Being Young and Baloch

By Malik Siraj Akbar

In a chapter focusing on the Pakistani youth in the newly published book The Future of Pakistan, Moeed W. Yusuf, the South Asia Advisor at the Washington-based United States Institute for Peace (USIP), says 79 per cent of the youth in Pakistan “feels proud to be a Pakistani”. The response of the youth from Pakistan’s largest province of Balochistan, nonetheless, stands strikingly different from the rest of the country.

“The figures from Balochistan [about being proud to be a Pakistani] were the bleakest,” he concluded, after analysing three recent major youth surveys.

According to Mr Yusuf, the findings of these surveys conducted by the British Council, Centre for Civic Education and Herald magazine do not collectively bode well for the Pakistani federation in the coming years.

“Baloch youth stand out as most distraught with the federation. Except for a minority, they are least enthusiastic about being part of Pakistan and are least proud to be Pakistanis,” he wrote. “They are the keenest to leave Pakistan and they oppose the military and state institutions more staunchly than youth in other provinces.”

Parveen Naz, a social activist in Quetta, says the Baloch generally see a “very bleak” future for themselves in Pakistan. While no access to quality education or employment opportunities is one thing, she says, the “kill and dump” policies have further poisoned the minds of a new generation of the Baloch.

“The security apparatus in the country has made life miserable for the Baloch. They cannot enter in any walk of life, nor can they undertake entrepreneurial initiatives because the federal government has waged a war against the Baloch. The youth is punished whether it is politically involved or totally indifferent. Islamabad sees no difference and treats all the Baloch with the same stick.”

According to Abdullah Jan, a youth development expert based in Quetta, there is a “huge cultural and political difference” between the Baloch youth and their compatriots in the rest of Pakistan. The Baloch youth does not see any opportunity in the state institutions. They are disappointed and ever disparate against the state policies. According to him, a “communication gap” between the Baloch youth and the state policymakers at the official level has remarkably widened the gulf.

Since the inception of the current military operation, desperation, alienation and frustration among the Baloch youth has dramatically increased. While economic marginalisation, inadequate health and education opportunities and underrepresentation in the mainstream state institutions have remained some of the key factors for the disillusionment of the Baloch youth, the military operation in the province has generated new alarming trends.

Mr Jan estimates that nearly 60 per cent of Baloch students have become “psychologically ill,” alluding to depression caused by increasing incidents of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and killing of hundreds of Baloch youths allegedly by security forces.

“These kids see their peers, friends getting killed or disappeared every day. They see the bullet-riddled dead bodies of their class fellows on a regular basis. Depression and anxiety are a natural byproduct of such a situation,” he says.

Mr Jan, who has worked with several non-governmental organisations for more than two decades, argues that the Baloch youth is deeply involved in politics and political discussions. Yet, the youth politics in Balochistan is different from the rest of the country because most of the Baloch have a Leftist approach and their political heroes are Che Guevera and Baloch guerillas, such as Dr Allah Nazar and Balach Marri who support an independent Balochistan.

A lecturer of sociology at the University of Balochistan, who did not wish to be named, says it was not possible to discuss the economic marginalisation of the Baloch youth by keeping aside the country’s politics. For instance, he says, there is no proper mechanism in the Pakistan army and other security forces to hire and accommodate Baloch youths in the country’s security forces.

“Most of the vacancies in Balochistan in the army, the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Coast Guards are filled by non-natives coming from other parts of the country. The Baloch youth sees no opportunity in the armed forces,” he says. According to him, some young Baloch had joined the Pakistan army but eventually quit their jobs and returned home. They complained about the use of abusive language by senior army officers about Baloch leaders like Nawab Akbar Bugti, Bramadagh Bugti and Hairbayar Marri.

“The people the Baloch youth see as their heroes are generally depicted as the enemies of Pakistan by the army,” he said. “Religiosity is another issue that often compels Baloch youths to quit the military because the former are secular in nature. Some of them even do not pray five times a day or fast in the month of Ramzan which does not position them in the good books of their senior officers. Frankly, most Baloch are not anti-India either.”

The youth in Balochistan complain about the scarcity of opportunities and avenues to present and promote their talent.

Qaisar Roonjha, a young trainer who comes from a village in Lasbela District but offers services to highly reputable organisations such as the British Council as a Global Change maker, says the youth in Balochistan is full of talent but they face lack of encouragement. While the absence of official encouragement prevents some from taking initiatives, Mr Roonjha says he still knows many young people who are embracing the challenge to pursue their personal and professional dreams.

“Instead of waiting for the right time, everyone should play their role towards a fairer society,” he suggests, referring to a quote by Mother Teresa: “Don’t wait for leaders; do it person to person.’’

In Quetta, when Eeman Sahal Baloch, a young talk show host, started Subh-e-Bolan, a Balochi language morning show on Pakistan Television (PTV-Bolan), to explore the hidden talent among the youth in Balochistan, she was amazed at the extraordinary wealth of talent.

“Five months into the show, I had hosted around 1,000 talented boys and girls from across Balochistan. We found talented youth from remote towns of Panjgur, Turbat, Awaran, Gwadar, Mund, Hub, Quetta, Sibi, Mastung, Lasbela and other places,” she said. “They were all smart and talented people who offer much promise if empowered and trusted. The youth in these rural areas urgently need help and government attention for a better future.”

These are indeed defining times for the youth in Balochistan. Youth development and empowerment do not seem to be a priority of the governments in Islamabad and Quetta. The provincial assembly in Balochistan rarely debates the issues of the youth. Thus, the Baloch youth is easily available to be exploited either by the government with job offers and scholarships or the nationalists to avenge the killings of their peers and seek an independent Balochistan.

The government’s timely response, not with military operations but with respect and abundant opportunities for the Baloch, will decide who the young Baloch will support and join in near future. Islamabad must act swiftly because Balochistan does not seem to have much time left. (Courtesy: The News on Sunday)

The writer is the editor of the online newspaper The Baloch Hal and currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington DC