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Why Is Pakistan's Balochistan Shut Out of Its Own Natural Gas Reserves?

Categories: Pakistan, Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Governance
Quetta, Pakistan. 12 December 2011 -- Residents of Pasthoonbagh Nechari road gather at Sui Southern Gas Company office to protest against low pressure of Sui gas in their area in Quetta. Photo by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix [1]

Quetta, Pakistan. 12 December 2011 — Residents of Pasthoonbagh Nechari road gather at Sui Southern Gas Company office to protest against low pressure of Sui gas in their area in Quetta. Photo by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix

This post was written by Feroz Jan in Urdu and translated by Salman Latif for PakVoices [2]. An edited version appears below.

Balochistan is the most underdeveloped province of Pakistan, and Dera Bugti is one of the most underdeveloped parts of this province. In Dera Bugti is located Sui, the area which has come to be the backbone of Pakistan’s economy.

Natural gas was discovered at Sui gas field [3] in 1952 and by 1955, this gas was being supplied to different parts of Pakistan. Being discovered in the Sui fields, natural gas in Pakistan came to be called ‘Sui gas’. The two leading state-owned distribution gas companies in Pakistan go by the names ‘Sui Southern Gas Company [4]‘ and ‘Sui Northern Gas Company [5].’

It is important to note here that the first provinces to get supply from Sui gas were Punjab and Sindh. On the other hand, 60 years have elapsed since the discovery and yet, only 14 townships in the 30 districts of Balochistan [6] enjoy natural gas supply. Sui, the town which is a mere four miles from the gas discovery site, itself has no gas supply and people are forced to use wood and coal as fuel.

Even in the provincial capital of Balochistan, Quetta, Sui gas supply came as late as 1970. Then in 1990, Hub was also provided gas supply because it had become an industrial area.

Despite being the site of Sui gas, Balochistan continues to be shut out of the supply. Balochistan Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Mr. Jam Kamaal recently said, ‘We are considering the option of importing Sui gas from Iran’ — meaning that he was unaware that ‘Sui gas’ is a name specifically ascribed to the gas extracted from Sui gas fields, and that any natural gas imported from Iran will simply be natural gas.

The ridiculous statement also reflects a serious problem: that the federal and provincial governments seemingly have no plans of ensuring more widespread gas supply in Balochistan and rather look to foreign imports to meet the province's fuel needs.

It is pertinent to note that Article 158 of Pakistan’s Constitution [7] reads:

Article 158. Priority of requirements of natural gas.
The Province in which a well-head of natural gas is situated shall have precedence over other parts of Pakistan in meeting the requirements from the well-head, subject to the commitments and obligations as on the commencing day.

Which simply means that the discovery of any natural resources must first benefit the province where the discovery has been made. Sadly, the inverse is true in the case of Balochistan and its Sui gas field.

Some argue that given the scattered settlements and rough terrains in Balochistan, it is a problem to ensure gas supply to these remote areas. However, Sui gas is being supplied to some of the remotest areas of Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Below are some statistics about gas consumption in Pakistan, taken from Pakistan Annual Energy Book 2007:

Province Production (MCFT) Total % Consumption %
Balochistan 374,161 40 66,477 2
Sindh 536,452 54 386,262 38
Punjab 67,691 0.6 6395,388 44
KPK Nil Nil 24,138 2

According to the Energy Yearbook estimates of 2007, Balochistan accounted for 25-26% of the total natural gas production [8] in Pakistan, down from a 56% share in 1995. That same year, Balochistan consumed nearly 5.81% of this total national produce. Since Sui gas fields are the only gas fields in Balochistan engaged in active production, they account for the province's entire share in natural gas.

Being deprived of a fair share of Sui gas for the last 60 years is one of the key grievances of the people of Balochistan. And from the looks of it, this will continue to be the case.

These days, numerous promises are being made to turn the city of Gwadar into a hub of industry, trade and development. But the sad fact is that Gwadar lacks some of the most basic amenities [9] such as clean water. Not only that, only some 10% of the population enjoys gas supply while the rest wait for the fulfillment of grand promises.

In the absence of gas supply, people in Gwadar have to buy wood, coal and petrol to meet their fuel needs. A resident of Gwadar express their views on this issue in the following words (translation is below):

Q: What difficulties do you have to face due to lack of domestic Sui gas supply in Gwadar?

Zahid Baloch: Domestically, we have a dire need for Sui gas supply. In its absence, we have to resort to burning wood for household fuel needs. There are areas where Sui gas is available in Gwadar but these are areas where bigwig politicians and the elites reside.

But in our homes and areas, there is no such supply. Some houses along Airport Road also have access to Sui gas but again, these are households which are rich. On the other hand, the poor who are most urgently in need of a more affordable fuel, are the ones who are not provided Sui gas.

Today, the Pakistani state should consider the fact that Balochistan, being the producer of Sui gas, deserves to benefit from it fairly. Steps taken towards meeting this demand would diminish the sense of deprivation that is widely felt by the people of Balochistan.

On the other hand, continuing the policy of discrimination against Balochistan by depriving it of its rightful share in natural resources will only widen the gulf of distrust between the people of Balochistan and the rest of the country.