The Balochistan conundrum

Published: February 14, 2012
The author is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister practicing in Islamabad and holds a degree in Economics and Literature from Bryn Mawr College, US

The author is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister practicing in Islamabad and holds a degree in Economics and Literature from Bryn Mawr College, US

US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California), the self-proclaimed advocate of human rights and democracy around the world, would undoubtedly maintain that the February 8 meeting of the US Congress’s Committee on Foreign Affairs was about raising a voice for the rights of the Baloch. The Pakistani government, however, has taken it as an affront to Pakistan’s national integrity and an unwarranted interference in its internal affairs. The government’s angry reaction, though laudable, is not representative of the general sentiment of the Baloch, who increasingly vocally, claim their status as a separate nation deserving of an independent homeland.

Interestingly, the roots of this concept of nationhood that the Baloch are asserting today, and the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent had successfully advocated in the 1940s, may be traced back to the 18th century German philosopher, Johann Herder. Unlike the enlightenment philosophers preceding him — who had believed that man, irrespective of his background, was a rational creature ultimately capable of progressing toward a single universal set of laws and values — Herder was of the view that the world was composed of distinct cultural groups, or volks, each of which had a certain spiritual essence (signified by their shared language, traditions and history) which rendered it a nation.

While Herder had focused on cultural unity, the slightly younger Johann Gottlieb Fichte, took this concept a step further to suggest that humanity, formed of discrete nations, each one bound together by a common spirit, may be arranged in a hierarchical order in which some (in his world view, the Germans) may be ranked as superior to others (the French). It was a combination of these theories that characterised not only the Weimar Republic (and subsequently the Nazi policies) but also spelt the demise of the Ottoman Empire (which had been a composite of numerous millets) and closer to home, provided intellectual fodder for the two-nation theory, which in a typically Eastern twist, maintained that religion rather than ethnicity was the binding factor amongst peoples.

Pakistan’s beleaguered 65-year history has, however, put this theory of nationhood to a gruelling test. If being Muslim were sufficient to define all Pakistanis as a single nation, then what is the explanation for the fall of East Pakistan, the Talibanisation of its tribal belt or the seething unrest in Balochistan? Although self-righteous explanations and scapegoats abound (the fall of East Pakistan is blamed on India, the Talibanisation of the tribal belt on the policies of the Americans and the situation of Balochistan on the greed of their own sardars), the fact is that each of these situations is, in fact, a result of the state’s preoccupation with perpetuating power rather than cementing national bonds, which has not only fuelled frustration and alienation amongst its citizens, but has also driven them to taking refuge in narrow ethnic identities.

For although shared ethnicity and religion may be aspects of nationhood, true national bonds in a modern state, such as Pakistan, may only be formed through rigorous implementation of rule of law, recognition of the equality of its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, gender, colour or ethnicity and most importantly, a commitment to impartial and expeditious justice. It is perhaps Pakistan’s particular tragedy that although it’s Constitution and its successive civil and military governments pay lip service to these ideals, these are all but ignored in matters of governance at the expense of its citizens.

I find this neglect particularly ironic and ominous: ironic because it was the very apprehension of such possible abandonment of the fundamental values of statehood on the part of an impending Hindu majority government in postcolonial India that had in 1947, justified Pakistan, and ominous because it has already cost us East Pakistan. In an ideal world, events in Pakistan would unfold as they do in history’s greatest epics: citizens of this country, learning from the past, would rise above their differences and their personal sense of deprivation to uphold the physical and spiritual integrity of their country. I am concerned, however, that in the tragicomedy that Pakistan’s reality often devolves into, the custodians of power and the citizens would each remain locked in their isolated shells of apathy, self-pity and self-interest and the integrity of the country would simply go by way of collateral damage.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • sarfraz khan
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:15PM

    today seven labourers working to build a road in balochistan were brutally murdered by militants in turbat,balochistan.nobody in the media gave it coverage,no one condemned it,not one talk show host on our dozens of channels bothered to even mention it forget discussing was given no attention because the seven civilians killed were punjabis.if they had been anyone else this would have been the topic of discussion on every talkshow,this would have been discussed and condemned on twitter,facebook etc. but since they were punjabis,no one in the media thinks it’s worth condemning or men being killed together in one incident is normally very big news but not for these men,their only sin was that they were working to build a road that connected different parts of balochistan to each other but since they belonged to the wrong ethnicity they were targetted and hunted down.but the greatest tragedy is that they died a death which nobody mourned,no blogs,no editorials,no opinion pieces,just absolute silence.


