Pakistan Election 2018: Parties vow development in Balochistan amid unemployment, poverty, water shortage
The Balochistan Assembly adopted a resolution on 31 May seeking one month's delay in the general elections in the province.
Ahead of the general elections in Pakistan, the political scenario in the country seems to be getting murkier by the day. With deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif becoming ineligible to hold public office for life after a Supreme Court ruling and former military ruler Pervez Musharraf resigning as chairman of All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), the focus has shifted to Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Balochistan is often referred to as Pakistan's "most complicated" region and the politics in the province, as Tara Kartha pointed out in this Firstpost article, has become even more muddied. The most significant development in Baloch politics has been the growth in the number of independents. Some of these, along with the dissidents of PML-N formed a new party Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).
The government in Balochistan completed its term on 31 May, 2018. However, the Balochistan Assembly adopted a resolution on 31 May before adjournment seeking one month's delay in the general elections in the province.
The resolution, according to Geo TV, demanded that the elections be held in August instead of July this year because "a majority of the public wants to undertake Hajj for which (many) would be travelling to Saudi Arabia in July", and hence, they would be unable to vote in the elections.
The resolution also expressed concern saying that the province receives monsoon downpours during the month of July, due to which many districts have to deal with flooding and a lot of residents are forced to move to other areas for shelter. Such a situation would deprive these people of the opportunity to vote, it stated.
The Balochistan Assembly has also demanded an increase in the number of seats in the National and provincial Assemblies.
It demanded that the National Assembly seats be increased district-wise and at least 20 more provincial Assembly seats be added to the current size of 65-member Balochistan Assembly.
Balochistan consists of the southwest of Pakistan. In the west, it borders with Afghanistan and Iran and in the south, it has the Arabian Sea.
Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, spreads over an area of 3,47,190 square kilometres forming 43.6 percent of the total area of Pakistan, according to the government website. It has clustered population and is smallest in proportion as compared to that of other provinces.
Balochistan's geographic area can be divided into four distinct zones – Upper high lands, lower high lands, plains, and deserts.
Population and tribes
According to the 2017 census of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Balochistan has a total population of around 12 million people.
The major tribes are Baloch (Baloch and Brahvi) and Pashtun. According to The Diplomat, Baloch are mostly Sunni Muslim people who speak an Iranian language, Balochi.
The Baloch were traditionally nomads but, they remain a largely pastoral society now.
Most of the people in the cities and towns understand and speak more than two languages. In addition to Balochi, Pashto and Brahvi, the majority of the population understands and speaks Urdu, the national language. In Kachhi and Sibi districts, people speak Seraiki and Sindhi.
The voter turnout for National Assembly elections in Balochistan slightly increased in 2013 as compared to 2008. In 2008, it was 31 percent after several political parties boycotted the election. Despite militants' threat to bar the elections in 2013, Balochistan witnessed a turnout of 38.97 percent for National Assembly election, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
This year, a total of 161 people have filed their nomination papers for the National Assembly seats from Balochistan. For National Assembly constituency NA-265 (Quetta), at least 32 people have filed their nomination papers, according to Dawn.
Among them are Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai, BAP leader Saeed Ahmed Hashmi and Qasim Khan Suri of PTI, the report added.
BAP was formed this year by dissidents of the PML-N and some independent lawmakers. Former chief minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo is also a member of the party.
Balochistan Muttahida Mahaz (BMM) later merged with BAP. Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, who was recently killed in a bomb blast was the chairman of BMM. Right after the two parties merged, Raisani had said that the decision was made keeping in view the BAP’s mission to unite people from all tribes and ethnic backgrounds living in the province for the rights of the province.
BAP has given out 200 tickets to candidates throughout Balochistan for contesting both the National Assembly and provincial Assembly seats.
BAP president Jam Kamal is a chief minister hopeful for Balochistan but, has also filed nomination papers from NA-272. He was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune that the party was formed with the vision to impose good governance in the province and provide people their due rights.
"We will make the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects beneficial for the province," he further said.
Meanwhile, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has appealed to the Baloch people to boycott the 2018 general elections in Pakistan. BLA spokesman Azad Baloch said elections in an occupied land are equivalent to legalising illegal occupation.
Balochistan is a strategically important province for the government of Pakistan because of an abundance of natural resources like oil and gas reserves here. However, despite the resources, the province remains poor.
Poverty: According to Pakistan's first ever official report on multi-dimensional poverty, four out of ten Pakistanis live in acute poverty and Balochistan fares the worst. Four of the five poorest districts are in Balochistan, where the poverty level is alarmingly high. The poorest district is Kila Abdullah with 97 percent of the poor population.
The Nawaz Sharif government had repeatedly said that the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will bring development to this region. Sharif was quoted as saying by Dawn, "Deprivation of the people of Balochistan would come to an end as the port city would bring a ray of hope for them. He said Pakistan would be Asia’s and Gwadar Pakistan’s tiger with the completion of projects under the CPEC."
However, as The Diplomat pointed out that the province's share in CPEC is only 0.5 percent. Bizenjo had also complained that Balochistan was being neglected in the CPEC project. He said that while a major portion of CPEC fell under Balochistan, the people of the province were being ignored in development works of the project.
Economic growth in Balochistan has stagnated in the past decade because of limited investment and capital accumulation, according to a report of Asian Development Bank. Balochistan's enormous resource potential is still untapped, and therefore, it lags behind other provinces in economic development.
Political parties are vowing to change things in the province by getting its share. Kamal said that though Balochistan did not see any development in 70 years, the province will witness real development in every sector.
Balochistan National Party (BNP) leader Haji Lashkari Raisani said that the party was committed to changing the lifestyle of the people if given a chance and blamed the corrupt and incapable representatives of the National Assembly and the provincial Assembly for the misery of the people.
Unemployment: Unemployment is another major issue in Balochistan. Bezinjo had said in February this year that his government was taking concrete steps to eliminate unemployment.
BNP's Raisani expressed concerns over the unemployment rate in the province. Terming it an "alarming issue", he said that the unemployment ratio is touching new heights and will affect future generations. Kamal, according to The Express Tribune, also said that the province continues to suffer from a shortage of water, lack of health facilities and unemployment.
Deplorable healthcare facilities: Healthcare is reportedly a luxury for the people of Balochistan. Sultan Rudhi, who works at the District Health Information Centre, told Geo TV that there is a dearth of medical staff in the province along with the lack of facilities.
The health and education secretaries have often faced the ire of the provincial government, the locals and also the Chief Justice of Pakistan. He berated them over the deteriorating state of public hospitals.
Water shortage: Experts have warned that if dams are not built or groundwater is not refilled, Balochistan will soon run dry. Drought coupled with a drop of 2,000 feet in sea level has destroyed agricultural lands across the province, reported Geo TV. Quetta and Gwadar do not even have water to drink.
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