A missing Baloch voice

Updated 18 Aug, 2016 02:38pm

The four most important events of 2015 with regard to Balochistan did not even take place in Balochistan. One of them had immediate consequences, albeit, ironically, not on the Balochistan ‘problem’ or the issue of political and human rights for sections of the Baloch people or on the insurgency. It had great consequences for a section of what are called ‘liberals’, housed mainly in non-governmental organisations or in an entity called the ‘civil society’, with no impact on the politics of the country and clearly none on Balochistan. Two other events related to Balochistan took place outside the province (and even outside Pakistan). Both have generated high expectations and even higher uncertainty on whether they would actually be brought to any degree of fruition. The fourth major event which took place regarding this province with immediate, though again, unknown consequences, was that of the change of the chief minister of Balochistan halfway through the tenure of its Assembly, according to a power-sharing agreement reached in Murree in May 2013 between Nawaz Sharif’s government in Islamabad and political leaders in the province.

Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, the first event, had nothing to do with Balochistan. Yet, it had everything to do with it. She was not a freedom fighter for Baloch rights or for the Baloch people, and not as politically active or astute as many of those who mourn her make us believe. One is not even sure if she ever visited Balochistan but she was killed following an event held at her T2F in Karachi about the voices of the disappeared Baloch. Whoever her killers may have been and whichever agency or organisation was responsible for her murder, hers was yet another Baloch death. Balochistan has buried many dead over the last few years, and here was yet another along with the many Hazaras killed indiscriminately. Numerous others – poets, writers, activists – have disappeared. The outgoing year, too, was one for the disappeared Baloch.

Also read: Republic of fear

The second event took place, perhaps in Islamabad, or probably close to or in the corridors of the Great Hall of the People, or in the President of China’s office in Beijing. It was what the government in Pakistan, and many others who subscribe to an unknown vision, are calling a ‘game changer’ for the whole of Pakistan — more specifically for Balochistan: a highway, with supporting infrastructure, passing through the desolate and insurgent-ridden parts of Balochistan, ending up at yet another game changer, the Gwadar Port. It is called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is supposed to bring untold prosperity to Pakistan’s poorest districts. Of all the districts in Pakistan, all but one of the poorest and least developed quarter lie in Balochistan. There is no end to the wishful statements and analyses of the untold riches that await the people of Balochistan when, if ever, the CPEC starts operation.

Yet another Balochistan-related development, with longer-term consequences for the province, took place in Europe where the supposedly dissident Baloch groups were said to be thinking about ending their insurgency and coming back to join some stream of Balochistan’s politics. Just like the CPEC, one does not really know what is going to happen with this development, either.

Insurgency, meanwhile, has continued unabated, although there was far less media coverage of it in 2015 than there was in 2014 or 2013, when attempts to actually identify and quantify the disappeared were undertaken. Mahmud’s murder was an effective silencing call, like Hamid Mir’s attempted assassination in 2014 had been. Since we do not hear about the insurgency, we tend to believe that it is over and settled, and reconciliation and the CPEC are paving the way for Balochistan’s radiant future. What the media, instead, reported in 2015 was that many Baloch freedom fighters had laid down their arms and had given up their struggle for independence. Peace and prosperity are just around the corner, we were told.

And for those who are interested in that other Balochistan, the Pakhtun-dominated part of the province, there was always Jami’s film Moor.

Photo: Security officials at a bomb blast site in Quetta city | B Khan, White Star

This was originally published in Herald's Annual 2016 issue. Through a selection of photographs, the Herald took a look at some of the events and developments that were extremely significant in 2015.To read more, subscribe to Herald in print.