Let’s pick up from where we finished the previous article.
The cold-blooded murder of six low-ranking security officials in Turbat on October 14 delivered another stinging reminder of the low-intensity but focused terror campaign against Pakistan’s security apparatus in Baluchistan. At least 110 of the 337 fatalities in Baluchistan this year are those of army, FC and levies. It also shows the sustained violence against security forces, mostly in the Baloch districts.
The simmering Baloch insurgency is a major psycho-social element of life in Baluchistan. Hardly does any conversation gloss over the violence that Baloch-dominated districts have been experiencing for decades now. The youth in particular bears the brunt of the omnipresent sense of insecurity in what many of them call a “black hole of governance”.
Why black hole?
Interactions with students at Turbat and Panjgur universities were quite instructive. Most appear clueless as to whether the Center at all desires improvement in the leaking bucket that is Baluchistan. Poorly built public buildings, broken roads, largely absent electricity, dismal public health and education facilities in a region devoid of industry and services sector are hardly any sources of inspiration for the youth.
An oft-recurring subject is the way influential politicians are elected. “Quite bizarre that those rejected by people in elections often make it to the top political offices including the parliament,” wondered many.
Among the most frequently asked question is: why is it that those disowned by people at large are eventually declared as winners in provincial and federal elections? An oft-mentioned case is that of former federal minister Zubaida Jalal from NA 272. Most people refer to her as a favourite and hence the winner in elections.
The youth also watch haplessly as those elected pile up personal fortunes through a string of incentives available to them. Development schemes, import/export permits, ministerial authority as well as discretionary funds are all but a few obvious forms of the plunder of public funds across the province. The dilapidated infrastructure testifies to the pilferage and siphoning of substantial chunks of funds allocated for development.
The entry into Panjgur city off the CPEC highway, for example, offers a stark reminder of this whimsical, self-serving way of development. A stretch of half a kilometer remains cratered, untopped largely because a local MP was at odds with the owners and residents of this stretch of road, according to locals. The three kilometres thereafter is a freshly done double-road, completed in three years. Link-roads and streets in and around Panjgur are almost all in a shambles.
Turbat, some 250 km further south — presents a similar picture. The main artery that runs through the town is asphalted but side alleys are hardly different from what you see in Panjgur.
Dr Malik Baloch, a former chief minister, did well to push for education in the region and hence is recalled with reverence. But the youth as well as the public at large sound wary and skeptical of the dominant majority of politicians in the region because they are seen as thriving and prospering at the expense of their electorate — largely because of their closeness to the establishment and the civil bureaucracy. The latter are seen as the facilitators as well as beneficiaries of the way public funds are expropriated through a collusion of the key stakeholders. This perception runs deep through the society.
A big grievance — a massive demotivating factor — centres on the unwillingness of most big guns to serve their own region.
Not many want to return to their native towns to help improve socio-economic conditions, complain the locals.
Murder of merit and transparency is the buzzword. This perception relates to how the mighty ones dictate job distribution in a region overflowing with unemployed educated youth. During the current year, locals claim, as many as 600 jobs in the public health department of the Makran division have mostly gone to favourites. Journalists in Turbat say that jobs were given also to those who had not even appeared for the interviews.
The latest allegations revolves around the DG Levies Baluchistan who reportedly sold jobs of levies sepoys and also hired private gunmen of a former minister belonging to district Barkhan against vacant posts. Complaints of similar practice in other districts have also been resonating; thousands of youngsters, including masters’ degrees holders, applied. According to the common perception only those get jobs who offer money or who are close to the powerful politicians or bureaucrats.
This resentment and disaffection, particularly among the unemployed youth, feed radical forces — both nationalist and religious. These non-state actors end up stoking fears, fueling the sense of deprivation and accentuating the dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The elites, it seems, remain indifferent to this incendiary discontent, probably because dozens of elites — Sardars, Nawabs, Jams, Khans — rule the roost and the poor Baloch populace, treated as a herd of sheep, hardly pose any direct threat to the monopoly of power. Many of those who refuse to put up with the status quo walk over to the non-state entities, particularly the nationalist elements. Downplaying them as proxy terrorists cannot mask the acute sense of deprivation, injustice and mistreatment at hands of the elites. Sad story indeed of a province that serves as a goldmine for those in power but a black hole for people at large! (Concluded)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2023.