Calendar year 2017 is almost over and it was not a good year for Balochistan just like most of the years in last one and half decades.
Starting from terrorism, the number of bomb blasts reduced in 2017 as compared to 2016. This year 144 people were killed in 32 attacks whereas in 2016, 262 people were killed in 42 attacks, as per the figures quoted by South Asian Terrorism Portal. This year there was no major terrorist attack like civil hospital blast which killed 57 lawyers or Police training centre attack which killed 61 police recruits in 2016. In short the security dynamics of Balochistan were far from satisfactory in 2017.
After terrorism incidents the next biggest cause of deaths in Balochistan was highway accidents. Over a dozen highway accidents in Balochistan took the lives of more than 100 people in 2017. Major cause of highway accidents in Balochistan is narrow highways with no dividers between the lanes. Still no efforts were made to secure the highways for traffic by making them dual carriageways.
Moving to the political side, 2017 proved to be an eventful year as always. This year census was conducted in Balochistan in March and April, after a gap of 19 years. Initially there were a lot of fears that native Baloch can be converted into a minority if millions of Afghan refugees are counted as Pakistani citizens. There was a lot of political heat on this matter and even a grand tribal Jirga was convened in February 2017 which demanded from federal government to ensure that census is conducted fairly. The preliminary census results were announced in August 2017 and they showed that census exercise in Balochistan has been largely fair and the ethnic balance in province had not been disturbed.
Moreover, the only major electoral activity in Balochistan in 2017 was the by-election for NA-260. This election reignited an electoral spirit in Balochistan for the first time since 2013. Almost all major political parties either fielded their candidates or supported another party’s candidate. The political campaigns in Quetta, Nushki and Chagai district were at their peak. After a lively campaign JUI-F managed to defeat BNP with a narrow margin. The good thing was that all parties accepted the election results without making claims of rigging.
Another major political issue in Balochistan has always been negotiations with the Baloch insurgent leaders. This year again there was no headway on this matter and in fact the situation in terms of a possible patch-up with insurgent leader’s further deteriorated. However, Gazzain Marri, son of Late Nawab Khair Baksh Marri returned to Balochistan after ending a 17 year self-imposed exile. Although, He was not directly involved in insurgent leadership but he still belongs to the family which allegedly founded the current wave of insurgency in the province. Now he is making desperate attempts to rejoin mainstream politics before 2018 elections.
The last significant political activity in Balochistan in 2017 was the arrival of Nawaz Sharif to address the political gathering of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP). It was first time in many years that a national level leader had come to attend a local political gathering in Balochistan. However, this gathering got bad press for the statement made by PKMAP leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai who termed all those Pashtuns dishonourable who don’t stand with Nawaz Sharif.
Throughout the year Baloch politicians bashedthe federal government for ignoring Balochistan in CPEC projects, but this received little if anyattention in the mainstream media
Switching gears to the economics side, Balochistan was in news in 2017 due to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Politicians of Balochistan throughout the year bashed federal government for ignoring Balochistan in CPEC projects. This criticism culminated in the visits of four senators from Balochistan to China who after their return unequivocally denounced CPEC. They claimed that CPEC will prove to be a bad deal for Balochistan. Needless to say their opposition to CPEC went unheard in national media like most of issues of Balochistan.
Likewise, Balochistan missed a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 7th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of CPEC due to failure of provincial government to prepare a feasibility report on time. One senator from opposition even claimed that provincial government is sleeping when it comes to dealing with CPEC.
In Balochistan, unemployment has always been a huge problem. With the increase of number of university campuses in the province the ranks of unemployed people are swelling rapidly. Earlier this year Balochistan government announced to carry out recruitments on 25,000 vacancies in three months. The year is about to end and still there is no headway on these mass scale vacancies. This again highlights the lack of seriousness of provincial government for tackling the serious problem of unemployment.
The year 2017 ended with unfortunate events in the form of attacks on media in Balochistan. Insurgent groups threatened media to either publish their statements or face consequences. Media was forced not to publish statements of insurgent groups due to National Action Plan (NAP). There were attacks on press clubs and newspaper distribution agencies. As a result, journalism activities in major part of Balochistan are suspended since 25th October. More than 20 press clubs are still closed in Balochistan. That was perhaps the saddest way to see the end of 2017 in Balochistan.
Writer is a freelance journalist and columnist based in Quetta, Balochistan. He is also the Founder and Editor of Balochistan Voices, a community based English-language online newspaper. He can be reached on twitter @iAdnanAamir
Published in Daily Times, January 3rd 2018.