  • Pinky
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:26PM

    Nice one,Amber…
    i am extremely heartened by this surge in articles about the plight of Balochistan (at least in the English press)…lets keep this momentum going, n build enough pressure to shake our government out of its reverie!!


  • abdul moiz
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:31PM

    @sarfraz khan:

    yes,there are double standards in our media.they would give live coverage and talkshow airtime if even 2,3 people were killed who belonged to a political party but seven poor laborers being killed while they were working gets no media coverage if the victims happen to be from punjab.This bias is very much evident in our social media also where there’s an outcry and screams of condemnation every time a militant is killed in balochistan but there’s absolute silence when 7 innocent workers are deliberately murdered in a genocide of punjabis in balochistan.this is all a continuation of an ethnic cleansing campaign going on in balochistan where hundreds of punjabis and urdu speakers have been killed in order to drive all punjabis out of balochistan,but this genocide has gone unreported and unmourned.


  • Baloch Student
    Feb 15, 2012 - 12:52AM

    Pakistan is born from Muslims blood and living on it!! The Baloch are aware that their country is occupaied and divided, they will not stop their fight for freedom. Keep killing us, we are awake more and more!


  • Mahmood Saeed
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:09AM

    Well done. Please write more exploring the history of this tragedy-comedy rooted essentially in (1)ZAB’s actions of the 70s, (2) Musharraf’s creation of MMA and what are the possible solutions today given that
    a- we have anti Pakistan elements in Afghanistan and also elsewhere who are supporting and encouraging the angry Baloch
    b- we have our own silly policies which are garnishing disaffection among the Baloch


  • Maryam
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:44AM

    @Author: To you learning from the past is ‘to rise above the personal sense of deprivation’ while to me both the deprived communities of Pakistan (Bengalies in the past & Baloch today) did try this by sticking to the Federation but it did not pay them. I think the whole responsibility lie on the oppressor and not the oppressed.Recommend

  • Danka
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:50AM

    Amber Darr
    You are
    By far
    A wonderful educator :)


  • Babloo
    Feb 15, 2012 - 2:03AM

    Pakistan has a easy solution for Baluch problem but I am 100% sure it would never try it.
    The solution is, do what India does in every troubled state, like it did in Kashmir. It held free and fair state and local elections. In Kashmir , that brought the entire Kashmir police , state security agency and bureucracy under Kashmiri command. So people who were fighting the suthorities , could now come to power and govern the same police they were fighting. Omar Abdullah, a Kashmiri and before him, the leaders of the People’s democractic party of Kashmir ( Of Mr Mufti ) command the police and security forces. In fact, a Kashmiri Muslim is the commanding officer of all Indian army forces in Kashmir now.
    Pakistan could try to hold free and fair elections in Baluchistan and let the Baluch who are fighting the security forces come to power and become chief minister of Baluchistan and command the Baluchistan police. Yes you may have to curtail the power of ISI and army, who act with criminal impunity.
    However the reality is Pakistan would never learn from its hated enemy , the great democratic India and would go with the Bangladesh/East Pakistan model of solving seperatist problem.


  • Feb 15, 2012 - 2:40AM

    Simple explanations… foreign powers are working against madian-e-sani. Actually Pakistan has the biggest pool of Oil, Gold, Uranium, Diamond, Natural Gas reserve. It has the most fertile land. This is why the west wants to capture Pakistan. For its resources.


