Long simmering separatism likely to grow in Pakistan's biggest province, Balochistan, as it is the region worst-affected by historic floods in the country. This might further stall and derail the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or the Pakistani part of China's Belt and Road Project.
Floods in Pakistan have devastated the country's economy and are likely to further fuel the separatist movement in Balochistan, the country's largest province.
Pakistan is grappling with one of its worst climate-related catastrophes in the form of sweeping floods that have engulfed all the four provinces of the country - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab.
This has resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis coupled with further worsening an already collapsing economy broken by a heavy debt burden, crippling energy crisis, and steadily collapsing currency.
The floods crisis has sharply deteriorated life in Sindh and Balochistan – which are the two most gravely affected provinces. Sindh has already seen 522 reported deaths and Balochistan is dealing with mass displacement of people as homes, villages, even entire smaller hamlets have been washed away. There have been around 300 casualties in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. Apart from the loss of life, this environmental is likely to create socio- and geo-political challenges for the country in the time to come.
Already Pakistan is going through political turmoil with the chaotic ouster of the Imran Khan government and the Shahbaz Sharif government which replaced Khan still trying to find its feet. Outside the government, Khan continues to lead massive rallies to bring down the Sharif government.
Simultaneously, the country faces severe environmental challenges in the form of rising temperatures, glacial melting, diverting river waters- escaped the attention of the masses. Climate change experts and research analysts have pointed out that a structurally flawed developmental framework is one of the major causes of the severity of this disaster. To put this into context, Pakistan has been grappling with issues related to internal corruption, weak governance and the infrastructural mismanagement related to diverting the water flow of flood waters together constitute the inherent problems that have aggravated the situation. Pakistan is also home to about 7,200 glaciers and the global rise in temperature has contributed to the glacial melting as well. The economic and governance crisis in Pakistan increasingly feeds it global warming challenges, and vice-versa.
The impact on Economy
The political instability that has primarily been the characteristic feature of the Pakistani state since its inception was further mired into turmoil with the shrinking economic situation. This disaster has led to the damage of up to $30 billion and the further diminishing foreign exchange reserves in the country are adding to the economic insecurity. Now, there is a need to understand that these floods are not just a one-time climate catastrophe, but they have subsequent repercussions as well. There is a significant decrease in the human security within Pakistan in the form of mass displacements, food shortages, water shortages, lack of shelter and the higher risks of waterborne diseases. Apart from this, Pakistan, a primarily agrarian economy, has lost up to 900,000 acres of standing crops within Punjab (the second-largest province in the country) and the half of the country’s cotton reserves have been destroyed as well. The agriculture sector makes up about 23 per cent of the Pakistani GDP (gross domestic product) and the impact of this catastrophe would subsequently slow down the recovery rate of the economy.
Pakistan is in dire need of foreign aid, but the state faces a major accountability crisis and therefore might find it difficult to easily access the funds it needs. The country’s Balochistan province, which makes up around 44 per cent of the total geographical area, has been mired with issues of extreme poverty, under-development and unemployment. It has also had a longstanding separatist movement since 1948. The region’s severely poor infrastructure and dams constructed to divert the flow of the Indus river has further aggravated the flood water impact.
What does it mean for Balochistan?
Since the existence of Pakistan, Balochistan has remained a very key internal conflict within the country. Time and again the people of the province have challenged the Pakistani state’s authority and its control over the region. The Baloch separatist movement seeks an autonomous, self-governed province which it believes would ensure better governance, economic development, and employment opportunities for the people. To put this into context, Balochistan has remained one of the most backward regions of the country despite being the hub of various natural resources including oil, natural gas as well as copper and gold. The lack of political and economic attention paid to the province along with constant crackdown of the armed forces has fuelled the dissatisfaction of the people with the regime.
Today, Balochistan stands as the worst-affected area from the floods of Pakistan and the inaccurate response of the government is bound to create further tensions within the region. The constant images of distressed people displaced from their homes, bridges and dams collapsing into rubble and starving children should be considered a wakeup call for the people within the country as well as the international community. Recent images of Pakistani security forces protecting assets of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – the leg of China’s Belt and Road project that passes through Pakistan with a major portion through Balochistan - even as thousands struggle to exist in the flood waters has further aggravated public opinion. Already Baloch separatists had attacked the CPEC multiple times; these floods are likely to exacerbate the situation.
This situation in Balochistan is seen by many Balochis as not just the product of an isolated climate disaster, this is the result of continuous neglect and subjugation of a section of the population that is now bearing the brunt of this crisis in an unprecedented form. For those wondering what this would mean for the already existing insurgent tendencies and growing aversion towards the Pakistani state within Balochistan, the answer is clear - it would aggravate the dissatisfaction and further accentuate the cycle of this conflict.