In Dostoevsky’s Brother Karamazov, Ivan, the agnostic brother, contemplates that if god does not exist, “everything is lawful”. Balochistan seems to be living through this apparently capricious godlessness, where everything is permitted, except maybe human integrity. The real tragedy of the murder of Professor Saba Dashtiari is that it is grotesquely lawful in Balochistan. The assassination has been condemned, although not nearly enough. Yet even those who choose to condemn purposely choose to employ certain obliqueness. The statements of the authorities are probably saved from being absolute spineless vulgarity only by their incoherence.
The cost of human life is sadly but admittedly variable across different cultures, nations and geographical demarcations. Even then, the disparity between a Punjabi life and a Baloch life is depraved. One just needs to peruse the recently passed budget to realise the gulf. The very few who choose to openly condemn the killings in Balochistan and identify the perpetrators (who in an overwhelming number of cases are accused of being from the ‘security establishment’), fail to recognise the genesis of this brutality. The killings are attributed to an almost arbitrary bloodlust of the security establishment. There are two problems with this sluggishly easy analysis; firstly it is undeservingly generous to the assassins by ascribing to them the defence of insanity, as opposed to the sinister, horrifying smugness which is really at play. And secondly, it is insulting to those martyred in the Baloch nationalist struggle by portraying them as victims of random crimes of the state.
Mainstream consideration of the Balochistan situation is marred by the presence of foreign intelligence agencies, the killings of settlers and some ‘Baloch grievances’, hence making a complete mockery of any substantial analysis. All of these are relevant factors, yet the challenge in Balochistan remains frighteningly singular. While our armies will kill and get killed for monolith frozen glaciers, Balochistan seems to be a battle with something more than narcissistic egomania. The security establishment feels justified in using whatever force necessary to curtail a threat to the highest virtue of the ‘integrity of Pakistan’. This principled violence should not be mistaken for ordinarily criminal; this has the makings of Dhaka all over again.
The use of terms like ‘grievance’ and ‘target killing’ as opposed to ‘nationalism’ and ‘genocide’ is not subconscious slackness; this semantic indiscretion is insidiously deliberate. Acknowledging that conflict in Balochistan results from a genuine nationalist struggle entails admitting that we have missed it for the past six decades, and, more chillingly, that we may have gotten it wrong to begin with. And this is as dread-stirring for the uncritical, almost fascist rightist as it is to the gullible liberal. Since it will rob them of lazy yet handy metaphors like ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ etc.
An obvious question, not asked enough after the fall of Dhaka was does the state have the right to put to sword those citizens who are not willing to stay within its bounds. Balochistan has very different geographical circumstances from Bangladesh; even then the question remains as relevant as it ever was. The discourse on Bangladesh, as it is becoming on Balochistan increasingly, is ironically patronising. I employ the term ‘ironically’ with awareness, since it was our haughtiness that resulted in the massacre in Dhaka. The implication always is that we somehow mishandled the situation, which, of course, is a gross understatement. However, a meticulously avoided aspect of the debacle is the Bengali right to self-determination.
The Baloch question is treated with condescension reminiscent of Kipling, where we as conscientious responsible citizens feel compelled to intercede on behalf of the less privileged. The land is viewed as a barbarous tract, and concessions granted not because of any notions of inherent right of self-determination or governance, but rather because of our benevolence. If the word imperialism means anything, this is it. The Baloch do not need a ‘civilised’ spokesperson; they speak for themselves and do so eloquently, of course only if they were given an opportunity to speak. The media needs to talk to the Baloch, and not perpetually allow the rest to give twisted, highly inflected renditions of what the Baloch may feel.
The military and the Punjabi establishment are incensed at the insinuation that they are slaughtering the Baloch, and almost feebly, under their breath, put up the Shakespearean Brutus defence that they are compelled to do so reluctantly with a heavy heart, because they love the Baloch, but love Pakistan more. This affection reminds one of Othello who, twisted by paranoia after killing his blameless wife Desdemona, pathetically seeks to justify the murder before committing suicide by saying, “Of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous, but being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme...” The synthesis of being delusional and at the same time self-righteous is what psychopaths and genocides are invariably made up of. Today, we need to love the Baloch wisely, not too well like we did the Bengali. If not for anything else, then for the sheer fact that this time around suicide will be inevitable after the murder.
Of the very few discernable lessons of history, a particularly obvious truism is that people do not like to be occupied. This has been true for imposing hegemonic designs starting from Pax Romana to modern-day US imperialism. Balochistan is no exception. I make no pretence of knowing the mind of the Baloch, and neither do I feel inclined to speculate since there is a ridiculously easy and certain way to find out. Ask them. The Baloch’s willingness to forgive us for many unforgivable acts is their privilege.
The brilliant Marya Mannes wrote a poem in 1959, which goes: Borders are scratched across the hearts of men. By strangers with a calm, judicial pen. And when the borders bleed we watch with dread. The lines of ink across the map turn red.”
The vile murder of Professor Saba Dashtiari may not prove to be catastrophic and will certainly be forgotten soon, but the already crimson line on the map has forever become slightly more red.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2011.
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