By: Khalid Hashmani, USA
About the author: Khalid Hashmani is a veteran human rights activist in Washington DC. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and Chief coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rich with Oil and Gas but most backward area in Asia, the province of Sindh is the largest producer of oil and gas in Pakistan and yet it suffers one of the worst poverty levels in Asia. It produces 71 per cent of gas and 61 per cent of oil production in Pakistan. The daily production of oil and gas in Sindh is about 67,140 barrels and 3.99 billion cubic feet respectively. Yet most reports by organizations such as the World Bank call the rural areas of Sindh as most under-developed and deprived. A New York Times book review of a titled “A New Deal in Pakistan” by William Dalrymple (http://www.nybooks. com/articles/ 21194) says the following about Sindh:
“.. in fact, it is one of the most backward areas in all of Asia. Whatever index of development you choose to dwell on-literacy, health care provision, daily income, or numbers living below the poverty line-rural Sindh comes bumping along close to the bottom”.
Over-Centralization in Pakistan denies provincial rights
The plight of Sindh is due to over-centralization and exploitative policies of the central Pakistani government. The central government of Pakistan has usurped all revenue and income resources of the country including almost all forms of taxes and income earned from natural resources such as oil, gas, and coal.
This regressive form of system denies economic rights of indigenous local people and results in a serious violation of Human Rights. The world community must bring about pressure on the central government to de-centralize itself and restore all provincial rights that were enjoyed by these provinces before the creation of Pakistan. The issue of equitable and fair treatment of provinces in the context of the control of natural resources is so serious that it has provoked the ensuring civil war in the Balochistan province. The Baloch nationalist forces and Pakistan military forces are now engaged in military conflict that has taken lives of hundreds of Baloch civilians and displaced thousands of Baloch families.
According to the Dawn newspaper, a leading English newspaper in Pakistan recently wrote in an editorial (http://www.dawn.com/2009/02/02/ed.htm#2)
“… Provincial legislature demanded that oil and gas companies must invest in the areas they exploit, as per the terms of their concession agreements. This, regrettably, has not been happening. It is estimated that Sindh produces nearly 70 per cent of the country’s gas and oil, yet the people who live in the vicinity of gas fields must cut down trees to light a stove. Injustice and development cannot go hand in hand.”
In August 2008, the provincial Assembly of Sindh passed a resolution asking the central government of Pakistan to enforce regulations to ensure that the oil and gas companies operating in the province meet the commitments of investment in social development of the areas surrounding the oil and gas fields. The central government in collusion with the oil companies has refused to enforce these regulations. It must be noted that the central government has engineered a system to ensure that much of the gas produced in Sindh is diverted to the province of Punjab (which controls military and federal bureaucracy) . Only a small percentage of the production is left for Sindh for its own industrial and domestic needs.
Excessive Central Control and No jobs for Local Sindhis
Recently, world’s largest deposits of high-grade coal were discovered in Sindh. In spite of the provisions in the constitution of Pakistan that give full control of coal reserves to the provincial governments, the central government has taken the control of coal deposits in Sindh. The main offices of almost all-major oil and gas companies are located in large cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, where very few Sindhis and Baluch are hired. Even in oil and gas fields high-paid jobs are given to people imported from other provinces, leaving only a fraction of low-paid jobs that hardly pay enough to feed families. In replying to a question in the National Assembly on April 14, 2006, the federal Minister of Petroleum Mr. Amanullah said that out of total employment of 11,613 in one of gas companies operating in Sindh, only 1,653 had the domicile of rural Sindh. The irony is that the gas and oil producing districts, towns, and villages have the lowest indicators of human development. These jurisdictions include Badin, Ghotki, Sehwan districts, Nara in Khairpur Thano Bola Khan in Jamshoro district and Johi in Dadu district.
Central Government gives lowest oil and gas royalties to Sindh
The province of Sindh receives one of lowest royalty in the world while much of the oil and gas income including production bonuses is kept by the Federal government.
Where as, in Canada, the oil producing provinces and the Federal government negotiated the percentages of royalties, the federal government has unilaterally decided on the provincial royalty percentages. Few weeks ago, several Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) organized a moot in Karachi, which is the capital of Sindh province to demand equitable royalties for the province of Sindh from its oil and gas fields. The central government of Pakistan has completely ignored these demands. The provinces of Sindh and Balochistan receive less than half (12.5% of gross revenues) of the royalties that Canadian provinces receive (average 30.5% of gross revenues). The moot also demanded from the central government to establish a training institute for local Sindhis, who suffer extremely high unemployment rates compared to other areas, to train local people in oil and gas technologies, administration, and management disciplines. The central government shows no inclination to establish such a training center.
Provincial Autonomy needed for equal treatment of all provinces
The country of Pakistan was created on the premise that all provinces will be autonomous and enjoy an element of sovereignty. This premise is enshrined in what is called 1940 Resolution, which was passed on March 23, 1940. Although, Pakistan celebrates March 23 as one of the most important national holidays, the federal government continues to betray people of Sindh by denying them autonomy that was fundamental provision of the resolution. It is ironic that the “dictating” nature of federal government in Pakistan has been perpetuated in spite of the founding principles of “autonomy” and “sovereignty” enshrined in the 1940 Resolution, which laid the basis for the creation of Pakistan. The Resolution declared:
“No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”
Learning Lessons from history and finding Solutions
The Pakistan government must learn lessons from the situation that developed in Niger Delta and Nigeria, where the local people were once denied any rights to benefit from the natural resources located in their areas. The economic deprivation and dissatisfaction ultimately gave birth to gross root movements such as the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and Movement for the Survival of Ogoni (MOSOP). These movements were born to fight injustice of denying local people to benefit from the local natural resources. This shows that wrong policies and denial of the rights to the local populations ultimately leads to armed conflicts and worst human rights violations.
The world community, particularly those active in human rights’ causes are urged to help the people of Sindh and pressure the Pakistan’s central government to re-negotiate a fair percentage of oil and gas royalties for producing provinces and development of local areas. It is imperative that the government of Pakistan respects the rights of local people over the natural resources produced in their areas. The locals must receive their fair share in the benefits from those resources. The time has come for the world to help Pakistan in restoring full provincial autonomy and de-centralize the rule in the country to avoid future conflicts and restore peace in the region.
Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists, e-groups.