When talking about the economic opportunities in Balochistan, people tend to mention the traditional sectors — such as minerals, horticulture, fisheries, livestock, handicraft, and more recently the CPEC and Gwadar seaport projects. However, barring the CPEC projects, which may offer some employment opportunities to semi-skilled and educated youth of Balochistan through the Special Economic and Free Zones-based small to medium scale industrialisation and trade through wider connectivity, the traditional sectors in Balochistan are incapable of harbingering economic growth and create employment opportunities. These sectors may contribute and complement local but not modern economy.
It is generally considered that Balochistan’s natural resources, particularly minerals, have the potential to boost its economy. But it is hard to create opportunities for larger society from natural resource endowments as any economy based on natural resources inherently remains exclusionary and extractive in nature and highly capital intensive.
A few influential families control the mines and mineral sector. The fossil fuel, mainly natural gas, reserves are depleting at an unprecedented speed. Except for Nasirabad division, the rest of Balochistan cannot sustain large-scale agriculture. Heavy mechanisation of agriculture through tubewells on subsidised rate, and now solar-powered machines, are used to extract groundwater. Unregulated fishing vessels are adversely impacting the fisheries and livestock sub-sectors. Frequent droughts and rural-urban migration is further shrinking Balochistan’s economy.
Balochistan is in the grip of mis-governance, with a dearth of accountability of both elected and unelected institutions responsible for the provision of social and economic services. Such mis-governance causes the diversion of precious resources to unproductive use and allows for corruption and embezzlement.
With the current sociopolitical and power structure, one cannot expect the province to offer many opportunities to its people to prosper — as the power structure is extremely extractive and controlled by a tiny class coming from top of the hierarchical social structure supplemented by civil servants exploiting public resources.
Balochistan needs a people-centric model of development to create economic opportunities which are sustainable and eco-friendly. Unlike other provinces, the commodity producing sectors could offer little growth prospects in Balochistan. The potentials for sustainable growth with wider opportunities lie in the service sector. The new model of growth and development needs to tap local opportunities. The fiscal space had been extremely narrowed in the past, leaving the province with limited option to invest on social sector, but the 7th NFC Award created a fiscal cushion. However, empirical evidence suggests that post 8th constitutional amendment and 7th NFC award, the initiatives that created a larger fiscal space with administrative and legal autonomy, the province has made negligible progress. This alludes to the fact that it is not a matter of resource unavailability but lack of capacity, dearth of political accountability and an acute governance crisis that has kept Balochistan underdeveloped.
To broaden opportunities for people belonging to all social strata in the province, a chunk of the transferred resources of the divisible pool from the federal government must be used to invest in peoples’ education and skill building. Balochistan needs to expand the network of quality education, mainly technical and higher education institutions. Access to quality technical and higher education will help people to escape poverty and create socioeconomic opportunities.
Further, Balochistan is in the grip of mis-governance, with a dearth of accountability of both elected and unelected institutions responsible for the provision of social and economic services. Such mis-governance causes the diversion of precious resources to unproductive use and allows for corruption and embezzlement.
To augment the competence of public institutions and departments, the province needs to invest in capacity building of its governance apparatus and impose rigorous checks and balances to prevent wastage of public resources.
Strong checks and balances will come through democratic norms, which the province is yet to develop.