  • arjun
    Feb 15, 2012 - 4:47AM

    The idea of using religion to create nation and using islam to create false sense of nationhood has already caused enough trouble for Pakistan. Its citizens and leaders have still not learned their lessons.They still continue to identify islam as binding factor despite the crimes committed by religous fundamentalists in the name of islam. India will not use religion and still can remain a strong brother to fighting balochs. Indians will extend their support vocally to each and every baloch so that they achieve their ultimate goal: freedom from religious state of Pakistan.


  • Mirza
    Feb 15, 2012 - 10:15AM

    A good short and pragmatic Op Ed. Thanks


  • Nadeem
    Feb 15, 2012 - 10:32AM

    Todays’s troubles in Balochistan are a direct result of the actions of the Army and ISI. They are also a natural outcome of complete political disengagement with the leaders of the province.


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Feb 15, 2012 - 11:48AM

    Would this or any of the other recent articles on Balochistan been written if it weren’t for the recent US interest?


  • A.Khan
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:12PM

    I think media should represent more and more Balochistan and its people. I have a lot of Balochi friends.


  • wonderer
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:32PM

    There is a lot of confusion about what is happening in Baluchistan. Here is a video from AlJazeera which is very informative. I urge everyone to see it fully.

    Balochistan: Pakistan’s other war


  • Chacha
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:47PM

    There are two national bonds in Pakistan – Islam and the Army. The former is morphing into a extremist version far from the benign version envisaged and practiced by Pakistan’s founders. The latter has undermined the very ideals of national bonds referred to in the article above – doctrine of neccesity is not part of any rule of law – no matter what justification is given.

    Today in Pakistan there is a contest between rule of law and likes of Qadri. The judge who sentenced Qadri had to leave Pakistan – which gives a sense of who is winning.


  • baloch lover
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:52PM

    you are the true liberated voice in a so called big media names. sky is the limit for you and if we as a nation continue this attitude even under duress to express freely on all topics, the” tension within” which is causing this nation major damage will come out and we will be freed. A very thought provoking writting by Amber. KEEP IT UP!!!!!!!!!


  • Cynical
    Feb 15, 2012 - 4:09PM

    A brilliant article.Dispassionate and still bery humane analysis.
    Thanks Amber.


  • Nazir Ahmed
    Feb 15, 2012 - 4:22PM

    If four years of rule by the democatice government, comprising almost all Sardars with virtually no opposition, has not restored order in the disturbed province, what is the alternative? Remove the FC deployed in support of the provincial government and hand over the Baloch inhabited areas to US in the name of Azad Balochistan.


  • Feb 15, 2012 - 5:35PM

    @baloch lover: I agree. Express Tribune is doing real service to people of Pakistan by fearlessly permitting all shades of views on board. Its team is putting great articles on OPINION page. If these are taken seriously by educated people it will do lots of good to Pakistan as a nation.


  • Chengez K
    Feb 15, 2012 - 6:12PM

    How come there was no Baloch uprising when Russian occupied Afghanistan but a global movement when NATO attacks Afghanistan?

    War with NATO is in different shapes……..Baluchistan is just one Battle ground where attack against Pakistan has been launched….


  • Ashvinn
    Feb 15, 2012 - 7:32PM

    Baluch should thank Americans
    For all the attention


  • Feb 15, 2012 - 9:48PM

    Pakistan armed forces is trying to control the situation,
    and combating the insurgents who are killing and looting the innocent citizens,
    no violation being committed by any concerned quarters.

    Acts,recently done by the United States are violation of international law and sovereignty of a independent state.

    there was weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi stockpile?But attacked and resulting in hundred of thousand innocent people were killed,it was really violation of human rights.


  • Feb 15, 2012 - 10:06PM

    To support insurgents,
    it is human rights violation.

    to enter into a independent sovereign state and acted without any prior permission ,
    that is a human rights violation.

    In fact, have different means and clarifications,there is no similarity in between.


  • Faizan
    Feb 18, 2012 - 8:24PM

    we condemned this resolution introduced by a US lawmaker calling for self-determination in restive Baluchistan province.
    This resolution violates our sovereignty and we condemn it,


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