Book review: A Cry for Justice: Emperical Insights from Balochistan
Balochistan cries for justice. The province has, for seventy years, suffered a situation where the country has taken much from and given little to it. That the province can be rich in natural resources and yet abjectly poor is a testimony to the long years of neglect and exploitation. It is a saga of resource transfer on a massive scale, a saga of colonial style political and economic management. From the epilogue of Dr Bengali’s ‘A cry for justice.’
Dr Kaiser Bengali is a man that needs little if any introduction. One of Pakistan’s preeminent economist, he has built an international reputation that breeds little argument. Thoughtful and precise in his insights, his no nonsense approach to problems and development makes him someone that people look to for clarity on muddled subjects. In the past he has remained advisor to the Chief Minister of Sindh for Planning and Development. He was also the master architect behind the Benazir Income Support Programme, designing the project and serving as its first head.
He has also had a special interest in the Balochistan province. One of his first major undertakings was as Head of the Chief Minister’s Policy Reform Unit, Government of Balochistan, and now as the current representative of Balochistan on the 9th National Finance Commission.
Balochistan is a contentious issue to say the least. That there are problems in the province is not the point of disagreement. That is something no one is going to try and claim. What is under discussion, however, is what these problems are, what the extent and impact of these problems are and what the nature of these problems. Are they simple economic and developmental issues? Or are they deeper social ills that have left Pakistan’s largest province crippled and lagging behind the other three by leaps and bounds? What of claims of systemic discrimination and exclusion that have dogged the topic of Balochistan and its progress from the very beginning.
To say that Balochistan is a politicised discussion would be an understatement. In many quarters, it is not just a political debate but an ideological one. It is in this province that much of the country find itself divided. Balochistan is an issue of national security. It has ignited important discussions on the role of the military not just in the region but in the entire country. It also forces on us the uncomfortable issues of ethnic violence and a country that is not as united as some of its residents might like to think.
With such a divisive topic, one can see why Dr Kaiser Bengali would be a voice of reason and clarity in the pit of flame wars that has become the debate on Balochistan. It is in this vein that he has published his latest work: A cry for justice, Empirical insights from Balochistan.
Indeed, the very nature of the book has been captured in the title. This is not a spiel of ideology, narrative or rhetoric, it is a cold hard analysis of the facts and the numbers.
In the book Dr Bengali has taken Balochistan and looked at all of the major issues that have surrounded the province. He starts, for example, by discussing the ‘great gas grievance.’ There is much to be said on the issue of Balochistan’s natural resources and much politics has been played on this. But what Dr Bengali does is a thorough dissection of the history and numbers related to Balochistan’s natural gas. In the remainder of the book, he goes on to lay open the other major issues in five broad chapters. Natural gas is followed by a detailed discussion on chronic development deficit, followed by deficit in social protection, imbalance in services and finally representational imbalances.
Balochistan has been the hub of dissenting voices and violence for many years. But this constant loop of bad circumstances has emanated from somewhere. The discontent among the Baloch has come from a place of deprivation. Unfortunately for Baloch National leaders, they have failed to definitively prove this deprivation and inequity. Not that the onus is on them, but the questions and accusations do follow.
What Dr Bengali has done in his book is special. He has categorically established, not as an opinion but as a fact, the systemic repression of the Baloch province. This is not an opinion he is presenting or a position he is taking. This is science.
The book’s blurb starts with a line on Balochistan being cliched as the largest province with the smallest population and most resources – despite which it is in poverty. All of this he establishes as facts and goes to the deep roots of these multifaceted problems.
The book, of course, is thoroughly boring. Indeed, it is supposed to be. For this is an academic research more than anything else full of graphs and numbers. Cut it whichever way, there is no room for anything other than the academic in Dr Bengali’s work. There seems to be an actual conscious effort to make it as blunt as possible. The only artistic license he has taken is giving a dedication and a short epilogue which is still very dry and by the book.
After all of these measures, the book proves that Balochistan is indeed crying for justice. A cry for justice is a bland book. It is a daunting and difficult read. There is little excitement in it, and even the pictures are barren and drab. But it is as important as it is boring. As necessary as it is unnerving. This is not for the average reader, but for those that matter, it is a must read and an eye opener.
Dr Bengali has produced an essential work.