Pakistan has been passing through a difficult phase for quite some time now. Both the people as well as the government of Pakistan are facing the brunt of cumulative effect of energy shortage, fiscal deficit, food insecurity, governance issues, physical insecurity and law and order situation, and fragility of climate, etc.
This reflects the multidimensionality of crisis facing contemporary Pakistan. The natural inference that one may draw is that the effects of these multidimensional issues would also be multidimensional in nature. One of the outcomes of the above-mentioned challenges is erosion of resilience which leads to poverty, marginalization and social exclusion.
The contested notion of poverty, lack of appropriate methodological tools, and the absence of aggregated data have historically constrained the analysis of poverty to a reductionist version, that too is not often officially acknowledged. Hence, the government of Pakistan has not released any official poverty figures since 2008. In fact, poverty can neither be understood, nor be answered using a mono-focal approach.
One can argue that in Pakistan, poverty is a state of multiple deprivations, of fundamental human capabilities that the poor often face simultaneously. Income or consumption being merely one of these deprivations does not sufficiently reflect the level of poverty experienced by the poor.
The individual facing these multiple deprivations tend to get a collective identity. Attainment of this collective identity whether ethnic, provincial, creed, or based on any other social division (urban-rural; civil-military etc) always have the potential to lead to class conflict, i.e., a conflict between haves and have-nots. This conflict, in turn, again increases the poverty and human insecurity.
One can see the manifestation of above mentioned vicious cycle between poverty and conflict in Balochistan, Karachi, South Punjab, KP and in many other parts of Pakistan. Let us recall some of the social indicators of Balochistan.
According to SDPI-WFP Food Insecurity ranking of 2010, Dera Bugti was the worst food-insecure district of Pakistan. Among the worst 20 districts of Pakistan, 10 belong to Balochistan. Musa Khel, Dalbadin, Panjgur, Noshki, Loralai are also extremely food insecure. According to this report, 26 out of 29 districts of Balochistan are extremely food insecure.
The state of deprivation of Balochistan is also endorsed by Multiple Poverty Index (MPI) report released by SDPI a couple of month ago. SDPI used education, health, drinking water, sanitation, fuel, quality of housing, wealth; asset ownership and landholding indicators for poverty ranking. Obviously, there would be many other indicators for measuring deprivations, such as religious and political freedom. However, we at SDPI were not able to directly measure them.
According to MPI report, Balochistan faces the highest incidence of poverty as compared to other provinces. There is also an apparent geographic concentration of poverty in certain regions that are poorer than the others. Poverty seems highly concentrated in the central and southwest part of the province, with an exception of Musakhel. Districts at border also have high incidence of poverty.
Now let us see the government and non governmental organisations’ response to Balochistan’s problems. Ideally, the state should be able to take care of this situation. The helplessness of provincial government is evident from the fact that Chief Minister of Balochistan is permanently living in Islamabad while the Governor of Balochistan spends his time in Karachi.
The federal government is responding to the needs of people through Benazir Income Support Program. However, as one can guess, Rs. 1000/- per month would not be able to tackle health, education, and social poverties. One, the money is too small, second, this amount is fixed whereas the cost of health, education and social services is increasing due to inflation, and third increase in income cannot guarantee religio-political freedom.
The federal government is also providing direct development grants to each provincial MPA. However, only a negligible portion of these grants (if at all) gets spent on local communities. These grants end up being used as political bribe from federal government to provincial legislators.
Non-government organizations too seem helpless to deliver in Balochistan due to security threats. After the kidnapping and assassination of International Committee of Red Crescent (ICRC) staff member there, ICRC, which was running world’s largest relief operation in Pakistan, has pulled out from Balochistan. An FAO staff member was also assassinated in Quetta earlier this year. Resultantly, UN agencies have also pulled out. The province has been turned a “no go area” for humanitarian agencies.
The situation is also aggravated by a permanent conflict between state and nationalists leaders. The state is simply unable to comprehend the root causes of conflicts which are partly historical in nature and partly due to the skewed distribution of natural resources.
This, in turn, broadened the mandate of security agencies of Pakistan, who in an attempt to curb “anti federation elements” clamped and captured many of the nationalist parties’ loyalists who were later termed as “missing persons”, as there is no record of their arrest or clue of their whereabouts.
I am not ruling out the involvement of foreign hands in worsening the Balochistan situation. However, social inequalities and inequities, when chronically ignored by home-states, pave the way for foreign powers to use the situation for their own interests. On top of everything else, the collusion between nationalists (who are always progressive and secular) and religious militants has resulted in unprecedented sectarian killing in Balochistan where Hazara community is bearing the brunt of marginalisation and poverty.
The state must make an attempt to accommodate basic demands, historic and of shared resources, through a well-conceived process of political dialogues and social bargaining. In immediate effect, while we await beginning of such process both the state and non-state must create space for humanitarian organisations to alleviate suffering of the people.
We need to remember that poverty is not only economic poverty and to address multidimensional poverty, political dialogue and social sector development through state and non-governmental actors is a must. We did not learn our lessons from the 1971 tragedy and as a nation should put our acts together to avoid another Dhaka happening in Balochistan.
The writer is executive director of sustainable development policy institute and may be contacted at email@example.com