Despite being the richest in mineral resources and having a 750 kilometre coastline, offering tranquil beaches and abundance of marine life, Balochistan is the most neglected province of Pakistan. Successive governments have not only left the Balochis in gross neglect, but also plundered its riches, leaving the inhabitants in a shabby and decrepit condition.

Besides the federal government, the provincial governments of Balochistan and the feudal lords have been complicit in this criminal abandon. In the decade 2000 onwards, various development projects were launched to reduce the plight of Balochis, but it seems to be a case of too little, too late. Decisions that should have been taken in the seventies and eighties are being taken now, which has done little to alleviate the misery of people. Resultantly, the Balochis have been exploited to fuel insurgency and strife. Most of their grievances are genuine, but taking up arms was not the right action.

In the near past, the armed forces of Pakistan have taken up the cudgels for the uplift of the Balochis. The main areas of concern have been education, health and means of livelihood to wean away the disgruntled elements into lives of normalcy. Both the army and the navy have spearheaded projects to induct Baloch youth into their services, as well as set up educational and medical institutions.

As regards recruitment in the armed forces, there have been adequate vacancies. But a small number of Baloch youth have come forward to join this profession, mainly because of illiteracy and ignorance. Resultantly, their representation in the armed forces has been less as compared to the youth from other provinces. In order to create awareness among them about the military, and subsequently choosing it as their profession, over the past few years, the armed forces have started a massive awareness campaign and concession package all over the province.

Consequently, the army’s campaign met with overwhelming successes. Thousands of Baloch youth appeared for recruitment in various army selection and recruitment centres. About 4,000 Balochi recruits of this massive campaign completed their basic training on October 29, 2010, and joined various units of the Pak Army. The induction of these soldiers in large numbers is a major milestone and historical occasion for their families and the province. Additionally, 10,000 youths - still undergoing basic military training in various institutions - are likely to join the prestigious service in the near future.

Likewise, Pakistan Navy (PN) has launched the “N” Cadet scheme. The Baloch youth are being inducted in different cadet colleges through a sponsorship system in which they will be able to join the navy after completion of their studies. In a fast-track scheme, they are being taken directly into the PN as officers without undergoing the rigours of the Inter Services Selection Board (ISSB). Two years after commissioning, they will have to undergo the selection process by ISSB, and by that time they will be better equipped to pass the tests. Similar schemes are being undertaken for induction into the PN’s other ranks. Different branches of Bahria schools and colleges are being set up in the province, while simultaneously local schools are being sponsored by the navy where books, furniture, sports equipment and development funds are being provided.

On its part, local army units have been assigned by the COAS to arrange educational classes for the children of poor people, who cannot afford the heavy expenses of imparting even basic education. Their boarding, lodging and tuition fee is borne by the Pak Army from its own resources. The army’s contributions in the progress of Balochistan, including Chamalang Education Programme, Sui Education City, and Gwadar Institutes of Technical Education, are remarkable. Measures have been taken to sustain these projects, which are contributing positively towards better education and creation of jobs for common people, particularly in its remote areas.

Moreover, the health sector has received no less attention. Both the army and navy have set up medical centres and hospitals, where the Balochis not only receive free treatment, but also medicines. The navy’s Darman Jah Hospital at Ormara with a 100-bed facility and state-of-the-art medical equipment is a matter of pride for Pakistan. Additionally, serious patients are transferred to major hospitals in Karachi and other metropolitan centres if required. These facilities also provide equal employment opportunities to Baloch boys and girls. Indeed, the contribution of the armed forces in bringing the Baloch youth into the mainstream through their induction process is commendable.

The writer is a political and defence analyst.