KARACHI: Walking into a session on Balochistan, one would expect a discussion and questions on human rights violations, separatist talk and where the government is going wrong. But the session titled ‘Songs of the Falcon: Balochistan’ at the second day of the Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday was anything but that. In fact, it was a talk on the cultural diversity and brief history of the province, and quite dull if summarised into one word.
Named after a short story by Russian author Maxim Gorky, the session was moderated by author and political commentator Dr Rasul Baksh Rais, who spent more than 15 minutes with the introduction and presenting the first question to the panel of Naheed Azfar, Zobaida Jalal and Yaqoob Bangash.
Jalal, who was the education minister during Pervez Musharraf’s tenure, focused more on personal accounts for her answers. Her answers therefore drew on the Makran region, where she comes from, and even when it came to discussing civil society, she chose to mention the construction of a school by her family and how Balochistan focused more on community-based organisation.
Naheed Azfar’s talk on the other hand was more focused on the cultural side of the province, differences in dress, jewellry and a personal account of Baloch hospitality, which left a section of the audience clapping and cheering. This obviously wasn’t very interesting for Bangash, who was seen yawning on stage during one of her answers.
As it turned out, Yaqoob Bangash was a lot more engaging and interesting than the other two panellists – he did exactly what he was good at: give a history lesson to the audience. Perhaps if the organisers had chosen Bangash to moderate the session, it would have gone differently.
His ‘lesson’ focused more on the history of British Balochistan, the state of Kalat and Baloch tribes existing in both Balochistan and Sindh (mention of the Zardari tribe also being Baloch had Jalal smirking on stage).
Bangash said that it was important to understand the diversity of the province and engage with it, a creation of a state that can hold together. “The reason we don’t understand Balochistan is because we don’t understand what is going on there.”
He was quick to point out that the problem lay with not honouring the Baloch. “You have to engage and honour them, admit past mistakes and tell them that we want you to remain with Pakistan… they will get on board.” Thus, the Baloch will become a part of a national discourse if they are given the opportunity. Probably the most interesting part of the session was not Bangash’s history lesson, but an angry gentleman from the audience who pointed out that the historian was wrong in presenting the geographical history of the province and that the people who knew Balochistan were not being given their rights. The gentleman also directed his ‘mild rage’ towards Jalal, stating that language was a cultural expression of the province and she had not even given its people the right to learn in their mother tongue during her tenure.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.