In our previous editions we have discussed about the ground situation and historical perspective of the troubled region. In this part, we are focussing on the economic and strategic importance of Baluchistan
Baluchistan has a distinctive and important status due to its economic, political and strategic as well as
geographical position. Baluchistan has a vast area encompassing Iran’s Sistan- Baluchistan province and a significant portion of Kandahar Helmond and Nimruj provinces in southern Afghanistan and the remaining large chunk under Pakistani occupation since 1948.
Currently the Pakistan occupied Baluchistan is nearly 44 per cent of total area of Pakistan while the population of Baluchistan is 13.1 million, which is about five per cent of the total population of Pakistan.
The resources are in abundance as compared to population which is a positive side to the economic growth, but they are still being harnessed only in the interests of Pakistan’s well being. And the economic backwardness and mitigated growth are the consequences of these discriminatory policies that Pakistan government has adhered to since the 1948.
Baluchistan is on the one hand, has a vast geographical area, while the geopolitical situation provides to it the
leverage, not only regionally but also globally, in some cases. Bolan Pass, which can be considered a significant example, was the major thoroughfare of foreign invasions on India in earlier times.
During the medieval age it was the main theater of war at the time of various invasions. And in modern time British considered it as a possible walkway for Russia to enter India, and as a way to move toward British Empire which they called “Great Game”. And due to this, strategic significance of this area determined the policy and relation with
neighbouring tribes which was always an arduous task. American attacks against the Taliban regime after the 9/11 which resulted in Taliban’s ouster from power, demonstrate the region’s strategic value.
Baluchistan shares border with Iran and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. If Baluchistan acquires the independence, it will become the greatest hazard to Pakistan. By this on one hand, Pakistan’s geographical contiguity with Iran will be terminated and on another, almost half of Afghanistan border will be lost. The consequences procreate broad political, strategic and economic changes. The ambitious project for train route to London, for which Jahidan in Iran to Quetta in Baluchistan rail operations have been approved, may be tattered.
Meanwhile the maritime position of Baluchistan is also extremely important. Baluchistan holds approximately 75 per cent of total 1045 km coastline of Pakistan. Add to this the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, which is also rich in natural resources and has flourishing maritime activities.
The rest of the coast line belongs to Sindh province. The most important port of Baluchistan is Gwadar, this is the Southern terminus of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being developed by Pakistan and China. Gwadar also is in a great strategic position. It is only 400 kilometers away from Hormuz, located in the Gulf of Iran and an important strategic and economic port in gulf region and main center of Oil business. And CPEC is project to connect Kashgar in China to Gwadar by road instead of a lengthy and
comparatively less secure sea route from Gulf of Persia to Shanghai and Tianjin via Malacca striate so that China could get safe passage bypassing the Indian Ocean sea-lanes. And in turn China offered basic infrastructural amenities to Pakistan who suffered from a lack of basic infrastructure like roads and electricity and that too at the expense of the interests of Baluchistan. It is not the first example that Pakistan made the advancement of its economy at the expense of Baluchistan and that’s what has happened after independence over and over again.
Baluchistan is also rich in natural resources just as
important in the strategic point of view concern. The World Bank report released in 2008 stated that 39 minerals were extracted from Baluchistan, while the 2012 Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) data report indicated that a large part of all major minerals like coal, natural gas, gold, copper, uranium, iron, lead, zinc, chromites, gypsum, or limestone have large reserves in Baluchistan.
Natural gas is currently the second largest energy source in Pakistan. In 1952 it was discovered for the first time in the Sui city of Baluchistan. Today it is the largest gas producing area of Pakistan. It has estimated reserves of 2 trillion cubic feet of gas. Although production volumes are soaring and so the
contributing part by Baluchistan but its share in totals
production declining. In the decades of 1980-90’s the gas extraction was done in Baluch gas field voraciously and
without planning. Currently Sindh is the largest producer of natural gas and Baluchistan has the next place. In 1995, total natural gas production in Baluchistan was contributing nearly 56 per cent, but dropped to 22.7 per cent from 2007 in total gas production in Pakistan. This shows the sevenfold exploitation of Baluchistan’s gas reserves, while on the other side the
percentage of the use of these resources for the residents of Baluchistan is extremely low.
In 1952, in Sui gas field in Baluchistan, the first oil reserve was found. By that time, Toot oil field in Punjab was not discovered so Baluchistan fulfilled the oil demand of Pakistan by supplying a large part of it. Baluchistan also has the most important Coal reserves and made a large amount of
production also. This is notable that in the northern part of the Baluchistan province, there are 6 developed coalfields. Copper, gold, silver and iron are also found in abundance in Baluchistan. Chagai district of Baluchistan is an important place where all the four minerals were discovered. But keeping in mind the interests of Baluchistan for their extraction has never been a policy in independent Pakistan.
According to the figures from the United Nations agency, from 1972, when the Baluchistan was awarded the status of a province of Pakistan, to 2009 the economy of Baluchistan grew at very sluggish speed 2.7 % per annum till 2009. That’s so weak that it can be estimated from the fact that during this time, the economy of volatile North West Frontier Province or now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, grew by 3.6% per annum. Same sluggishness occurred in the case with per capita income of Baluchistan.
The most important reason of misery of Baluchistan is that the Pakistan has been exploiting its resources in favour on its own and not for Baluchistan. It can be understood by an example. Baluchistan is the largest gas producer in Pakistan after the Sindh, and most part of gas produced in Pakistan is used in power generation. But the most parts of Baluchistan face frequent and extended blackouts, even the biggest cities of Baluchistan, like Quetta and Gwadar also face the routine 15-20 hour load shedding.
In addition, there is a big mess in gas revenues by
manipulating the price of gas in Baluchistan. In other parts of Pakistan, rates for per million British thermal units gas, for example, are determined at 300 Rupees per million British thermal units gas, but the price offered for the production of the Baluchistan region, dropped down to the level of some 150 Rupees per million British thermal units gas. By these manipulations Baluchistan got the low royalty because of decreased price, while on other hand cheapest gas was
provided for states like Punjab which took the advantage and led to its driveway to economic growth. This is clear and
blatant injustice and a blot on nationhood as well as on the spirit of federalism.
The misappropriation of resources of Baluchistan reminds of the colonial rule. When the imperialist countries filled their chests by unscrupulous exploitation of their colonies, and unimpaired by the sense of responsibility towards the people. This is the same colonial relationship that we see between Pakistan and Baluchistan
nowadays. But colonies are not enduring
entities, and what happened to British politics and economy after the Indian and African colonies were liberated from the British Empire is apparent. If Baluchistan became independent, Pakistan would be paralysed financially and strategically. Pakistan suffered from energy deficiency, and no option at
present, he has to deal with the shortfall. If Pakistan lost its strategically important
seacoast and port like Gwadar, what would be the utility of the Pakistan for China? It is the very interesting conundrum for researchers of contemporary politics and
international relations. But the shift must be inevitable and in
proportion to their economic and strategic relationship. Pakistan’s relations with Iran and Afghanistan would be
negatively affected and it would definitely lose its extant
status in South Asian region. Pakistan’s condition with severe internal political bickering would become ferocious, the
present fierce protests made by the peoples of Sindh, is just a sample indeed. Ultimately it is proved that the idea of Pakistan has long lost its significance and legitimacy. And a nation with trembling democracy and doddering ethics, the fall of the mask of nation, is only a matter of time.
(The writer is a Researcher on Pakistan related issues)