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Development of middle class in Balochistan: issues and challenges

Published on 9th June, Edition 23, 2014


An educated middle class can play an important role in the development of Balochistan which is the largest but least developed province of the country. It still lacks a middle and urbanized class. Absence of middle class and urbanized leadership has provided rich grounds for growth and prevalence of tribalism and weak civil community promoted tribalism and feudalism. The government is not taking measures to encourage the growth of a powerful civil society. What is needed is to investigate into the history and circumstances, policies and mistakes committed on the part of ruling elite that led to strengthening, prevalence and practice of the sardari system and tribalism in Balochistan.

The tribal system still exists and operates without legal authority. The system of tribal responsibility is most characteristic social pattern in rural Balochistan. Under the system, each tribe is responsible for the action of any one of its members. The code of honor, which has prevailed among the tribesmen for centuries still influences their actions including (a) to avenge blood, (b) to refrain from killing women, (c) to either pardon an offence on the intercession of the women of the offender’s family or to dismiss the women by giving each of them a dress as a token of honor, (d) to punish an adulterer with death and (e) to cease fighting when a Mullah, a Syed or a woman bearing the Holy Quran on his or her head, intervenes between the parties. In the tribal system, major disputes are solved through convention of jirga. In Balochistan too, ‘Jirga’ is still convened to resolve the tribal conflicts. Tribals consider jirga justice system more effective than the official system. No doubt, it will only dry out if the judiciary works and provides due process of law.

Given the socio-economic, political and tribal milieu of Balochistan the poor are not able to exercise their rights guaranteed under the law and to protect their property from being taken away by the powerful tribal, bureaucratic or political elite. People abstain from going to the courts in tribal setup. The tribal chiefs or sardars mostly decide the cases that should have been decided by the courts of law. The people for being poor and vulnerable are unable to resort to the court for administration of justice. The high costs of judicial services such as legal advice and advocacy are not affordable to the poor. Resultantly, the poor remains deprived of the legal protection. The poor are denied their legal and basic rights and cannot even protect the few assets that they own. Ultimately, they have to rely upon the justice administered by the tribal authorities.

During the tenure of Z.A. Bhutto, the National Assembly had passed a “System of Sardari (Abolition) Act” in 1976, which prescribed three-year punishment to anyone exercising the right of Sardari. The institution of the sardar was formally abolished in the System of Sardari (Abolition) Act, 1976 which says in the preamble: ”The system of Sardari, prevalent in certain parts of Pakistan, is the worst remnant of the oppressive feudal and tribal system which, being derogatory to human dignity and freedom, is repugnant to the spirit of democracy and equality as enunciated by Islam and enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and opposed to the economic advancement of the people.”


It was the British colonial system that provided full support to the tribal ruling class and after independence same British policy was pursued by successive governments in Islamabad. What contributed to the perpetuation of tribalism in Balochistan? Firstly, after independence, the same British policy of keeping Balochistan backward was followed by successive governments in Islamabad. Under General Zia regime, the people were encouraged to vote for ethnic and tribal considerations through non-party elections. This policy also strengthened the Sardari system in Balochistan.

The politics in the province largely center round the tribal chiefs and this also strengthened tribal hierarchy in the province. The hierarchical system of authority flows downwards from the Sardar to the other end of the family. The political organization is seen to be built upon two principles; hereditary authority and a personal bond of allegiance in which protection is exchanged for loyalty. The persistence of tribal politics and the continuing power and influence of local chiefs or sardars are seen to effect and alter the working of the established parliamentary system. Many of the elected representatives are tribal chiefs and sardars.

Balochistan continued to lag behind in all spheres of socio-economic life. Today, it has gone almost a century behind the other developed regions of the country. The entire urban population in Balochistan resides in high deprivation districts and the province’s share in low as well as medium deprivation districts is zero. The social scientists are of the view that social sector indicators in Balochistan are among the most challenging in South Asia. Balochistan is the poorest and most backward province of the country. Territorially, it is the country’s largest province, with a thinly dispersed population of around 7.5 million. Female primary school enrollment is not more than 20 percent. The rugged and inaccessible terrain, limited water resources for irrigation, large illiterate population, ethnic diversity and traditional women’s status are added challenges to economic growth and human development in Balochistan.

Growth of middle class and a powerful civil society is direly needed in Balochistan. Civil society covers a wide spectrum of individuals and groups, ranging from private sector bodies, trade unions and farmers’ organizations, to mosques, community organizations, organized pressure groups and the media. At a more advanced stage, the participation process becomes institutionalized when bodies such as municipal councils, for example, are created, for which citizens may elect their own representatives (nazims and councillors).

More investments are needed in social sector for the development of middle class in the province. Education must be given the top priority in the provincial budgets for the next 10 years. Performance improvement in the educational arena can yield great potential returns in terms of development in Balochistan. Education can revolutionize the social attitudes, economic trends and political mindsets. It is highly important to develop human resources and to open up the province for economic activities and especially for foreign investment.


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