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Balochistan: caught in a web of corruption

Tilak Devasher | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

Balochistan is invariably in the news for the wrong reasons - human rights abuse by the Army, missing persons, 'kill and dump', etc.

It's made headlines again. But this time for corruption rather than violence.

The arrest of the Finance Secretary of Balochistan Mushtaq Raisani on 6 May 2016 and several other officials from the Quetta Civil Secretariat was big news. An amount of Rs 73 crore in cash, and jewellery worth nearly Rs 4 crore, were recovered from his residence. This money had been embezzled from the development funds of Balochistan during the years 2013-2015. To put this amount in perspective, it is almost equal to the amount budgeted by the provincial government for population welfare in 2015-16.

Read: Father of 'Indian spy' in Balochistan is a former ACP of Mumbai

In March 2016, the National Accountability Bureau had recovered Rs 5.9 crore from the former chairman of Balochistan Development Authority (BDA). He was accused of misusing his authority and in connivance with contractors, causing a loss of 19.6 crores to the national exchequer in a road project.

But it isn't just the civilian bureaucracy that has been caught with its hands in the Balochistan till.

On 21 April this year, the Pakistan print, electronic and social media were agog with the leaked news that the Army Chief had ordered action against serving senior officers on charges of corruption. They included a Lieutenant General, a Major General, five Brigadiers, a Colonel, three Lieutenant Colonels and a Major. The common thread linking these officers was that they had all served in the Frontier Corps (FC), Balochistan, including two who had headed the organisation. Action against all of them was taken for corruption during their stint in Balochistan.

Ground reality

With both civilians and the Army (though a para-military outfit, the FC is officered by the Army) making money hands over fist in Balochistan, the natural impression would be of Balochistan being a rich province where lots of money could be made.

The reality of the place is just the reverse. It is the poorest and most deprived province in Pakistan.

A World Bank Report of 2008 suitably sums up the two faces of Balochistan. According to it, "Balochistan offers some of the best assets for development" and highlights its natural and locational resources, its vast land area, its coastline that is two-thirds of Pakistan's, trading potential and huge mineral deposits. Yet, it notes that "the province has Pakistan's most anaemic growth record, worst infrastructure, worst water crisis, and weakest fiscal base." It details that Balochistan has the weakest long-term growth, the worst quality of employment and the weakest social development performance of all provinces.

Balochistan's Finance Secretary caught embezzling from the development funds of the region.

Other reports and surveys confirm this grim picture of Balochistan.

According to a 2014 report titled 'Clustered Deprivation', published by the Islamabad-based think-tank the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, 52% of the population of Balochistan lived below the poverty line as against the national average of 33%. The figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh were 32% and 33% respectively, while Punjab with 19% was the least poor province.

In addition, a further 13% of the population in Balochistan were vulnerable to poverty. Majority of the districts in Balochistan, especially those in the Baloch areas, had more than 60% of the households below poverty line. Balochistan also had the highest proportion of households, 35%, falling below the severe poverty line as compared with the national average of 21% and only 11% in Punjab.

Also read: Balochistan can be freed, if US stops supporting Pakistan, says activist who heckled Nawaz Sharif

In 2015, Balochistan was the worst performing province in most, if not all areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Its performance while completely off- track and below the national average for almost all indicators was especially of grave concern in health and education related ones. 43% of children were underweight against a target of 20%, reflecting a severe lag in performance. Similarly in MDG 2, in all three indicators; net primary enrollment ratio, completion/survival rate and literacy rate performance was lower than the national average and considerably behind targets.

This is the true face of Balochistan.

Yet, civilians and the Army are milking this poorest of the poor province dry. Even if a small percentage of the money looted had been spent on education and health, the situation in the province would have been far different.

Astonishingly, this may well be only the tip of the iceberg. Corruption among politicians is yet to be revealed.

Balochistan may seem like it does well for itself, but the reality is right the opposite.

What makes matters worse is that it is the FC that is in the forefront of tackling the insurgency in Balochistan. Its methods have included picking up hundreds, if not thousands, of Baloch who have been tortured and their bodies dumped. Phrases like 'missing persons' and 'kill and dump' have become household words in Balochistan. It is these corrupt officers who have arrogated to themselves the power of life and death over the Baloch, and the power to define what is and isn't nationalism.

The Baloch are thus caught between a rock and a hard place. There is no development because large portions of the development funds are being eaten away by corrupt rulers, while they continue to suffer the brutality of the equally corrupt FC. Is it any wonder that the result is massive alienation of the population?

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 9 May 2016, 5:06 IST
Tilak Devasher @tilakdevasher1

Tilak Devasher retired as Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, to the Government of India. His book Pakistan: Courting the Abyss is releasing shortly.