A woman with her daughter in one of the remote areas in Balochistan: Photo provided by nutrition directorate

Dr. Faiz Kakar: 

Balochistan, even as a resource-rich province, grapples with alarming rates of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and infant and maternal mortality, indicative of severe underdevelopment. The unmatched policies and irrelevant development strategies, along with poor governance, have resulted in extreme underdevelopment of the province. Though the bleak picture of the province is noticeable to all decision-makers, as highlighted by maps depicting critical poverty levels in red, Balochistan’s political and intellectual spheres remain sharply divided.

Balochistan’s Political And Intellectual Spheres Divided

Amidst the current devastating scenario in the province, Balochistan’s political and intellectual spheres are sharply divided. Supporters of the latter viewpoint draw upon global examples of successful development strategies, particularly the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in various nations.

Learning from global case studies, the potential of Balochistan as a resource-rich province with vast ecological and topographic diversity, coupled with its strategic location, warrants a paradigm shift towards infrastructure development and economic growth. It is evident that uplifting the economic status of the populace will pave the way for the provision of social services through self-help approaches. Failure to adapt to this evolving development approach over the past 70 years serves as a stark reminder of the need for change.

Potentials of the Province Ensure the Success of SEZ

Balochistan, often referred to as the “fruit basket” of Pakistan, stands out as a resource-rich province boasting the largest landscape and the longest coastline spanning 770 kilometers. Despite its untapped wealth in various minerals, Balochistan remains underdeveloped. Its diverse ecological and topographic zones allow for the experience of different seasons simultaneously, with inhabitants enjoying both the coldest and hottest regions in the province within one division.

Deng Xiaoping was impressed by the unbelievable emergence of development in Singapore quoted once that when visited Lee Kuan and asked how I can make China as Singapore and his response was to establish the SEZs and affirmed the establishment of one thousand SEZs in China.

The province’s strategic location grants it access to two international borders with Iran and Afghanistan. Its rich resources, including minerals, natural gas, agriculture, livestock, forests, and fisheries, offer a solid foundation for intensifying the emphasis on Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These potentials not only justify the focus on SEZs but also serve as a guarantee of their success.

SEZs The Only Option

Ensuring the full operationalization of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) already identified commenced in Balochistan stands out as the foremost priority area for intervention. The establishment of small and medium-scale industries within these zones will not only create employment opportunities but also incentivize rural-to-urban migration, thus fostering urbanization. This industrial growth at the grassroots level will facilitate the much-needed trickle-down effect, addressing the pressing needs of the populace.

The momentum for expediting the establishment of industries is being further strengthened by the concurrent development of private housing schemes announced and currently under construction by the real estate dealers. These initiatives will compel the working class to seek improved living standards, thereby enhancing the overall quality of life in Balochistan.

Urbanization promotion and establishment of new cities

Addressing the challenge of scattered population in Balochistan is paramount to ensure effective social and infrastructure development. The dispersed nature of the population significantly increases the unit costs of development and maintenance of services. Moreover, it contributes to the prevailing law and order issues and hampers efforts to combat political insurgencies and religious terrorism.

To address this challenge, the establishment of new cities and towns across the province is essential. However, given the budgetary constraints and the heavy investment required for establishing new cities, leveraging the existing SEZs areas as new cities presents a viable solution. The development of these SEZs into fully functional urban centers with basic facilities and job opportunities, rural populations would be incentivized to migrate from their current locations. This migration is already occurring due to climatic disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts, as witnessed in areas like Ziarat, the Green Belt, Gider (Kalat), and Pishin.

Transforming SEZs into new cities not only addresses the challenge of scattered population but also provides a strategic opportunity to spur economic growth and development in Balochistan. It facilitates urbanization, enhances access to services and infrastructure, and contributes to stability and security in the region. Therefore, prioritizing the development of these SEZs into new urban hubs can be a game-changer for Balochistan’s sustainable development agenda.

Appointment of heads of authorities from private sectors

The Government of Balochistan has indeed taken steps to establish authorities focusing on thematic areas such as Economic Zones and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). However, the effectiveness of these authorities is quietly dwindling by the appointment of heads from junior officials who lack the influence to navigate bureaucratic hurdles or garner support from higher officials. Additionally, the prevailing bureaucratic culture poses further challenges by not providing an enabling environment for these officials.

To address these issues, it is imperative to appoint heads of these authorities from the private sector. These individuals should possess local knowledge, familiarity with public sector practices, and established connections with politicians and higher authorities within the government. This approach will ensure that the heads of these authorities have the necessary clout and influence to drive meaningful progress and overcome bureaucratic obstacles effectively.

Based on the aforementioned discussion, it is strongly believed that the effective operation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) could play a crucial role in the mainstreaming of Balochistan at the national level.

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About the Author

Quetta Voice is an English Daily covering all unfolding political, economic and social issues relating to Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province in terms of area. QV's main focus is on stories related to education, promotion of quality education and publishing reports about out of school children in the province. QV has also a vigilant eye on health, climate change and other key sectors.