Opportunities in Balochistan | By Manzoor Ahmed


Opportunities in Balochistan

WHENEVER we talk of opportunities in Balochistan, we have a strong tendency to highlight the traditional sectors, including minerals, horticulture, fisheries, livestock, handicraft, geostrategic locational advantage, and nowadays with much fanfare on CPEC and Gwadar seaport umbrella projects, as glaring areas to afford opportunities to the people of Balochistan.

Barring CPEC projects which can foster a growth process with a modicum of employment opportunities for (semi)skilled and the educated youth of Balochistan through Special Economic and Free Zones-based small to medium scale industrialisation and promotion of trade and commerce through wider connectivity.

The traditional (sub) sectors, cannot harbinger an inclusive growth process creating ample opportunities.

These sectors albeit are important in contributing and complementing local economy but can hardly provide any solid economic base to build a modern economy and vibrant society.

If we keep thinking on these lines, we will never be able to provide a viable and sustainable roadmap to create opportunities in Balochistan.

It is hard to create opportunities for a larger society from natural resources endowments, particularly the minerals, as any economy based on natural resources inherently remains exclusionary and extractive in nature and highly capital intensive.

In Balochistan, the entire mines and mineral sector, except large scale projects, is controlled by a few families with strong social and political clout in the province.

The fossil fuel, mainly the natural gas reserves are depleting at an unprecedented speed, as the current share of Balochistan in natural gas production has reduced to less than 17% of the total.

Except for Nasirablad division, rest of Balochistan cannot sustain large scale agriculture. The small and medium scale agriculture has historically been sourced through rain-fed canals and perineal water tunnels of Kareez could merely sustain only substance agriculture.

However, the heavy mechanisation of the agriculture at a massive scale through tub-wells on subsidised rate, and now solar-powered machines extracted the deep ground water drying up.

Fisheries and livestock sub-sectors are rapidly diminishing owing to high fish catch through illicit and unregulated big fishing vessels, frequent droughts and rural-urban migration.

Agriculture and fisheries should not be stretched further given the water scarcity and ever depleting fish stocks.

With current socio-political and power structure one can hardly expect that the province offers many opportunities to its people to prosper with a decent living, as the power structure is extremely extractive and controlled by a tiny class coming from top of the hierarchical social structure supplemented by the civil servants riding on the back of public resources.

Balochistan needs altogether a different model of development to create economic opportunities which is sustainable and eco-friendly.

The commodity producing sectors could offer very little growth prospects. The potential for sustainable growth with wider opportunities lie in services sector, including trade and commerce.

The new model of growth and development imperatively needs to be people centric. The fiscal space had been extremely narrowed in the past, leaving the province with limited options to invest on social sector, but the 7th NFC Award created a fiscal cushion.

However, empirical evidence suggests that in post-8th amendment and 7th NFC Award, the initiatives that relatively created a much larger fiscal space with certain administrative and legal autonomy, the province has made no progress at all in any important dimensions.

This alludes to the fact that it is not a matter of resource unavailability only, the onus on the contrary lies with lack of capacity, dearth of political accountability and an acute governance crisis.

With this current governance model and socio-political structure, the corridor of opportunities in Balochistan is not only narrow but getting narrower in every passing times.

Here I offer only two tangible suggestions to broaden the opportunity corridor to the people.

First, those who are at the helm of affairs, need to divert a chuck of the transferred resources of the divisible pool and strait transfers from the federal government to invest in people, through investing in their education and skill building, so that they can create opportunities for themselves.

Balochistan needs to expand the network of the education, mainly technical and higher education institutions, with wider access to quality education.

Access to good education is not only a key aspect of social justice, but one of the main drivers of development in a society.

I suggest that the government should commit to ensuring that quality education at all levels is universally accessible to all.

A vast literature shows a large premium in earning for people with technical and higher education.

The same a remarkable source of socioeconomic mobility. The availability of access to universal quality education is a strong instrument to escape poverty and create socioeconomic opportunities.

Second, Balochistan is in the grip of terribly mis-governance with dearth of accountability of both elected and unelected institutions, poor capacity of departments mainly responsible for critical social and economic services and lack of stringent and ruled-based check and balance.

Such mis-governance causes the diversion of precious resources to unproductive use, triggering a massive wastage, and allows for corruption and embezzlement.

To augment the competence of institutions and departments, the province needs to invest heavily in capacity building of its governance apparatus and put rigorous check and balance to plug the wastage of public resources.

Strong checks and balance will come through strong society with democratic norms which the province is yet to develop.

—The writer is a political economist and currently serves as Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Gwadar.