaving the door open for relatively weak Baloch politicians. “It was a mistake. We were misled by Nawaz Sharif and then weren’t able to wriggle out of the boycott pledge,” a National Party leader said.
The outcome of that mistake is a provincial government immersed in the old tribal politics of Balochistan. “Nawab Raisani wants to make a difference, but the trouble is he’s got a weak team. And he can’t push too hard because of the problems with (Yar Muhammad) Rind, who will pull everyone to his side if Raisani demands too much,” said a local politician.
The powerful Rind, one of a handful of opposition MPAs in the 65-member Balochistan Assembly, is locked in a bitter feud with Raisani, whose father Rind is accused of killing.
Record provincial funds
Weak though it may be, the provincial government has massive, unprecedented resources at its disposal. According to Syed Fazl-e-Haider, author of ‘The Economic Development of Balochistan’: “Under the 7th NFC award, Balochistan’s share in the divisible pool increased to 9 per cent from the earlier 5 per cent. It also succeeded in getting Rs120bn in gas development surcharge arrears outstanding since 1954, which would be paid in annual instalments of Rs12bn.”
The result is a spectacular increase in funding for the province, with receipts and expenditure doubling between 2009-10 and 2010-11. Balochistan’s annual development programme for the last financial year clocked in at Rs27bn as compared to Rs13bn in 2007-08.
The spending spree is visible in Mastung town, part of Chief Minister Raisani’s constituency. Overseen by District Commissioner Noorul Haq, a dynamo of a civil servant constantly checking his BlackBerry or iPad, the town is set to acquire a Rs230 million hospital spread over nearly 30 acres of land, a massive education complex that will house everything from primary schools to degree-awarding colleges, a squash court, a town hall and sundry other multi-million-rupee development projects.
Yet, critics contend that many such projects are white elephants and dreamt up as vehicles for earning lucrative kickbacks.
With each MPA given Rs180 million as discretionary funds in the present financial year and Rs250 million in the next, the incentive to spend is high.
An MPA explained how the process works: “You don’t just get money to put in your pocket. It’s indirect and revolves around contracts. Say some business needs protection in your area. They also need to rent vehicles. So they rent the vehicles they need from you, but instead of the normal rate of Rs1,000, they’ll pay you Rs5,000.”
While buildings are relatively easy to erect — though skilled non-Baloch labour is often hard to acquire given the security situation — the problems of staffing and maintenance are harder to resolve. In Mastung, a resident complained that the existing hospital “has no MBBS doctors, no medicines, not even Panadol.”
At the local girls’ college, a state-of-the-art computer centre with air conditioning and a back-up generator has been completed recently. While pleased with the new facility, several students asked Noorul Haq, the district commissioner, to waive the Rs100-200 monthly fee charged by college administrators to keep the lab functional. Haq expressed surprise over the demand for a fee and promised it would be revoked. But it was telling example of the pitfalls that await new development projects.
Still, the spending does appear to be having an impact. In adjoining Kalat, a local, Mir Karim Lango, regarded the development spending in Mastung with envy. “Look around, we get nothing here. No schools, no hospitals, nothing,” Lango said. The Langos of Mangucher, Kalat, have an unfortunate track record of supporting losing candidates in elections, meaning they are frequently overlooked when it comes to development spending.
Even where development funds are being spent in Baloch areas, however, the harsh realities of life are difficult to mask.
Grinding poverty is all too visible among the adobe homes in rural areas and many parts of the small towns. In Mastung district (population: 200,000), the literacy rate for males hovers around 30 per cent and is under 20 per cent for women.
No will to change
In Quetta, too, the more subtle forms of Baloch marginalisation are evident. Baloch bureaucrats and police officials frequently complained of under-representation in the services. Zafarullah Baloch, the serving home secretary and, according to him, one of only two Baloch to have held the office since 1972, said: “There is discrimination in the services. Today, there is no federal secretary who is a Baloch.”
But as Fazl-e-Hyder explained, the problem is more complex: “The percentage of Baloch in federal services is nominal due to the province’s small quota (3.5 per cent), while it is larger than Pashtuns and other ethnic groups in the provincial services due to district-wise quota in provincial jobs.”
According to Hyder the real problem in Balochistan is that it is “short of professionals and experts. It lacks the institutional capacity and human capital to utilise its vast natural resources.”
Acquiring the necessary doctors, engineers, economists and academicians, though, would require a paradigm shift in how Balochistan’s elite regard their province and its people. But, as one analyst pointed out, the will to change is almost non-existent: “The civilian government is happy enough. As long as the insurgency survives, money will pour their way. Why should they care?”