Balochistan: Pictures From A Certain Hell, Kamila Hyat

But in Chile as in other places that have seen brutal rule of a similar kind many have chosen to speak out against it, sometimes putting their own lives at risk. We see this happening in Balochistan itself.

The mainstream media for one has refused to document the state of affairs in Balochistan, putting across to viewers, readers, and listeners, only the most incomplete picture of what is happening.

For the most part, in that complex agenda that determines what makes news, only mass killings in Balochistan and occasional reports about the discovery of dead bodies make the headlines. The backdrop against which all this is happening remains missing, leaving many unable to put together the individual jigsaw pieces placed before them to create a complete picture.

The gravity of the situation too goes unrealised. Some of the realities that exist have been carefully mapped out in a new report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which after a detailed fact-finding mission to the province in May this year states that 140 dead bodies have been found in less than one year – from July 2010 to May 2011 – while another 71 remain missing.

Many of the bodies that have turned up, on pavements, at street corners or in empty stretches of land, bear marks of torture. The victims include nationalists, human rights activists, and others who speak out against state oppression in various forms.

The HRCP believes security agencies, notably the Frontier Corps, is involved in the ‘picking up’ of people from their homes or while on the road, and presumably responsible for their subsequent fate.

Since the fact-finding mission visited the province, there have been other tragedies. Professor Saba Dashtiyari, a Lyari-born teacher of Islamic Studies at the Balochistan University, was shot dead in early June. A much loved poet and scholar, he had a huge following among students and had used his own funds to set up a library in his hometown promoting the Balochi language and culture.

Dashtiyari also spoke openly for Baloch rights – and it is feared the bullets pumped into his head and chest may have been fired by the guns of agency men.

Some two weeks later, Abrar Hussain, a former boxer who had represented his country at the Olympics three times and won a gold medal for Pakistan at the Asian Games was killed.

The only reason for his murder, the responsibility for which was claimed by the rabidly sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, appears to have been that he was a member of the Shia Hazara community.

The pictures emerging from Balochistan are chillingly familiar. The patterns resemble those seen in Chile, from 1973 to 1990 under the regime of the late dictator General Augusto Pinochet which undertook an active effort to wipe out all kinds of dissent resulting in thousands of ‘disappearances’ and all kinds of other atrocities leaving behind a shattered society.

But in Chile as in other places that have seen brutal rule of a similar kind many have chosen to speak out against it, sometimes putting their own lives at risk. We see this happening in Balochistan itself. Yet, elsewhere in the country, even so-called ‘liberals’ are determined to look away or even make an effort to ensure that the voices of the Baloch are not heard.

The latest case of this involves the extraordinary suspension of the Twitter account of Laibah Ahmed Marri who had been emerging as a strong spokesperson for the rights of the Baloch, the Hazara, the Ahmadis, the Shias, and other marginalised groups. She had quickly built up a significant following on Twitter, until a group of political activists, journalists and others worked to block her account and prevent her outspoken views from being heard.

Differences in opinion are apparently not tolerable in the state of Pakistan today. Other Baloch nationalists are now engaged in a struggle to defend Laibah against allegations that she is a RAW agent or is attempting to attack the ideology of the nation, and to restore her right to voice her own views.

The matter has generated a furious email and SMS controversy, involving many whom one would expect to defend the right to free speech arguing instead in favour of the silencing of Laibah.

The same arguments have been heard from the central government. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a man openly despised by many who back the Baloch cause, has on more than one occasion accused RAW of creating unrest in the province.

He and his fellow ministers ignore the fact that even if there is some outside involvement in Balochistan it builds upon the deep feelings of resentment and anger already running through the province and seem to be expanding rapidly as a result of inaction and the virtual absence of any kind of governance in the province.

Just as dangerous as this lack of governance, is the isolation of Balochistan. No one seems especially bothered by the anarchy prevailing there, or the rapid worsening of violence of all kinds, directed against non-Baloch ethnic groups, religious minorities, nationalists who seek autonomy, and other groups.

The marginalisation of the province, the labelling of people who speak out for the Baloch as ‘traitors’, and the failure to understand the full gravity of matters can only aggravate affairs. Most mainstream political parties have failed to put forward a clear-cut policy on Balochistan, while only a tiny percentage of the package of rights put forward by the PPP for Balochistan in 2009 has been enforced.

It is important to understand that those seeking greater autonomy for Balochistan are not enemies of Pakistan, but groups that need to be engaged in a detailed discourse about decision-making for their own future.

For this to happen, it is vital that the dangerous role of security forces be curtailed, and the problems in the province be looked at as ones that need political solutions. While law and order is non-existent in Balochistan, its absence is symptomatic of a wider problem.

What we need to do is to hear the voices of the Baloch – even if we disagree with what they have to say – rather than attempting to muffle them and thereby adding to the frustrations that fuel dissent in the province.

Thursday, July 07, 2011
The writer is a freelance columnist

and former newspaper editor


Publisher: sr


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