Winning Hearts And Minds In Balochistan The Navy Way

Balochistan is in turmoil. This is the impression one gets, judging from the news, mostly negative, emanating from that unfortunate province. We keep hearing about the rampant drug and human smuggling rackets, about targeted killings and body dumpings, forced disappearances, cross-border attacks, sectarian massacres et al. While Balochistan burns, it’s elected parliamentary representatives, all of them without exception holding a ministerial portfolio of sorts, can’t have it better. Hopes that a democratic dispensation would be better able to understand and address the genuine grievances of the local populace gave way to disappointment when one saw the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package flounder on the banks of indecision.

The Pakistan Navy, being the silent service that it is, has been assiduously working behind the scenes to do it’s bit in nurturing mutual trust. It’s association with Balochistan’s coastline – whose physical features as viewed from a warship’s bridge are a familiar and reassuring sight – spans decades. It has long recognized that the best way to repay the province for it’s gracious hospitality is by building bridges and winning hearts. This the Navy is doing by focussing on three major spheres of activity: medical, education and employment.

Periodical forays into our coastal areas in the early seventies by warships of the Pakistan Navy revealed a woeful picture of neglect and despondency. A complete absence of medical facilities was most visible, with the more serious patients having to come all the way to Karachi, provided they could afford it. With the Navy becoming more physically entrenched along the coast, Gwadar in particular, in the early eighties, it was felt that something ought to be done to redress the medical problems the residents there were facing.

As a start, a free medical camp was organized at Gwadar in the mid-eighties which thereafter became a regular annual feature after being extended to all the other prominent coastal sites. The programme was very well received by the local populace, which started looking forward to it with eager anticipation. The public’s response can be gauged from the fact that during the two to three day camps organized in four different coastal venues last year, a total of nearly 12000 patients were attended to.

A medical centre was a part of the Ormara Naval Harbour master plan. After the Jinnah Naval Base established there became functional, it was thought fit to upgrade the medical centre to a 100-bedded hospital. When the first phase of 25 beds was successfully completed on 12 September 2011, it’s doors were flung open to everyone living at Ormara and even in the adjoining areas, with around 7700 locals having received medical care so far. PN Hospital DARMAAN JAH, as it is known, is proving to be a source of solace for the deprived segments of our population in a region where the very concept of modern medical care by itself was an alien one.

Realizing further that quality education is the key to a brighter future for the underprivileged, the Pakistan Navy is endeavouring to ensure it’s availability in regions where none existed. A Bahria Model School was established in Ormara in 2004, where a total of 331 students are currently studying. Lab equipment and books are being procured to meet the affiliation requirements of the Federal and Quetta Boards. This was followed up by a similar school at Gwadar in 2010, where 158 students are presently studying and being provided with pick and drop facilities as well, all at a nominal charge. In addition, the Govt Boys and Girls Schools as well as the Govt Boys Middle School at Ormara are all being looked after, supervised and sponsored by the Navy.

A number of reserved seats are also being availed by Balochi students at Bahria Model Schools at Karachi, Cadet College Petaro and the BBA/MBA programmes at Bahria University virtually free of cost. The establishment of a Cadet College at Ormara, where 50% of the seats will be reserved for Balochi candidates, is also on the cards.

Despite their impeccable seafaring credentials, it is noticeable that Balochis living along the coast are grossly under-represented in the service for various reasons. One of them is lack of education, which as just mentioned, is being addressed to a relative degree. The other is lack of awareness. The Pakistan Navy consequently stepped up it’s mobile recruitment campaigns in the coastal areas in particular, which adequately served the primary purpose of generating awareness as well. Resultantly, since 2007, a total of 278 potential sailors were selected, out of which 147 ultimately joined the Pakistan Navy.

Baloch youths are being facilitated in joining the Navy through a carefully-devised methodology. In addition to the PN Recruitment & Selection Centre at Quetta, a new centre has been established at Gwadar, which is much more convenient for prospective candidates from the coastal regions of Ormara, Pasni, Gwadar, Turbat and Jiwani. Baloch youths holding a Bachelors degree are also being directly inducted under the Short Service Commission scheme without recourse to the Inter-services Selection Board. Around nine candidates have moreover been tentatively short-listed this year for enrolment as naval officer cadets, subject to qualifying the ISSB.

The N-Cadet scheme has been re-introduced for the exclusive benefit of candidates from Balochistan, twenty of whom will be selected each year for an all-expenses-paid five year grooming programme through selected cadet colleges in the country. Those amongst them who successfully clear their FSc exams and are thereafter found suitable by the Inter-services Selection Board will end up joining the Pakistan Naval Academy as cadets. Relaxations in terms of SSC, FSc and entrance exams test marks as well as age limit waivers are being offered to facilitate them. Short – listed officer candidates are being further assisted through provision of ISSB facilities at Quetta, rather than their having to travel all the way to Kohat for evaluation tests / interview.

Here is an area rich in resources beyond measure. But of what use these riches if they cannot help to ameliorate the lot of those who sit atop them. All that is required to stem the rot is good governance, which is inclusive of the maintenance of law and order, addressing the genuine grievances of the Balochis and giving them hope of a better future. Failure is certainly not an option, as too much is at stake.

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