Ten Pakistani Friends of Balochistan
An enraged Baloch amateur singer whines, “They [Pakistanis] don’t give a f..k about us“. This is not entirely true. An interesting feature of the decade-long conflict is the impressive role played by some non-Baloch Pakistanis in creating awareness elsewhere in the country and across the world about the situation in Balochistan. Some of these people simply did their job as journalists and human rights defenders, while others, with a celerity status, spoke up because they did not want to see Balochistan breakaway just like Bangladesh.
The following list comprises of ten most vocal voices on Balochistan whom I describe as the Pakistani friends of Balochistan. No scientific poll or survey was held to prepare this list. It is mainly based on the impact and the difference these people’s work has made in shaping the national debate about Balochistan. Their work is commendable, fearless and highly valuable for the people of Balochistan. Ironically, most of them belong to the Punjab and they are either journalists or human rights activists. Unfortunately, what is still missing in the list is serving or retired army officers who have yet to speak up against the army’s Balochistan policy.
Here is my list of the top ten Pakistanis who have bravely spoken up in support of Balochistan on multiple occasions.
1-MOHAMMAD Hanif is one of Pakistan’s most popular English language novelists. A former head of the B.B.C. Urdu Service, Hanif’s readers include the country’s English-speaking, western-educated, affluent urban elites. He shocked his readers with the compelling stories of the Baloch missing persons in the mainstream newspapers. When he wrote the article “The Baloch who is not missing” in Dawn, an influential newspaper, it staggered his readers. Later on, Hanif profiled more Baloch victims of “kill and dump” policies. With the help of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, he published a book with the same name, The Baloch who is not missing. A widely respected and trusted author, Hanif regularly speaks on news channels and also at conferences about the actual situation in Balochistan. He has truly educated and sensitized many people about the situation in Balochistan.
2-ASMA JAHANGIR, 61, is a former president of Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association and Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She was among the first top lawyers and human rights defenders to visit Balochistan as early as 2005 when the conflict newly erupted. Her mission on its way to Dera Bugti was attacked for which the Baloch Liberation Army reportedly claimed responsibility saying that “Punjabis visiting the area in order to rub salt on the wounds of the Baloch.” The H.R.C.P. team did not believe that the B.L.A. could be behind the attack. “Considering the findings of the mission, it is not quite clear why the BLA would want to scare the team away,” the H.R.C.P. stated in its detailed report, Conflict in Balochistan. Ms. Jhangir has kept on visiting Balochistan and preparing reports on the situation in the province. In her television appearances, she scathingly criticizes the military’s role and holds it responsible for the escalation of tensions in Balochistan. “Only the Pakistan army controls Balochistan,” she says, “no civilian politician can show courage to take a policy initiative on the matter.”
3-TAREK FATAH, 63, was Born in Karachi Pakistan. He is a Canadian citizen who identifies himself as an Indian. He is a renowned peace activist, a columnist for the Toronto Sun and hosts a popular talk show. He is an open supporter of an independent Balochistan. Fatah is a Punjabi whose companionship with the Baloch nationalists dates back to his days as a student at the Karachi University. During the Yahya Khan regime, he was detained in Balochistan’s infamous Mach jail. Fatah has played a remarkable role in explaining to the Pakistanis why the Balochs feel betrayed and disillusioned by Pakistan. In addition, he has also enlightened the Baloch why Punjabi ruling elite does not care for Balochistan and why it is unwilling to give up its policy toward Balochistan. A cancer survivor, Fatah regularly writes articles in reputed western publications, talks on television, speaks at conferences and participates in protest rallies organized in support of Baloch rights. Fatah believes “one day, Balochistan will be free” and insists, “We [Pakistan] have been occupying Balochistan for 65 years.”
4- AKBAR S. AHMED, Pakistan’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, is currently a professor at the American University in Washington D.C. As a civil servant in 1980s, Dr. Ahmed served in Balochistan’s Mekran, Sibi and Quetta Divisions as the Commissioner. That term provided him an opportunity to see the Baloch society very closely and directly interact with important local leaders like Nawab Akbar Bugti and Ghouse Baksh Bizenjo. The Baloch leaders tremendously impressed him with their wisdom, charisma and wit.
Dr. Ahmed reaches out to a diverse audience comprising of diplomats, professors, civil servants, religious scholars and emerging future leaders (read university students). He has vocally spoken up against Islamabad’s policies toward Balochistan.
“While Balochistan can survive without Pakistan,” he says, “it is Pakistan that simply cannot survive without Balochistan.”
He recalled his Balochistan experiences in an interview with Pakistani newspaper, Dawn. Coming from a non-Baloch, retired civil servant, his remarks on Balochistan have shaped opinions at influential policy and academic circles.
5- ALI DAYAN HASAN, a former Senior Editor at the Herald, is the Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.). Under his leadership, the Pakistan chapter of the H.R.W. has played a crucial role in highlighting the situation in Balochistan. The December 2010 report The Future is at Stake exposed the brutal killings of government teachers in Balochistan and the July 2011 report “We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years” provided shocking details of kill and dump operations in the province.
