Does Balochistan Have a Reason to Vote? – Sidra Iqbal Baloch

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Author: Sidra Iqbal Baloch

The situations in Balochistan highlight a persistent issue where despite electoral promises, the basic needs of the population remain unfulfilled. The recurring protests underscore the frustration and urgency felt by the people. However, the effectiveness of voting in bringing about meaningful change is debatable, given the ongoing challenges. While voting theoretically offers a mechanism for expressing grievances and influencing policy, the lack of tangible improvements suggests systemic issues that transcend electoral cycles. Therefore, while voting is a crucial democratic right, its impact on addressing the pressing needs of Balochistan’s population remains uncertain.

Elections, whether provincial, senate, or national, have consistently failed to address the plight of Balochistan. Instead of bringing benefits, they have been used as tools to perpetuate the suppression of the Baloch nation. The policies remain unchanged, and the systematic oppression and genocide in Balochistan continue unabated. Despite the oaths of democratic processes, the reality is that they have only served to further marginalize and suppress the Baloch people. It’s clear that the current electoral system does not prioritize the interests or well-being of Balochistan.  

Provincial assembly of Balochistan:

The establishment of the Provincial Assembly was itself a mockery. Although Balochistan purportedly has its own representatives, the language and influence of the Pakistan Army dominate. In this so-called legislative body, people in Balochistan face disappearances or death merely for advocating their rights.

This assembly established on March 30, 1970, by Presidential Order in the wake of the dissolution of the One Unit system. With its inaugural election on December 17, 1970, featuring 21 members, including a solitary seat reserved for women, the Assembly symbolized a new era of representation and governance. Charged with formulating laws, representing the populace, ensuring governmental accountability, and shaping fiscal policies, its mandate resonated with the aspirations of Balochistan’s diverse population. Yet, despite its lofty objectives, the Assembly’s efficacy in addressing the pressing needs of the deprived masses has come under scrutiny. This report delves into the challenges faced by Balochistan’s marginalized communities and explores the conspicuous absence of meaningful action from the provincial legislature in alleviating their plight.

Key Issues Overlooked by the Government

Sui Gas:

Natural gas was first discovered at the Sui gas field in 1952, and by 1955, it was being supplied to various parts of Pakistan. Originating from the Sui fields, natural gas in Pakistan earned the colloquial term ‘Sui gas’. The distribution companies responsible for supplying gas throughout Pakistan are known as the Sui Southern Gas Company and the Sui Northern Gas Company.

Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) stands as the foremost integrated gas company, serving an extensive consumer base exceeding 7.22 million in North Central Pakistan. Its sprawling network covers Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Azad Jammu & Kashmir, with key transmission hubs located in Faisalabad, Lahore, Multan, and Wah.

It is noteworthy that the initial provinces to receive gas supply from Sui gas were Punjab and Sindh.

Punjab accounts for only 4% of gas production, despite consuming 43% of the supply. However, Balochistan contributes 17% to the national gas supply, while K-P adds 10%.

Although Balochistan is the primary producer of natural gas in Pakistan, the majority of Tehsil Headquarters (THQ) in the province experience deprivation, with only 25 out of 81 towns having access to gas supply. Remarkably, even the town of Sui, located just four miles away from the gas fields with a daily supply of 800 mmcf, does not have direct access to gas.

Another notable point is the stipulation outlined in Article 158 of Pakistan’s Constitution that is: “The province in which a well-head of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements from the well-head, subject to the commitments and obligations as on the commencing day.”

This essentially implies that any natural resource discovery should primarily benefit the province in which it is found. Unfortunately, the opposite is observed in the case of Balochistan and its Sui gas field.

However, despite the abundance of gas resources, the residents of Sui are compelled to gather firewood from the surrounding forests for fuel.

Gwadar water crisis:

Gwadar, an essential part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has been facing significant challenges for years despite ongoing multimillion-dollar projects. Despite the city’s abundant water resources, its residents still struggle to access even basic necessities such as drinking water.

The residents of Gwadar have been compelled to purchase costly water or endure lengthy waits for government-subsidized water, which is transported from a distance of 80 kilometers. In desperation, some locals have resorted to boiling sea water to make it potable for drinking purposes. This situation highlights the severity of the water scarcity issue in the city and the extreme measures people are taking to meet their basic needs.

