The Discourse of Youth in Balochistan: Inequality, Trust, and Intimidation

By Dr Mir Sadaat

Pakistan has one the highest youth population in the world. Over 64 percent of the population is below the age of 30 years. This can be turned into the supreme bonus for the country if we are able to capitalize on it. The UNDP Report titled Pakistan National Human Development Report 2017 indicates that youth development index in Pakistan is 0.470 whereas, in Balochistan it is 0.377. The report indicates that 29 percent of the youth in Pakistan is illiterate while only six percent have more than 12 years of education. One the flipside, only 19.5 percent of Balochistan’s population is between 15 and 29 years of age and roughly 50 percent of them remains illiterate. Woefully, on monthly only 2.3 percentage of youth participate in civil society activities. The participation of youth in physical activity is only 26.5 percent, which leaves 73.5 percent of them physical and emotionally sluggish. Furthermore, the percentage of people that are multi-dimensionally poor is 71.2 percent the highest in Pakistan. Surprisingly, in Balochistan, only 5 percent people have access to a computer. The ratio of unemployment rate among the population of 15 years is almost 60 percent. The severe food insecurity of Pakistan is 1.8 however, in Balochistan it is 3.55, with some districts with index of above than 14. The most alarming fact of the lot is that in Balochistan 80% youth were direct victims of violence compared to 62% of FATA and 35% of KP. It is pertinent to mention here that the data presented in this is report is under reported as the districts of Panjgur and Kech are not included in the dataset.

The youth development index of Balochistan (and Pakistan) has declined compared to 2015. The main factor for decline in the index is attributed to a fall in political and civic participation of youth. This is mainly associated with distrust for institutions and higher level of stress. The development of youth in Balochistan depends how the society responses to their aspirations and channels their potential. Another factor for the decline is the concept of National Identity. This concept is very complex in Balochistan as only 40% of youth associate their identity as Pakistani and 60% base it on religious or ethnolinguistic identities. To gain the trust of our youth and bring them to mainstream first of all we need to understand what are the issues that our youth is worried about. There has never been grounded research to know their tendencies, so the following discussion is based on literature that can be subjective in nature.

The education is the most basic issues that the youth of Balochistan is concern about. By any standard, the most valuable and vital resource that youth can hope and expect to acquire is a good basic education at par with other parts of Pakistan. Education creates the gap in the lives of youth as there is a huge deficit for those children who never attended school. We need to understand that without benchmark schools & colleges, opening scores of universities & their sub campuses will produce unworthy graduates for Balochistan who wouldn’t be at par with national job market. We need to focus on creating good public schools & colleges first.

Youth that are lucky enough to attain education their worry about employment begins even before finishing education. Sadly, the main focus of youth in Balochistan to acquire a government job as we have minimal private sector jobs for them.  With the impressive gains in universities in Balochistan there are way more educated youth than a decade ago. The investments in education are clearly linked to desire for better opportunities, locally and elsewhere. Expectations in terms of both type of employment and remuneration have changed among youth and they would not take up a minor job after graduation. Youth unemployment in Balochistan can be attributed to a lack of institutions to counsel students in selecting fields of study that matches the requirements of our economy or their skills set. Structural unemployment along with the low incomes and below subsistence wages have also been held responsible for the perpetuation of the vicious circle of unemployment. Research suggests that growth in private sector investment is more conducive than public sector investment to reducing youth unemployment. Moreover, growth in the services sector (as opposed to overall GDP) is more strongly linked with reduced unemployment particularly for females.

The level of inequality in Balochistan keeps their youth cynical about the state and their future as well. Social and economic inequality dissuade the whole country but people of Balochistan are more affected by it. It hinders progress of Balochistan by restricting the opportunities available to our youth.  As research suggests inequality is a cross-cutting phenomenon, affecting people’s ability to live life on their own terms. It is the product of a broad range of structures, processes, and actions, including corruption, prejudice, politics, taxation, development priorities, and war of perceptions. Powerful groups use their privilege to capture more than their fair share. Pakistan National Human Development Report indicates that Pakistan’s provinces have varying levels of development, with Punjab and Sindh dominating in terms of their shares in the national economy. Per capita gross regional product (GRP) has increased for all provinces except for Balochistan. Since 1999–2000, Balochistan has fallen from second place to last place among the country’s provinces, with a 7 percent decrease in its real per capita income. Balochistan continues to lag behind given a decrease in the annual production of natural gas, severe water constraints, and a steady influx of migrants. Balochistan had a per capita income second only to Sindh at the turn of the century. Today, it has the lowest share of the country’s population, and the lowest performance on human development indicators. The richest 20 percent of Balochistan’s population have a GDP per capita that is 3.7 times greater, and an HDI value that is 1.8 times greater, than the poorest 20 percent. Over the years, income inequality in Balochistan has shown no substantial change, but the province faces the most pronounced inequalities in education and living standards in the country.

Having said that even if the group of youth that doses do not experience any inequality still, they will be vulnerable to violence. They are concern about their safety & attitude of society. Murder of Jibran & lynching of Bilal in 2020 shows a growing intolerance youth and point towards a serious fact that violence is becoming a way of expression in our society. The murder of Hayat Baloch or any other young man is not the doing of our law enforcing agency but of a mindset that believe two wrongs can make a right. We as a society need to reflect on causes that have created such a society and find ways for a tolerant and harmonious Balochistan.

Our younger generation may be living in a society, but they have a minimal sense of community or neighbourhoods. They can relate themselves more with an individual that they see on social media than their relative or neighbours. This disassociation with the society makes it more complex for discourse creation and youth engagement. There are numbers of barriers to youth engagement, but the prime factors are: trust, transparency, and intimidation. They would trust a false claim on virtual space than any information provided by their family or teachers. The concept of transparency is alien to our youth they would never vet any source and would become part of any narrative that resonate with their fears and apprehensions.  They would be more expressive on social media than in classroom or home, it is because of the intimidating environment that we have created in our society.      

This brings us to the big question how to engage the youth of Balochistan. Answering this question in a single writing is not possible but we can discuss the future direction that can be followed by the policy makers. Policy implications for youth engagement in Balochistan can be on the following lines.

First of all, we need to engage youth early before they get into colleges or universities, high schools should be the nurseries for developing critical and analytical minds. The state needs to foster partnerships with the youth through debate and dialogue; intimidation is not an option.  We need to put youth in positions where they must feel that they heard and understood. The engagement of youth must start with far or hard to access locations followed by easy areas such as Quetta or other urban centres. The interventions for youth must not be based on one size fits all we need to consider different geographies and income levels and the stages of youth they belong to. After the engagement then we can work towards both short-term and long-term systemic change that would help us in overcoming the intimidation that they are facing and gain their trust as a result. Finally, we need to understand that before doing this we need to do a primary level research to assess the perceptions of our youth and then based on our findings we should design our plans and strategies. It is about time that research and analysis should be given the driving seat in resolving the problems of Balochistan, opinion and personality-based policy making has to stop.    

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