Published in The Baloch Hal
By Alia Amirali
When I was asked to do a write-up on ‘Balochistan after Habib Jalib’s assassination’, I found cynicism bubbling up inside of me. Balochistan appears in the media only after death and destruction. Moreover, the loss of life has to be accompanied by violence and destruction for those outside of Balochistan to notice it.
If Maula Bakhsh Dashti’s assassination — a central figure of the National Party who few outside of Balochistan are familiar with — had been followed by violent protests (which to the National Party’s credit, it was not) we may have given it more than the minimal attention it received.
I do not like lumping Maula Bakhsh and Jalib together, since they are distinct individuals with their own personal histories, but they did have some things in common. Apart from belonging to the pro-federation camp of Baloch nationalists, Maula Bakhsh and Habib Jalib were political animals to the core. They invested their entire lives, right from their student days, in anti-establishment, anti-feudal and pro-people politics. They were humble, self-made individuals.
People (including many political opponents) respected them. The respect they were given was based not on traditional sources of prestige, but on their commitment to pro-people politics. They faced harsh political opposition from the young Baloch generation and from pro-independence nationalists on the one hand and were considered ‘anti-state’, ‘subversive’ and ‘communist’ by the establishment on the other. However, different ideologues may construe it, these two people laid down their lives — like Akbar Bugti, Balaach Marri, Ghulam Mohammad, and thousands of Baloch political workers, students, and ordinary Baloch men and women — for what they thought was right.
In one sense, Balochistan is very much the same as it was before the assassination of Jalib and Maula Bakhsh Dashti. (For those who do not know, Maula Bakhsh was assassinated in Turbat, his hometown, two days before Jalib was murdered). In the wake of these two assassinations, Balochistan is bleeding once more as it was bleeding before July 14 (when Jalib was murdered) in the form of a long series of assassinations, abductions, torture, violence and uncertainty.
In another sense, Balochistan is different after the murders of Jalib and Dashti. This is the first instance in which the ‘moderate’ nationalists — those who are pro-federation in the sense that they do not think an independent Baloch state and armed struggle are currently a viable option for the Baloch — have been targeted. Speculation is rife about who killed them, if it was the same forces responsible for both incidents, the possible motivations behind the murders.
Who was behind the murders is something that only a select few will ever know, so it is futile to continue speculating. Instead of playing cops-and-robbers, which is a convenient way for us to side-step the core issues which have led to the present state of affairs in Balochistan, I believe it would be more fruitful to look at the backdrop against which these incidents have taken place and to focus on our responsibilities as people in the current scenario, not those of the Baloch nationalists or of the State.
The history of the colonization of Balochistan is too long to recount in a few paragraphs. Suffice it to say that the Balochistan-Federation relationship has been similar in its nature to that between East Pakistan and the State (West Pakistan) before the creation of Bangladesh. The State’s use of military force, economic exploitation, cultural imperialism and political suppression in Balochistan is reminiscent of all the ingredients that went into creating the Bengalis’ desire for separation. Just as our generals would boast in 1971 of being on the brink of victory (where ironically, the enemy was its own people as it is today), so too the military men of today speak of ‘crushing’ a few hundred ‘angry’ Baloch hiding in the mountains within days if they so wanted.
But this is not the 1970s. The last decade in particular has seen important changes in the character of Baloch resistance. The resistance is no longer tribal and is moving towards acquiring a national character. Educated young men are taking to the hills, using technology and the media as tools of power. Moreover, the resistance exists not only in the hills, but in the hearts and minds of the new Baloch generation.
But, perhaps, the most powerful agent of change in Baloch society has been the arrogance of the Pakistani state and its ruthlessness in trying to crush any resistance that may emerge against it. It should be remembered that the thousands of Baloch men and women, political workers and students who have been abducted, tortured and probably killed by the military and intelligence agencies, have brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who have waited for them, grieved for them.
There are no basic facilities in the largest province of this country — no gas in the very districts which supply it to our homes, no running water in the scorching desert heat, no roads except those needed by the military. That is why in the schools, Baloch children don’t sing the Pakistani national anthem, they sing ‘Ma Chukki Balochani’ (I’m a child of Balochistan). They don’t consider Mohammad Ali Jinnah their hero, their heroes are Balaach Marri, Brahmdagh Bugti, Allah Nazar.
The Baloch people, not sardars or tribes, are at war with the State. The best testimony to this can be seen in the plight of military officers serving in Balochistan who are bunkered into their cantonments and cannot leave without taking the strictest security measures. Their families cannot go to marketplaces or parks or interact in the public sphere like normal citizens. Many Punjabi teachers and government officials have left Balochistan, and those who remain feel unsafe. The 14th of August is a Black Day in Balochistan, not Independence Day. You won’t see the Pakistani flag flying on rooftops or even on most government buildings. This cannot be the handiwork of ‘a few hundred guerrillas’. It is the response of an entire nation which has been utterly dispossessed and which has seen other nations progress at, what it can only construe as, its expense.
Regardless of our individual points of view on the matter, we need to recognise a simple reality first and foremost: the Baloch feel like a colonized people, whether or not you or I agree that they are so. Perhaps this realisation will help us see what is happening in Baloch society, in their families and homes, in their minds and hearts. And, perhaps, if we do that, we will not waste our time on conspiracy theories revolving around questions of who-killed-who and which countries and agencies are fomenting ‘anti-state activities’ in Balochistan.
If we are able to understand the Baloch psyche, our heads will drop in shame at the realisation that it is our country, our military, and of course our silence, which is primarily (though not solely) responsible for what is happening in Balochistan today. Our responsibility in the present scenario is not to be the criminal investigators or the arbiters of justice. Our responsibility is, as the people of Pakistan, to oppose the colonial domination of Balochistan and accept the wishes of our Baloch brethren, whatever those wishes may be. The State will never do this, but we — the people — can.