Persistent efforts to alert authorities about the water crisis and fervent pleas for assistance from the residents have unfortunately been met with indifference. Despite their urgent appeals, authorities have failed to take meaningful action to address the dire situation, leaving the residents to struggle with the ongoing water scarcity issue without adequate support or relief.

Power shortage in Balochistan:

Balochistan grapples with a severe energy deficit, stalling progress not just in economic and agricultural sectors, but across all aspects of life. A report presented to the National Assembly of Pakistan reveals that a mere 36% of Balochistan has access to electricity, leaving a staggering 64% of the region without essential energy resources.

The largest province by area, Balochistan, presently requires roughly 2500 MW of electricity. However, the supplied amount falls within the range of 400 MW to 600 MW, leading to substantial electricity deficits and shortages in the area.

Balochistan generates approximately 2422 MW of electricity through gas-based thermal power plants. However, the bulk of this electricity is being exported to other provinces. 

The economy of many areas such as Khuzdar, Surab, and Qila Saifullah heavily depended on agricultur but every time they badly get affected by the long load-shedding and increasing electricity rates. The growers are financially incapable of bearing huge electricity bills. The landlords protest every time against the WAPDA. They claim that, despite paying their bills on time, they are deprived of electricity. 

Children out of schools:

Balochistan, often hailed for its abundant natural resources, has unfortunately earned the title of being the region with the highest number of out-of-school children, surpassing 2 million. Pakistan Education Statistics reveal that this figure includes more than 630,000 children who should be enrolled in primary schools, along with over 1.25 million who are missing out on middle, high, or higher secondary education opportunities.

The absence of adequate school infrastructure and qualified teachers stands as the primary reasons for children not attending school. In certain regions of Balochistan, although schools and teachers exist, teachers frequently fail to show up for work and still receive their salaries.

Gender inequality in literacy rates is also a significant concern, with only 37% of males and 15% of females being literate. This gap is more pronounced in rural regions.

Lack of facilities in hospitals:

Each year, numerous individuals lose their lives due to the absence of hospitals or adequate medical facilities in Balochistan. People are forced to travel for hours to reach larger cities for emergency medical care, resulting in fatalities for some during transit.

Several reports have brought attention to instances where individuals must journey to distant cities even for treatment of severe fevers. Despite persisting for years, no improvements have been made to provide facilities to hospitals in smaller cities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has voiced concerns regarding the deteriorating health facilities in Balochistan. A recent WHO report on Balochistan reveals that more than 257 health centers are only operational in documentation, 656 health centers are functioning partially, and half of the 1661 health facilities are currently closed.

Death squads:

Death squads in Balochistan, primarily composed of state-sponsored militias or paramilitary groups, have inflicted immense suffering on the populace. These squads operate with impunity, targeting activists, journalists, and civilians suspected of dissent against the government or advocating for Baloch rights. They employ tactics such as abduction, torture, and extrajudicial killings, instilling fear and silencing opposition voices.

Despite widespread reports and evidence of their atrocities, the government’s inaction or complicity exacerbates the crisis. The failure to hold perpetrators accountable perpetuates a culture of impunity, further emboldening these death squads to continue their reign of terror.

The consequences are devastating: families torn apart, communities traumatized, and a climate of fear that stifles any semblance of free expression or dissent. The government’s negligence in addressing this issue not only perpetuates human rights abuses but also undermines efforts for peace and stability in Balochistan. Urgent action is needed to dismantle these death squads, prosecute those responsible, and provide justice for the victims and their families.

Conclusion:

With over 40,000 cases of enforced disappearances and thousands of instances of fake encounters resulting in death of youths, the situation in Balochistan is deteriorating day by day. Despite the people’s protests for their missing or deceased loved ones, what actions has the government taken to address these grievances? Instead of offering solutions, the assembly seems content with watching the suffering of its citizens, who cry out for justice. It’s baffling that some still support such a flawed system. It’s time to awaken to the truth and recognize that the assembly, as it stands, does not serve the interests of Balochistan. If it fails even to provide the basic necessity of water, how can anyone expect it to bring about significant changes? Before casting your vote, it’s essential to reflect on these realities and reconsider your choices.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Balochistan Post or any of its editors.

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