Balochistan Budget: A clear political ambition

By Siddiq Baluch

The Provincial Finance Minister, Mir Asim Kurd, supported by his entire team of the Finance Department, explained at length the salient features of the budget in the post-budget briefing explaining the vision of the Chief Minister of Balochistan. He explained the economics of establishing a refinery separating gold from copper at metal mining site of Chagai. He said by investing a few billions, Balochistan will be able to know how much gold had been produced from both the Saindak and Reko Dik sites.

Once the Reko Dik is gone to production, Balochistan will be able to earn at least Rs 45 billions as profit from copper and gold reserves annually. The decision was taken in the backdrop of the fact that Balochistan government will take over the Reko Dik and Saindak Project after expiry of its agreement in 2012. It also plans to merge the both making it more viable economically. Since Reko Dik has no right for metal mining, it will cease to function handing over all the assets to the Balochistan Government to undertake metal mining. Its licence was confined to mere exploration and for the past 20 years. According to one estimate, value of copper and gold reserves at the Reko Dik is more than one trillion US dollar. The only one project will be equivalent to 50 Gwadar Deep Sea Port in economic terms.

The briefing by the Provincial Finance Minister indicated the excitement shown by the Provincial government to take over all the mega projects in Balochistan without obtaining complete provincial autonomy. The Federal Government had nominated Chief Minister as the Chairman of the Gwadar Port Authority(GPA)  with higher number of Balochistanis in the Board of Governors for operating the Port.

The Provincial Government had mobilized resources to buy the share of Singapore Port Authority and the National Logistics Cell (NLC) for complete take over of the port. It is the ambitious plan explained by the Finance Minister in the briefing. Yet another salient feature of the Budget is that the Provincial Government got a direct financial and technical assistance from the Government of Japan for rehabilitating and re-functioning of the Pasni Fish Harbour. The Japanese, in our private conversations, offered matching grant and financial assistance to Balochistan for every penny the Provincial Government spends in social sector—health, education and other services. Japan will provide a grant of Rs 800 million for the Pasni Fish Harbour.

The government is also trying to buy the significant number of shares of Pakistan Petrolem Limited (PLL) and other gas companies operating within Balochistan. The idea behind it is that the Balochistan Government should get all the future profits and not others. Again, the Balochistan Government should fully control the companies so that it should know about the exact gas extracted from wells or gas pumped to other consumers in Punjab and Sindh, also to different sectors, including power generation and Fertilizer factories, that were given substantial subsidy around Rs 40 billions a year. The subsidy was given at the cost of Balochistan and its people, independent economists opined.

All these steps indicated that elected leadership of Balochistan is also desperate and sick about the denial of resources to this backward province, for one reason or the other, and for long. The on-going political struggle for more national rights and greater autonomy for Balochistan, the weakest Federating Unit in Pakistan, had put tremendous pressure on the Federal rulers to concede their some demands, if not all.

Baloch leadership had proposed merely three subjects—Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication—for the Federal Government and transferring all other powers to the Federating Units. It was one solution to Balochistan’s constitutional and political conflict. Baloch leadership is dissatisfied with the present constitutional arrangement of abolishing the Concurrent List from the Constitution and handing over those subjects to the Provinces. It was not a Baloch demand. It was the demand of the PML-N with its political base in the Punjab. Other political parties joined the PML-N in abolishing the Concurrent List. The Government is yet to address the Baloch demands for rights. The Budget is a clear reflection of the Baloch aspirations within the framework of Pakistan.

(The write is a veteran Quetta-based journalist with five-decade journalistic experience of covering Balochistan. He is currently the editor-in-chief of Daily Balochistan Express and Daily Azadi (Urdu), Quetta: dailyazadi@gmail.com. To read previous articles by the same writer, click here)