by Javed Hafiz
Poor governance in Balochistan is a major issue
Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, is a fascinating place. It is a frontier town with close ethnic and cultural links to both Iran and Afghanistan. The bulk of the city’s population is Pashtun, followed by the Baloch, the Brahvees, Punjabi settlers and the ethnic Hazaras, many of whom still speak Persian. There is significant military presence of corps strength and the famous Staff College is located there. So Quetta is a fairly cosmopolitan city with a bracing climate. This city has a special importance for my family as my wife was born in Quetta and calls herself a
Balochistan, traditionally a forgotten backyard, has been in the limelight of late and for negative reasons. It has seen three, some say five, military actions. In some districts, the situation is still turbulent. This province still hosts two million Afghan refugees and shadows of the current conflict in Afghanistan often lurk here. The wounds caused by Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death have not yet healed fully. Sectarian killings, which were alien to this tolerant city, have raised their ugly head. A couple of months ago, a US Congressman felt a sudden bout of “sympathy” for the Baloch people. All said and done, there is no denying the fact that Balochistan has a very strategic location.
I visited Quetta recently as a member of an NGO team. The purpose of our visit was to launch a report about the quality of democracy in Pakistan and to hold discussions with all stakeholders in this important province. The security situation in the city was tense and nine ethnic Hazaras were killed while we were there. Soon after the killings, we had a detailed meeting with the representatives of this community. The Hazaras are a wonderful people. They are enterprising in business and their literacy rate is higher than other ethnic segments. They have produced great soldiers like General Musa Khan. They are proud Pakistanis and can contribute a lot to the development of their province as they have the necessary skills.
In Balochistan, the Pashtun and Baloch populations were evenly poised. The arrival of millions of Afghan refugees, the bulk of whom are Pashtun from Kandhahar and its vicinity, has upset that fine balance. The killing of Hazaras too appears to be a corollary of the Afghan conflict as the Hazaras there are aligned with the Northern Alliance, against the Taliban. We could not venture much out of the Serena Hotel due to the security situation. Our meeting with Governor Zulfiqar Magsi was quite instructive. Having earlier served twice as chief minister, he is very knowledgeable about the province and its problems. A meeting proposed with Nawab Aslam Raeesani, the chief minister, could not materialise as he was out of town.
The problem in Balochistan is complicated and in some serious ways.The boycott of the 2008 elections by the nationalist parties has brought forth a second class and inexperienced leadership. Sixty out of a total of 65 members of the provincial parliament are ministers or advisers. There is no dearth of funds and each MP has been given 250 million rupees for development purposes. Then there is this very serious problem of missing persons. Chief Justice Chaudhary is in Quetta addressing this very issue as I write these lines. During a hearing of the case, he asked the additional chief secretary whether six MPs representing Quetta city had spent their funds honestly. As in rest of Pakistan, corruption is an issue here.
It was a time honoured tradition in this province to divide the top two political positions between the two major ethnic groups. For reasons best known to the rulers in Islamabad and Quetta, both the positions are now with the Baloch which is not ideal. Poor governance is one huge issue. The police is demoralised and bureaucrats below par and politicised. Vital development projects like the Gawader-Ratto Dero road have been inordinately delayed. This province, which can be the richest in Pakistan, is right now the poorest. The Pakistan Army has started a Cadet College at Sui which is a laudable project and needs to be replicated elsewhere.
Those who think there is a huge secessionist movement here are wrong. My impression is very different though, I must concede, the situation is far from normal. I would suggest that the president , prime minister and an important federal minister should visit Quetta every month. Development projects should be completed quickly. The issue of missing persons should be resolved with dispatch. The great Baloch people should be respected and not ignored. While in Quetta, I sincerely felt that many of its residents were better Pakistanis