Balochistan package Dawn Editorail

Balochistan package Dawn Editorail
Monday, 30 Mar, 2009 | 07:28 AM PST |

Money alone will not redress the heartfelt grievances of the people of Balochistan. Nor, as the president pointed out in Quetta on Friday, can issues that have strained relations between the province and the federation for six decades be solved in six months. Some serious spadework is required if Balochistan is to be reintroduced to the political mainstream, and if its people are to be given a sense of ownership over what is rightly theirs.

Only when people are genuinely empowered will the nationalist cause shed its lustre and insurgents come to be seen as surplus to requirements. Let’s face it, Balochistan has been exploited by the centre from day one and the time is ripe to make amends for past sins. The president’s overtures aimed at bringing dissident nationalist forces to the negotiating table are a welcome move in the right direction. So too is the Rs46.6bn ‘Balochistan package’ unveiled by Zardari the other day.

The bulk of the money is to go towards the construction of four large dams, which may help generate employment and assist water-management efforts. But the wisdom behind large dams is questionable and their impact on local people and the environment must be assessed thoroughly before the projects are given the go-ahead. If the centre wants to help, it must ensure that its actions do not inadvertently inflict further misery on the people of Balochistan.

In what may be seen by some as a knee-jerk reaction, some Baloch nationalist groups have rejected the package announced on Friday without even giving it a chance. To disprove the naysayers the president will have to live up to his pledge that recommendations made by Balochistan will be taken up in parliament in due course. Balochistan can prosper and feel that it is the master of its own fate only when the province is awarded control over its immense mineral and fossil-fuel wealth.

The same applies to Sindh, which produces nearly 70 per cent of the country’s oil and gas and generates a similar proportion of overall taxation revenues. Yet it struggles to come up with funds for development expenditure in areas that need it the most. Why is this so and when will this injustice end?
Laws have to be changed. The PPP government spared no effort last year advertising its commitment to provincial autonomy. On March 29, 2008, Prime Minister Gilani announced that the Concurrent Legislative List would be abolished within a year, thereby giving the provinces greater control over their resources. Today is March 30, 2009.

Twelve months have passed but the government has not delivered on its promise. The smaller provinces, and especially Balochistan, will feel hard done by until they can call the land their own and identify fully with the concept of Pakistan.

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