We arrived in Dera Ghazi Khan in the late afternoon and were entertained to a sumptuous lunch by a student’s family. Though settled in Dera Ghazi Khan, the family has had an illustrious past with a chief judge of the Bahawalpur State and speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly as ancestors. We immediately set out for Fort Munro, where the student had arranged an overnight stay at the political assistant’s house. Through winding and dangerous roads we got to a height of 6,400 feet and met the cool environment of a hill resort, which used to be the summer capital of the Multan division — the Murree of southern Punjab.
Walking through Fort Munro was like travelling to the past. The political assistant’s house was aptly named, Sandeman House, after the famed diplomatic wizard, who almost single-handedly brought the fierce Baloch and Brahui tribes under the control of the British. The deputy commissioner’s house was called Munro Lodge, after the commissioner of the Derajat division, after whom the whole area is named. While walking in the cool breeze of Fort Munro, I realised why the whole of south Asia was littered with ‘summer capitals’ in the hills. From Murree, Nathiagali and Simla in the north to Ootacamund and Mahabaleshwar in the south, almost each province and major division had a summer capital. The reasoning behind the move was simple: to escape the punishing heat of the plains at a time when there were no air conditioners and other such amenities. This movement meant that officials did not get drained and sick due to the heat and could carry on their work with efficiency. The move also led to economic activity in a distant part of the province and provided close access to government functionaries for people in the adjoining areas. Experiencing the work of government departments in Lahore, where electricity shortages coupled with the heat and perhaps, general inefficiency means that hardly any government office functions for more than two to three hours a day, I wonder if efficiency, health and even tempers would have improved if the Punjab government had continued the tradition of moving to Murree for the summer. What might seem like a foreigners’ luxury might be more than just that, I reckon.
After Fort Munro, we again took to the road and visited another graduating student, a scion of the Khetran tribe, just across the border in Rakhni, in the Barakhan district of Balochistan. All of us were very excited to actually enter Balochistan and see for ourselves all the numerous stories and rumours about the Baloch and their province. The first thing we saw as soon as we crossed the border was a big Frontier Crops fort being built in Balochistan. That immediately blew the assertion that no new military or paramilitary installations were being built in Balochistan — a significant issue for the Baloch. In Barakhan, we enjoyed the traditional hospitality of the Khetran tribe, so much so that we could hardly move after eating so much! A walk in the Rakhni market and a hike on a nearby mountain, however, highlighted several things — many of which, I had also realised during my doctoral research on Balochistan. Succinctly, the Baloch are fiercely independent and are largely happy with their way of life. A typical Baloch is happy to reside with his tribe, either in the plains or in the mountains, is content with subsistence level work and is largely disinterested in the affairs of the outside world. Therefore, the only way to bring change in this environment, if one wants to, is to push it through strongly, even by force. For example, we were shown a girls school in Rakhni, which seemed pretty all right from the outside. However, we were told that the school is empty since no one in the area sends their girls to the school. So either we deliberately bring change in this society, or else we should leave them to their own devices. There is no other way. The distinctness of the area, its people and their ways of life also made us realise that only a local solution of the Baloch problem can bring peace to the area and that the solution must be thorough and not a piecemeal one, as in the past.
After a day in Rakhni, we again took to the road…
(To be continued)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2012.
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