It has to be alarming when one feels compelled to resort to George Orwell so often when talking about the prevailing state of affairs. Nevertheless, Orwell wrote a brilliant essay titled, “In front of your nose”, articulating what he believed to be the real singular challenge in critical thought and hence life. His contention was that it is always a consistent struggle and often the hardest to see and acknowledge what is just in front of one’s nose. Orwell writes, “…we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Let these words sink in, and now think about Balochistan.
The US congressional hearing is both reassuring and distressing. It is comforting to see that the murder, pillage and strangulation in Balochistan have now been able to attract attention, even if only outside the country. The only worrying aspect is because it was a ‘US’ congressional hearing, those stubborn or malicious enough to deny the evidence and findings need no more than to say it was conducted by the US and then go off on a tangent about half baked notions of imperialism and sovereignty, unfortunate and silly, but such are the times and the place that we live in. Although the hearing did not and realistically could not propose a strategy or a solution, it did bring to light that violence and oppression is not sustainable for long, Balochistan is no longer the black hole our establishment believed it to be. In essence what was always in front of our nose has been shoved right in our face, making it ethically impossible to miss it now.
To say that murder and even rape in Balochistan does not have the same sting in our national conversation as the same things happening in Lahore or Islamabad is an understatement to the point of saying almost nothing at all. The gulf is fantastic, having almost surreal proportions. The congressional hearing had one unavoidable background question i.e. do the Baloch have a right to self determination. The question is not new, yet meticulous care is exercised to evade or at the very least substantially water it down to an insinuation. The lengths that people would go to avoid the mere mention of this question is outstanding. One phrase that we do not hear in our discourse is “the Baloch struggle for freedom”, admittedly an arresting expression. Complete self-determination is a largely empirical question contingent upon ethnic diversity, history and geography. I have neither the expertise nor is the question susceptible to be answered in an opinion piece. Yet why is the discussion not taking place in Pakistan. It is probably because even those who are vocally opposed to the outright use of force and terror find at least one possible answer to the question of self-determination almost too grim to contemplate.
The demolition of human rights in Balochistan and the crushing repression cannot be ascribed to caprice. If one is able to get passed the sheer cynicism of the situation, there is a brute fact to be confronted, that being that it is very principled, the principle being preserving the integrity of Pakistan. What remains unclear is the cost that we are willing to incur or more accurately wreak to ensure this preserving. It is a tragedy in both the historical senses of the word. The Greek connotation of tragedy is one where a protagonist possesses a fatal flaw, whereas Hegel believed it be a conflict of two competing rights. The tragic flaw here is a passionate yet mindless adherence to the national ideology, disregarding the pain being suffered and inflicted. The two competing rights are the maintenance of a pretense of national solidity and the right of a people to govern them. In both these interpretations, the perpetrators of the violence in Balochistan, which mind you is inching towards genocide every day, are at peace with themselves, since they are doing it for a higher imperative. This contentment while committing murder reminds one of Jean Martin Charcot, a teacher of Freud who once in clinical description of neurosis famously used the phrase “le beau calme de l’hysterique” (The beautiful calm of the hysteric).
The unwillingness to admit or consider the fact that in regards to Baluchistan we may have taken a wrong turn or perhaps were on the wrong road to begin with cannot be compensated for by travelling faster or more viciously. The question is fast becoming foreseeable, what moral position would one take if and when the largely state sponsored use of force became an obvious genocide or when the case for a humanitarian intervention became an arguably justified one. Fairly forbidding thoughts are they not. Yet that might be the price of ignorance or silence.
The situation in Balochistan is approaching with rapid pace, if it has not already reached the point where it makes a mockery of all armchair, generalist analysis. Is the situation still salvageable or redeemable? I don’t know. However there is a simple, though not easy way to find out. Talk to the Baloch, all of them. Violence and the threat of it by anyone, including Baloch nationalists should be condemned unequivocally. Yet I find it repellent that those who will get all mushy when advocating chatting up homicidal fanatics, murdering for the sake of murder, suddenly lose their zeal for the art of conversation when it comes to Baloch nationalist, even those who have taken up arms. There is one indispensible pre-requisite or condition for any such talk to materialise and certainly to achieve anything, which is acknowledging the utterly uncomfortable and unnerving possibility that they might not be successful and in that case we will be able to respect that.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2012.