Book Review: A Cry for Justice

‘Balochistan is the most deprived province,’ this is the oft-repeated cliché used by ethnic-nationalist politicians of Balochistan. The claims of deprivation by the politicians are only rhetoric’s because they normally don’t present any evidence to back their claims. However, Kaiser Bengali in his new book “A Cry for Justice” has presented a case of deprivation of Balochistan in a very articulate manner with the help of empirical evidence. This book which focuses on political economy provides a concrete factual basis which can be used to plea the case of deprivation of Balochistan in federal structure of Pakistan.
Dr. Kaiser Bengali is a noted economist who has served at important positions in his career. From 2013 to 2016 he served as the head of Chief Ministers’ Policy Reforms Unit (CMPRU) in Balochistan. During his stint as CMPRU chief, Bengali and his team produced series of research papers on different issues of Balochistan. This book is largely made up of data collected during that period. This book presents the case of derivation of Balochistan by focusing on five areas: Gas extraction from Balochistan, economic under-development, social protection, share of Balochistan in federal civil services and the representation of Balochistan in Pakistani parliament. He also makes suggestions in all of these five areas which if accepted by Federal government can change the fate of the province.
Bengali describes in detail that how Pakistan benefitted from the Gas field of Sui. From 1952 till 1969, Sui was the only field which supplied gas to the country. Sui remained the largest producer of Gas in Pakistan till late 1980s. However Balochistan get gas supply for the first time in 1982. Sui Gas had a high shadow price but it was sold to consumers in other provinces, especially fertilizer producers in Punjab, at a lower rate. As per the calculation of Bengali mentioned in the book, Balochistan had paid subsidies of Rs. 7.69 trillion from 1955 to 2014. That speaks volumes about the contribution of Balochistan in economic development of Pakistan whereas Balochistan itself has remained economically backward.
Furthermore, this book mentions an interesting happening about ending load shedding in Quetta which was not known publically before. In April 2014, a private company requested Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGC) to supply it 9.5 MMCF of gas so that it can establish a 50 MW power plant in Quetta. This plant, if established, would have ended electricity load shedding in Quetta. However, Federal government declined this request on the grounds that SSGC don’t have required gas supply. This was a clear violation of article 158 of constitution which states that provinces producing gas would receive gas in precedence from other provinces of Pakistan. Consequently, today Quetta faces 8-10 hours of electricity load shedding even in the months of winter.
In order to compensate the deprivations of Balochistan, Bengalis suggests, Balochistan must be provided 20 percent subsidy on natural gas for next 20 years. At the moment, Balochistan produces electricity of 2,280 MW and with a demand of 1600 MW, Balochistan only gets 800 MW of electricity. He also suggests that Balochistan should get electricity in priority from the generation plants which are located in Balochistan.
Bengali argues in the book that development started in Balochistan in 1970 when it was given the status of a province. Projects started in 1970s such as Pat Feeder Canal, RCD highway connecting Quetta with Karachi and Taftan, establishment of Textile mills in Quetta and Lasbela and provided the impetus for economic growth in Balochistan. However there was no attempts to increase economic growth in Balochistan in 1980s and 1990s. As a result, research shows that 88% of population of Balochistan was highly deprived in 2001 whereas only a quarter of total population of Punjab was highly deprived.
This book points out a new term “Empty Quarter” of Balochistan. Bengali argues that an area comprising of districts Kharan, Washuk, Panjgur, Awaran and part of Kalat and Khuzdar makes up quarter land area of Balochistan and it’s the least deprived in terms of infrastructure and human development indicators. What Bengali did not mention that same Empty Quarter produced 5 Chief Ministers of Balochistan including the last three. This highlights the failure and apathy of the politicians of Balochistan towards their own constituencies which elect them.
Bengali suggests that federal government should provide a 10 year multi-billion economic development package for Balochistan which should be in addition to Federal PSDP and CPEC projects. This suggestion is good but government hardly gives Balochistan its due share let alone additional multi-billion package.
Third area focused in the book is the social protection provided to the under-privileged sections of society in the form of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). Bengali, who was among the founders of BISP, reveals that only 3.7 percent beneficiaries of BISP are from Balochistan whereas the population share of Balochistan is 5.1 percent. To provide a context, 34 percent beneficiaries of BISP are from Sindh which has a population share of 23.04 percent. There can’t be a bigger injustice than this with Balochistan which is most backward province and still it does not get its share in only nationwide social security net of the country. In order to compensate the deprivation of Balochistan, the book suggests that Balochistan’s share in BISP should be increase from 3.7 percent to 9.09 percent, which is share of Balochistan in 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award.
Affairs of Federal government are run by bureaucracy and again Balochistan is not getting is due share. Balochistan only has 4.1 percent share in federal government jobs as opposed to its population share of 5.1 share. In 2006, a cabinet committee made a set of recommendations to increase share of Balochistan in federal bureaucracy but none of the recommendations was adopted. Bengali suggests that quota of Balochistan should be increased to 10 percent so that people of Balochistan can get proper representation in federal government apparatus. In this chapter of Book, Bengali failed to mention the issue of fake domiciles of Balochistan acquired by people of other provinces. This results in people of other provinces getting jobs of Balochistan by cheating. Fake domiciles render any increase in job quota of Balochistan ineffective.
Last but not the least, the issue of under-representation of Balochistan in parliament is also discussed. In Balochistan the size of a national assembly constituency is 18 times greater than a constituency in Punjab. This automatically makes it difficult for politicians in Balochistan to carryout election campaigns and as a result they use undemocratic means to win elections. So, the size of constituency also affects democratic principles in Balochistan and subsequently affects public interest. The solution of this critical problem, as highlighted by Bengali, lies in doubling share of Balochistan in parliament beyond its share of population. This will not only strengthen democracy in Balochistan and will also be a goodwill gesture on part of federal government and other provinces.
Kaiser Bengali is criticized in Balochistan for his term as chief of CMPRU. His detractors claim that Bengali enjoyed perks in the name of policy reform for three years and made no practical progress. All this criticism notwithstanding, Bengali has done a huge service to Balochistan by authoring this book. He has eloquently presented the case of deprivation of Balochistan with facts extracted from the records of federal government. Contents of this book can be used for researchers who want to further explore the deprivations of Balochistan. The alarming facts presented in this book should be more than enough for the federal government to realize how it has wronged Balochistan. There is also no harm in adopting the suggestions made by Bengali for all the five aforementioned areas.
This work of Bengali perfectly sums up the deprivation of Balochistan with the support of empirical evidence. However, there is still need of books which can prove with the help of empirical evidence that how people of Balochistan, including politicians, Sardars, bureaucrats and government employees have contributed in keeping Balochistan deprived.
Originally published in The Dawn
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Adnan Aamir is founder and Editor of Balochistan Voices. He also works as an independent journalist covering politics, economy, and development. He is Digital Security Fellow of Reporters Without Borders 2019. He has also completed Chevening South Asian Journalism fellowship from the University of Westminster in 2018.