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Dawn

Published Date: Feb 8, 2013

Peace needed for development

THE
federal cabinet’s decisions to hand over Gwadar port to the Chinese and to go
ahead with the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project despite US pressure seem
to be politically motivated moves made by an outgoing government ahead of
elections.

However,
the pipeline will remain a dream and Gwadar a commercial failure unless there
is peace and stability in Balochistan.

It
has been argued that Gwadar port could not be made fully functional due to a
lack of rail and road connectivity and issues related to the acquisition of
land for the development of free zones. These issues could have been amicably
settled with the Singaporean firm that was originally supposed to run the port,
and now will hopefully be resolved with the Chinese operator of the strategic
port. Yet the real issue is the precarious law and order situation that has
held all development schemes in Balochistan hostage.

Without
laying a network of roads and railways throughout the province, Gwadar cannot
be connected to the rest of the country and other regional states.
Realistically speaking, the local contractors have so far been unable to even
continue smooth work on small projects due to law and order problems. So how
can a mega project such as Gwadar be expected to succeed in the violence-hit
province?

In
May 2004 three Chinese engineers were killed and nine others wounded when a van
carrying 12 Chinese engineers and technicians was attacked by gunmen. Such acts
of sabotage have made Balochistan an unsafe location for foreign investors,
discouraging business groups from acquiring long-term stakes in Gwadar. Who
will come to invest in a province facing multifaceted violence? Who will do
business in Gwadar at gunpoint?

It
is also legitimate to ask what Balochistan has received and what it will
receive from the development of Gwadar port. The plan of setting up a military
cantonment in Gwadar immediately came up as the construction of the port was
started in 2002.
Immediately after the Chinese completed work on the first phase of the project,
a military operation was launched in Balochistan in 2005.

It
would have been much better if a comprehensive plan for human development
through the establishment of technical institutes imparting training in
port-related operations could have been implemented in Balochistan. This could
have had a salutary effect on the local population.

Also,
the larger part of the proposed IP pipeline will traverse Balochistan’s
territory. Security is a concern for this venture as well. Presently, incidents
of targeting gas installations and the blowing up of gas pipelines have become
routine in the province.
The proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline could
not materialise due to the uncertain security situation in Afghanistan. Can
Islamabad effectively handle the security of the IP pipeline traversing the
volatile province? India withdrew from the Iran pipeline project in 2009
raising concerns about risks confronting the project.

It
is not the ports and pipelines that will bring peace and stability to Pakistan.
Rather, peace is required for such projects — which are vital to economic
progress and prosperity — to materialise.

Balochistan
is a small — population-wise — and impoverished province, which has always remained
on the political periphery of the country. The long history of neglect and
discrimination against the province and the military operations undertaken in
it have made Balochistan an extremely sensitive place.

Today,
the province suffers from political unrest. It reels from sectarian terrorism
and targeted killings along ethnic lines. The establishment’s suspected ‘kill
and dump’ policy has further complicated the issue.

Lawlessness
has also aggravated poverty in the province. According to a report launched by
the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute last year, 52 per
cent of Balochistan’s population lives below the poverty line. The study
reveals that 20 districts in the whole country have an acute poverty incidence,
out of which 16 are located in this province.

Last
month, Balochistan’s coalition government led by Aslam Raisani was dismissed
and governor’s rule was imposed. Yet in the present scenario no government —
even governor’s rule — appears to be able to pacify the restive province. The
fact is that Balochistan is virtually under the control of the military
establishment. The provincial government has limited authority.

Without
taking the genuine Baloch leadership on board, both the IP pipeline and Gwadar
port will have an uncertain future. The province should be the primary
beneficiary of any development activity planned there. The real issue is about
the local
ownership of projects that makes people directly responsible for their security
and sustainability.

Yet
there seems to be a silver lining. Last year, Baloch nationalist leader Sardar
Akhtar Mengal paved the way for political reconciliation by presenting a
six-point charter. Mengal demanded the disbandment of the so-called death
squads suspected of operating under the intelligence agencies, the production
of all missing persons before a court of law, freedom for Baloch political
parties to resume political activities, bringing the killers of Baloch leaders
to justice and the rehabilitation of displaced Baloch people.

Yet
the establishment seems to be in a state of denial instead of exploiting the
opportunity given by Sardar Mengal. As far as the state is concerned, all is
well in Balochistan and everything is under control.

If
this were true, what would all the fuss be about?