Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, December 8th, 2019

Economic and Religious Status of Baloch Bordering Afghanistan

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Economic and Religious Status of  Baloch Bordering Afghanistan

The economy of Balochistan is largely based upon the production of natural gas, coal and minerals. Agriculture and livestock also dominate the Bloch economy. Horticultural development is a fairly recent, yet growing phenomenon. Other important economic sectors include fisheries, mining, manufacturing industries, trade and other services being rendered by public and private sector organizations in the province. Tourism remains limited but has increased due to the exotic appeal of the province. Limited farming in the east and fishing along the Arabian Sea coastline provide income and sustenance for the local population. Due to the tribal lifestyle of many Baloch and Brahui people, animal husbandry and trading bazaars throughout the province are important. People choose to live in regions that have water, roads, hospitals, electricity, and a congenial climate.
Economy then and now
Today, the Baloch, despite occupying a vast and resourceful territory has failed to keep the pace of socio-economic development and modernity with other fellow nations in the region. The economic grievances of the Baloch are dated back to the British era. As the British developed industries and agriculture in Sindh, Punjab, and NWFP, they ignored Balochistan. There is a widely held view that the British rulers neglected the economic development of Balochistan. A section of them also view that it was not merely a case of neglect, but what might be called purposeful sidetracking, even suppression. Of course the British had their own imperial interest to protect. Aijaz Ahmad, a Pakistani Marxist, wrote, “The British imperialist interest in Balochistan was not primarily economic; rather it was of a military and geostrategic nature .” Military experts also expressed the same view and maintained that Balochistan was the chessboard on which the Great Game was played.  The British rulers probably thought that an economically and politically enervated Balochistan would lend itself to be used more easily.
As earlier, with annexation in 1948, Balochistan remained on the whole extremely deprived. Since the early 1950s, the Pashtuns took control of most of the commercial life previously controlled by Sindhi Hindus. Provincial administration was predominantly Punjabi and few of the higher civil servants were Baloch. According to preliminary surveys, underground water as well as mineral resources were available in large quantities in Balochistan. But the underdeveloped infrastructure of the province made them difficult to exploit. As a result in the 1970s, compared to the other three provinces Punjab, Sindh and NWFP, Balochistan was the most neglected and impoverished province in Pakistan. In 1976, the annual per capita income was 54 dollars as compared with the 80 dollars for Punjab, 78 dollars for Sindh, and 60 dollars for NWFP.
Economy-related issues
In 1977 the life expectancy in rural Balochistan was 42 years as compared with the national average of 60 years. Similarly, the national literacy average was 16 percent, while that of Balochistan was 6 to 9 percent. To the Balcoh such an economic gap can hardly be justified in the light of Balochistan’s rich maritime resources along the several hundred miles of coast as well as its land-based mineral resources. According to Baloch nationalists, the people of Baluchistan were not the beneficiaries of the huge resources and income the province provided to the Federal exchequer. The continued negligence has deepened the sense of deprivation and feeling of hatred against Islamabad. A section of the Baloch nationalists believe that the centralist nature of Pakistani federation is such that small nationalities like the Baloch would find it hard to accommodate within the federation.
Thus, the basic issue related to the economic claims of the Baloch is the right distribution of natural resources between the centre and the province. Balochistan is the richest unit in the federation of Pakistan as far as the natural resources like various types of minerals specially natural gas, copper, marble and gold. At the same time it has a very significant geographical and coastal position. Now the problem is that Ports and Shipping are not only a federal subject but it is totally operated from Islamabad. The local population has always been complaining against their deprivation of the royalties concerning natural resources and their lack of participation in the development.
Islam is omnipresent
The state religion in Pakistan is Islam, which is practiced by about 95-98% of the people of the nation. The remaining 2.5% practice Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. Muslims are divided into different sects: the majority of them practice Sunni Islam, while 5.20% are Shias and 2.2% are Ahmadi Muslims. At large, Baloch differ from their neighbors not only in their language, literature, religion, and feelings, but also in their traditions and habits. For example, Arab Islam failed to assimilate the Persians into Arab traditions. Iranians fought and resisted Arab domination and though they converted to Islam, they formed a new sect (Shia) in Islam. They maintained their separate language, literature and traditions. Turks and Afghans also refused the domination and influence of Iranian Islam. The same is true of the Baloch, who maintained their own traditions and customs, which are different from Punjabi, Sindhi, Iranian and Afghan Muslims. Likewise, in sphere of religion the Baloch people have a different perception than other nations in Middle East. They are not fundamentalist and do not believe in mixing religion with politics. The overwhelming majority of the Baloch adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam of the Hanafite rite. It is important to note that before succumbing to Islam the Baloch were mostly Zoroastrians. The remnants of some Zoroastrian tradition are still evident among some Baloch tribes.  The conversion of the Baloch to Islam had a sterilizing effect on their sense of nationhood. Especially since the Nasir Khan’s era, the term “Balochistan” has meant more than just geography. It also refers to Baloch culture and is therefore social and political concept as well. 

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G. Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India. Email- rajkumarsinghpg@yahoo.com

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