Balochistan: Develop or bust

By Malik Siraj Akbar

With the change in the top echelon of Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM), the conglomerate of various nationalist parties has demanded that the 2007 general elections be held under an interim government. Pashtun nationalist leader, Mahmmod Khan Achakzai, who replaced PONM’s outgoing president Sardar Attaullah Mengal, told a news conference in Quetta that elections under the Musharraf junta would be completely meaningless.

“We want the interim government to comprise senior or retired Supreme Court judges. However, these should be judges who did not take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO),” Achakzai told TFT. “Elections under a military president would be as just as ‘transparent’ as General Musharraf’s referendum.”

Earlier, on June 17, PONM staged what it expected to be a grand public gathering. PONM’s president Attaullah Mengal, Balochistan’s first chief minister, spoke very angrily against the federal government’s policies towards Balochistan. Announcing his decision to retire from politics due to poor health, Mengal voiced his disappointment in Islamabad.

“If Pakistan is meant to be the land of one nationality and the smaller units are treated as slaves, then I am not a Pakistani and I don’t wish to be called a Pakistani,” he said. The veteran Baloch leader, whose government’s dismissal in February 1973 had triggered a wave of bloody insurgency in the province, complained that the Baloch had been given a poor deal by successive governments in Islamabad, both civil and military.

Mengal is of the opinion that the Baloch are the masters of their land. Islamabad, he contends, has no right to impose its decisions over the province and its people. “Pakistan cannot survive without us for a single day. The whole country is dependent on our resources. The rest of Pakistan is thriving and becoming more prosperous by utilising our natural resources while we are being deprived of our wealth,” he adds.

Sardar Mengal says he salutes the armed young Baloch men who have taken positions on the hills: “They are fighting a sacred war. Islamabad has created such a situation that they see no option but to pick up the gun against the state. Mountains provide the safest positions for the Baloch. We could not be suppressed in the past. We will humiliate anyone who tries to snatch the morsel from our mouths.”

Analysts say a change in PONM’s presidency will not translate into a change in its ideology and political stance. “PONM wants Islamabad to run Pakistan like an ideal federation where complete autonomy must be granted to all federating units. Provinces’ right of ownership of their resources must be recognised. We cannot say Pakistan Zindabad [long live Pakistan] when our kids are starving and Punjab is wallowing in our wealth,” PONM’s president-elect Mahmmod Khan Achakzai says.

Meanwhile, the Balochistan government, expectedly, came out with an embarrassing deficit budget of Rs10.96 billion for FY 2006-07 on June 20. Presented by Syed Ehsan Shah, provincial minister for finance, the total outlay of the provincial budget is Rs59. 696 billion with non-development expenditure at Rs37.45 billion during the next fiscal year.

However, the development expenditure was retained at Rs10.82 billion with Rs3.76 billion in the Foreign Assistance Development Programme. The Provincial Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) is spread over to Rs7.6 billion.

The present team of the province’s finance department under Shah managed to contain the non-development expenditure to a mere Rs30.33 billion as against the budget estimates of Rs34.6 billion, making a spectacular saving of around Rs4.27 billion. This, say analysts, would help reduce the financial crunch faced by Quetta.

The transfer of resources to the district government was estimated at Rs12. 21 billion but is being increased to Rs14.76 billion in the current fiscal year. The budget estimates for revenue receipts for the current fiscal year were Rs29.17 billion, though revised estimates have put them at Rs32.2 billion.

Similarly, the provincial revenue receipts were estimated at Rs1.6 billion but revised estimates put the revenue receipts at Rs2.5 billion with Rs882 million as tax receipts and Rs1.6 billion in non-tax receipts. The Balochistan government has also announced a grant of Rs60 million for the improvement of district governments’ performance.

Finance minister Shah, in his budget speech, held Islamabad responsible for the province’s ongoing financial crunch. He whined that Balochistan’s demand for the issuance of a new formula for the National Finance Commission (NFC) award had not been entertained in Islamabad. He said that Balochistan faced a loss of Rs17 billion annually under the head of the Gas Development Surcharge (GDS).

When asked how his government would cope up with the Rs10.96 billion deficit and a debt of Rs52 billion, Shah said the shortfall would be met through austerity and curtailing non-development expenditure.

Balochistan Assembly initiated the debate over the provincial budget on 23 June. Members of treasury and opposition benches jointly criticised the federal government and said it would harm the interests of the province to delay the issuance of the NFC award anymore.

Now, the situation has reached a pass where even the ruling League members cannot avoid hitting out at the federal government. This, say analysts, does not bode well for Islamabad especially as the country moves towards general elections next year. As one observer put it, “Islamabad will have to do something to instil confidence among the Baloch.”

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