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Old Thursday, November 15, 2012
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Balochistan: The EI Dorado of Pakistan

About 41 years ago, Pakistan lost its eastern wing (East Pakistan), the reason being that it had larger population than the West Pakistan.

Although the East Pakistanis were in majority yet they were deprived of their rights and their problems were not solved according to their aspirations.

After the abolition of 'One-Unit' in 1970, Balochistan got the status of a province. Although Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan by area yet it had never received its due share in the national income despite being the major contributor by virtue of its invaluable natural resources. Moreover, the economic and strategic importance of Balochistan could never get the proper recognition by the establishment. Apparently, this disparagement and discrimination is because of the low agricultural production which portrays Balochistan as a worthless place; comprising only deserts, dry mountains and unfertile land. However, realistically speaking, Balochistan is the richest part of Pakistan with its enormous, but unexploited, economic potential. In fact, Balochistan is blessed with a number of natural resources and the discovered resources have value in trillions of dollars. Neither part of Pakistan can be compared with Balochistan in this regard.

A renowned Pakistani economist Dr Mehboob-ul-Haq once said, “The government will not pay any attention toward the production resources of Balochistan until and unless the recourses of Punjab and Sindh come about to shrink.” And today, we are witnessing the situation which he foretold in 1985, nearly 27 years ago. Further frustrating is that till now no proper attention has been paid toward Balochistan while the situation demands some serious steps not only to utilise the economic potential of Balochistan but to secure the future of Pakistan.
Dr Mehboob-ul-Haq once said, “The government will not pay any attention toward the production resources of Balochistan until and unless the recourses of Punjab and Sindh come about to shrink.” And today, we are witnessing the situation which he foretold in 1985, nearly 27 years ago.
First of all, as far as the agricultural production is concerned, half of the world's population lives in arid and semi-arid regions like the Balochistan and even today, limited resources of water can be used for agriculture by the help of technology and appropriate planning. Furthermore, the significance of livestock cannot be undermined because there are vast pastures and big forests in Balochistan. It is necessary to mention here that in terms of environment and area, many countries have a little number of ecological zones but Balochistan alone has eight different ecological zones with a huge biodiversity. In these zones, different types of herbs and plants used in medicines are found in abundance. There are no thick forests in Balochistan like in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but the forests of Balochistan are unique in many senses. For instance, there are juniper forests in Ziarat. The juniper trees have the long ages ranging from 900 to 2500 years. Moreover, if we move towards the north, i.e. Zhob division, here district Sherani has the unique forests of pinenuts and today medicines are being made by pinenuts in China and many other countries. Here, pinenuts are sold at Rs. 2000 per kg. On the other hand, there are mangrove forests in the coastal belt of Balochistan which provide a natural protection against tsunamis.

Balochistan is also a big source of livestock production and contains about 45 per cent of the country's total livestock. It generates annual income of about 50 million rupees and a special type of very heavy bull called 'Bagh Nari' is also found in Balochistan. Another bull 'Nari Master', a cross-breed of the Australian cow and 'Bagh Nari' and weighs 850 to 1000 kg, is also found here.

The Arabian Sea touches the coast of Pakistan which is about 1000 km long of which 770 km is in Balochistan. The coast is divided into two districts: 600km in Gwardar and 170 km in Lasbela. This coastal belt can provide 10 times more seafood production than any other coast in the world while in the Indian Ocean it provides four times more production. In terms of quality also, it is important throughout the world. At present, about 0.2 million tons of seafood is gained from the coast of Balochistan. But this huge production is not recorded officially because it is dispatched to Karachi from where it is exported to various countries.

Besides this, another large and important source of production as well as employment in Balochistan comprises the minerals. These invaluable resources, though unexploited yet, had always allured the super-powers, but in recent years, this interest has unprecedentedly increased. At present, there are a large number of minerals being mined in Balochistan apart from the natural gas which was discovered at Sui in 1952. From 1956 to 1999, this gas fulfilled the 50 per cent of the country's requirement, and from 1956 to 1986, it had more than 50 per cent share in the country's development and industrial production. Furthermore, there are huge deposits of gold, copper and silver in Sandak and adjoining areas and Pakistan's first metal industry is planted here at district Chagai in the area of Recodec. These gold and copper deposits are, undoubtedly, one of the world's largest deposits.

As far as the agriculture is concerned, a period of prolonged drought, from 1997 to 2003, has adversely affected this sector in Balochistan.

After the end of drought, the condition of the agricultural production improved and in the very next year, it was as follows:

But after few years, the production of fruits increased, now the apple and dates are produced about 550,000 tons annually, while the annual production of grapes is nearly 100,000 tons.

In spite of these facts, the major source of employment in Balochistan is still trade; some of which is documented while the large chunk comprises border trading or smuggling.

Pakistan has granted permission to Afghanistan to trade throughout the world through Karachi Port. The Afghan traders import goods from all over the world. As there is no duty or tax on imports in Afghanistan, these goods are smuggled into Pakistan. These include foreign cloths, cosmetics, electronics, automobile spare parts, etc.

Similarly, smuggling is carried out through the Iranian border too which includes petrol, edibles and many other goods. However, human trafficking is also done through this route by which thousands of people go to Middle East and Europe illegally, however, many of them are arrested at Pak-Iran border. Through smuggling through the Arabian Sea especially from Gwardar coast, tons of drugs are smuggled to the foreign countries. Huge quantities of drugs are captured by the anti-narcotics force (ANF) through this route annually.

The geographical position of Balochistan plays a pivotal role in its production and employment resources, and without any doubt, this geographical position will be a major source in future for the income of Balochistan. It is the province which provides access to Central Asia, Middle East and Europe that is why it has tremendous importance for global and regional powers.

At present, the RCD road joins Pakistan, Iran and Turkey and after Turkey the western Europe starts, and in north, after Afghanistan, there comes Russia, and the Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

In south, Gwardar faces Gulf states which are at a distance of only hours. A railway line also joins Pakistan and Iran. In 2009, one train went to Istanbul from Lahore, and seeing that India and Bangladesh wished to export their goods to Europe and Middle East through this train, but now due to the deteriorated law and order situation in Balochistan, this track has been damaged by blasts several times. However, if in future these ways of trade are resumed, the Gwardar will be the most important port of the region which will be helpful in enhancing the trade to Middle East, Central Asia and Europe. This will, surely, be a fruitful and a great source of income for the impoverished province.

At present, Balochistan is one of the most backward areas of world and according to a report of UNDP on Balochistan Millennium Development Goals 2011, more than 48 per cent population of the province is below the poverty line.

However, it is quite encouraging and is, undoubtedly, a ray of hope for the better future of Balochistan that on June 11, 2012, the Balochistan government presented the budget having a volume of Rs. 179197000000/-, and it was a tax and deficit free budget as well. Many loans of the province are being paid back in this budget while, an investment board is also set up with Rs. 8,000,000,000, which will run the Sandak and Recodec projects for the next year and similarly the Gwadar port is now under the direct authority of Chief Minister Balochistan.

Now, we have to see that after 7th NFC Award and 18th amendment, what steps the provincial government takes in order to improve the economic and financial condition of Balochistan and for the prosperity of the peoples of Balochistan as a whole because as far as the resources are concerned, they are more than enough to fulfil the needs of the province or even the whole country.

Dr. Irfan Ahmad Baig
True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. "Socrates"
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