The troubled province of Balochistan is being painted out to be on the verge of dismemberment from Pakistan as East Pakistan in 1971 to become Bangladesh. It is portrayed that the people of Balochistan are totally disenchanted with Pakistan and would rather opt for independence; and there is a fierce war of insurgency raging to achieve this end.

The fact is that, indeed, Balochistan is the largest but the poorest of country’s provinces. Its share of national income has historically ranged between 3.7 percent and 4.9 percent.

Since 1972, Balochistan’s gross income has grown in size by 2.7 times. It is rich in mineral resources; the natural gas fields of Sui supply gas to the whole of Pakistan. Outside Quetta the resource extraction infrastructure of the province is gradually developing, but still lags far behind other parts of Pakistan. There are currently several major exhaustible-resource-extraction related construction projects in progress, including the seaport at Gwadar.

Exhaustible resources trade will be conducted via the port to and from China. There is also Chinese involvement in the nearby Saindak gold and copper mining project. A large gold and copper deposit exists in the Chagai District and has been called the Reko Diq. The main licence (EL5) is held jointly by the Government of Balochistan (25 percent), Antofagasta Minerals (37.5 percent) and Barrick Gold (37.5 percent). These deposits are comparable in size to the nationally-controlled deposits Sarcheshmeh in Iran and Escondida in Chile (which are the second and the third largest proven deposits of copper in the world). Foreign multinationals BHP Billiton and Tethyan entered into a joint venture with the Balochistan government to develop these deposits. The potential annual copper production has been estimated to be 900,000 to 2.2 million tons. The deposits seem to be largely of porphyry rock nature.

Once Balochistan reaches its true potential, it will in fact become the richest of Pakistan’s provinces and will help it sustain economically. However, the atmosphere in Balochistan is tense and exasperating, duly marred with violent acts of killing innocent people/political opponents, looting and kidnapping unarmed fellow citizens for the purposes of getting payoffs and ransom, and challenging the writ of the state through armed attacks against law enforcement agencies/Frontier Constabulary (FC), thereby creating further chaos and disorder in the province.

Unfortunately, the political leadership, both at provincial and federal levels, appears to be oblivious to the consequences. It is being propagated that foreign agencies are increasing their clout to destabilise the province. The conspiracy theory is based on getting control of its rich mineral resources, as well as exploiting its strategic location overlooking the Arabian Sea. Thus, instead of thwarting the evil eye being cast on the province, the political leadership, along with a few drumbeaters in the media, is busy reiterating that the situation in Balochistan has worsened due to the mess created by the army/ISI/FC. This is extremely cynical and contemptuous, as the political government is in place for the last four years and for the first time a civilian government is likely to complete its five years’ term. The media and the public opinion builders show bigotry/prejudice against the army/ISI/FC and blame the previous government/army/FC for their failure to complete any of the developmental projects or to address the problem of law and order situation, political turmoil and foreign interference in the province. It is, however, important to keep in mind that the huge amounts of developmental funds expended by the present political leaders, yet they have failed to provide any relief to the Balochis.

The truth is that a handful of feudal lords are trying to foment trouble and fan separatism. The majority of Balochis neither want separation, nor dissidence. They are interested in peace and prosperity. It is imperative that to silence the rabble-rousers, the media should suggest to all concerned to stop blaming the army/ISI/FC for the failure of the political leadership and give chance to pro-federation majority to express its views on unity of federation, patriotism and loyalty to Pakistan, rejecting the illegal demands of few delinquent separatists and wayward rebels. Majority of people in Balochistan are peace-loving and deserve to have the basic amenities of life, like education, health, communication and employment opportunities. Prosperity can definitely return to the province by sinking the differences and making a concerted effort to uplift the status of the common Baloch.  

n    The writer is a political and defence analyst.