By Hussain Nadim
March 14th, 2016.
Teaching at a top university in Pakistan in 2011, I had an opportunity to run an experiment. In all the courses I taught, I asked the students a simple question: to name three cities in Balochistan. The struggle that students faced in naming cities other than Quetta and Gwadar exposed how depressingly little the highly educated lot of Pakistan knew about Balochistan. It also revealed how little the largest province of Pakistan mattered in national discourse, academia, and at the individual level.
Turning a blind eye, or blocking the media and flushing out Baloch history from the national curriculum may remove the national guilt and conscience, but does not conceal the reality that while one province is becoming a wonder of development, the other is painfully reduced to a slumber. The current situation in the province is a product of our collective failure to recognise the need to develop the region and more importantly, invest in the development of the people.
For long, the response in the allegedly developed section of society and the educated classes has been ‘who cares’ and ‘why care?’, while people in Balochistan silently suffer in the crossfire of politics between the sardars and the Pakistani establishment. For too long the elite in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and its foreign-educated next generation of political leaders have distanced themselves from the pressing problems at home, becoming preoccupied instead with the issues of the West, be it the sufferings of the Palestinian people, or the recent rise of Trump in American politics — the crisis so close to home, in Balochistan, has somehow never really felt close. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has, however, changed that to a certain degree.
The CPEC is the ‘Baloch moment’ — not just in terms of the corridor route and the economic development it may bring forth, but in terms of an opportunity that has brought much-needed attention, given the media space and airtime for Balochistan to really reveal to the rest of Pakistan, especially the elite, the conditions in the province. While the CPEC has elevated Balochistan into national discourse, it is important that Balochistan fully seizes this situation to plead its case in the media and the public, in order to raise awareness of the lack of development and other pressing issues faced by the people in the province. Foremost, the political leaders in Balochistan need to prioritise and put the Baloch people first.
The fact is that Balochistan can never truly develop, even with ten more of the economic corridors or industrial zones, unless and until there isn’t first a development of human capacity in the province. Infrastructure, rail and roads do not develop the people, it’s the people that develop and maximise the benefit out of infrastructure and other projects.
What Balochistan needs to be asking, beyond the route of the economic corridor, energy projects and industrial zones, is how much is being invested into the people of the province in terms of education, health, skills training and so on. There are only five universities in Balochistan, and even these are not provided with the same opportunities in terms of receiving donor money, exchange programmes and other benefits of foreign aid, as universities in other provinces. This puts the students in Balochistan at a greater disadvantage, practically stunting the ability of the Baloch people to fully develop themselves, compete and work for their province.
Not discounting the security situation in Balochistan, one wonders if there even is a plan to bring forth stability in the province by means other than guns and armed interventions? It’s about time we attempted to bring about stability through development.
The most depressing part about Balochistan is not the lack of infrastructure, fancy roads or underpasses, but the fact that there are thousands and millions of brilliant minds, innovative thinkers and students that I have come across, who lack basic technical skills: writing, communication, and so on. It’s not like they don’t have the opportunity; it’s just that they don’t have the skill to seize or create an opportunity for themselves. It is no surprise, hence, that the Baloch voice and narrative is completely absent from national discourse. And that is exactly what has to first change, in order to make Balochistan matter.
Hussain Nadim is a PhD candidate and coordinator of South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney
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