Mr. Hasan was among the five people who testified at the U.S. Congress in 2012 in a controversial hearing headed by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. The right-wing nationalist Pakistani media unleashed a campaign against him for testifying at the U.S. Congress on Balochistan. In return, Mr. Hasan had this to say in an interview with Dawn.
“Countries are not made or broken through hearings or resolutions in the US Congress. That is only up to the people of a country, but least this hearing and Congressman Rohrabacher’s ill-advised resolution has forced Pakistan’s political and military leaders to pay attention to the human rights hell in Balochistan.”
6-HAMID MIR is a prominent Urdu language print and broadcast journalist. He hosts a talk show on Geo News, Pakistan’s first private news channel, and regularly writes a column for Jang, the most circulated Urdu newspaper. Since 95% of Pakistani media consumers use the Urdu press to get their information, Mr. Mir reaches out to a significant audience. Although largely considered as a right-wing journalist, Mr. Mir has recently emerged as a staunch supporter of Baloch rights. He has dedicated extensive space in his Urdu column, Kalam Kaman, on issues pertaining to Balochistan. He has helped Pakistanis to understand Balochistan’s actual history and the ground realities over there. Mr. Mir has repeatedly blamed the Pakistan army for the Balochistan unrest. Besides his writings, Mr. Mir is a frequent visitor to Balochistan from where he has reported the tragedy in Balochistan. Nobody knows with certainty what actually prompted Mr. Mir to become such an ardent champion of Baloch rights. But, his work on Balochistan, although disputed, at times, has expanded the debate on Balochistan across Pakistan.
7-I.A. REHMAN is a veteran columnist for Dawn newspaper and the Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (H.R.C.P.). Very few Pakistanis have the ability to brush conspiracy theories on Balochistan and explain the situation with concrete arguments for the whole country. I.A.Rehman, also a respected peace activist, has been doing that job for many years. His work on Balochistan is highly credible, accurate and self-explanatory. A part of it is probably because of his regular visits to Balochistan as a member of various H.R.C.P. delegations which enable him to talk to people from various walks of life. His writings do not only whine over the list of government failures but they always come up with a long list of policy recommendations.
8-SHEZAD ROY is the only cultural icon who made a genuine effort to educate the people of Pakistan about Balochistan with a series of shows on Geo Television. One day, Mr. Roy, a pop star, randomly came across a 4:20-long video on Youtube where an ordinary villager from Balochistan’s Jaffarabad District narrated the entire history of Pakistan.
Mr. Roy was struck with the intelligence of this “ordinary villager” and decided to meet him. Traveling to Balochistan, Mr. Roy managed to locate the man, who was known in the area as Wasu and he paired with him to produce a multi-episode show on Balochistan called Wasu Aur Mein [Wasu and Me]. The show was a blend of travel and humor while some Balochs found it offensive as Mr. Roy presented Wasu as an uncivilized Baloch villager with limited exposure to city life.
Wasu Aur Main, while continuously making viewers laugh, touched upon serious issues facing Balochistan. The show also included an interview with former Balochistan chief minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani. The biggest contribution of this show was its ability to attract, and educate, an urban educated youth that did not care much about politics but still watched the show because of Mr. Roy’s celebrity status.
9-MUSTAFA QADRI, Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher, may humbly say that he is only doing his job while highlighting the atrocities in Balochistan. Yet, his proactive work has been very impressive in terms of educating an international audience and building pressure on the Pakistani government that the world is watching its actions against unarmed civilians.
In 2010, Mr. Qadri prepared an extensive report for Human Rights Watch about enforced disappearances in Balochistan.
In an article for C.N.N. on May 14th, 2013, Mr. Qadri wrote:
“Men and boys from the ethnic Baloch community have been abducted or extrajudicially executed by the security forces, with those advocating for greater autonomy or separation from Pakistan most at risk…Media workers who report on security issues… live with the fear that they could be killed at any moment and the state will not bring those responsible to justice.”
10-ALIA AMIRALI is not the last in the list because she is the youngest among all of the people featured in this article. The reason she is the last is because she represents the younger generation of the Pakistani supporters of Balochistan. This is the generation that will guide us to the future and, unfortunately, there are not too many young courageous Pakistanis who share Ms. Amirali’s passion about Balochistan.
Often overshadowed by the fact that she is the daughter of prominent Pakistani scientist, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Ms. Amirali, Punjab secretary general of the left-wing National Students Federation (N.S.F.) , developed a relationship with Balochistan as a researcher much before the escalation of the Baloch conflict in early 2000s. Now, a lecturer at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Ms. Amirali traveled extensively in remote parts of Balochistan, met with Baloch masses and the key nationalist leaders.
For many years, Ms. Amirali, a fiery speaker, has remained the first activist to rush to the streets of Islamabad to protest the central government’s policies in Balochistan. She has done that again and again.
According to her, “rhetoric of “foreign hands” has allowed for further militarisation of Balochistan and given the military a license to seal the province and make it a no-go zone where it can abduct, torture, kill and display bodies with impunity, extract Balochistan’s resources under the barrel of a gun, use Balochistan territory to conduct nuclear tests and garner lucrative ‘development’ projects through its subsidiaries.”
Published in The Baloch Hal on July 24, 2013