Free for all in Balochistan

Published: December 19, 2010
The writer is head of BBC Urdu Service

The writer is head of BBC Urdu Service

Journalist Mohammed Khan Sasoli’s murder in Khuzdar last week is neither a unique nor an isolated event. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), he is the eighth Pakistani journalist to be killed in the line of duty this year, making Pakistan the world’s most dangerous place for journalists in 2010, behind even countries such as Iraq.

Sad as it is, a journalist’s murder in Balochistan is just the tip of the iceberg. Do we have any idea what is going on in a province that constitutes over 40 per cent of Pakistan’s sovereign territory?

I have spoken to several journalists in Balochistan since Sasoli’s murder, focussing largely on the conditions under which journalists have to work there. And I was least surprised to discover that in the big picture painted by them, journalists’ woes occupied only a tiny part of the canvas.

In many ways, the gangrenous violence eating viciously into the province’s tiny population is far more complex than what we have witnessed in the tribal areas since 9/11. The rag-tag army of anti-American militias nurtured and supported by Pakistan’s security establishment in the tribal areas may be a highly complex creature in terms of its internal workings but its aims and objectives remain fairly transparent.

In contrast, it has become next to impossible to tell who is fighting whom in Balochistan. Is it the primarily Pashtun Taliban, under pressure in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas, looking for new safe havens? Is it India, having secured a foothold in Afghanistan, planning to bleed Pakistan in Balochistan, just as Pakistan bled it in Kashmir for 20 years?

Is it the drug mafia, having operated quietly in the area for decades, suddenly going on a random killing spree that targets journalists, teachers, Baloch, settlers, investors, poor people and generally just about everyone under the sun? Is it the nationalists who, not finding enough resources to take on the army, have turned upon each other? Or is it the goon squads unleashed by Pakistan’s security agencies to eliminate all anti-Pakistan elements?

Whether through long, late night briefing sessions with journalists or through fake WikiLeaks, our civil and military leaders would have us believe that Indian intelligence outfit — RAW — is four square behind the violence in Balochistan. The Americans want us to understand that it is actually the presence of the Quetta Shura that is stirring up all the trouble and that it would all be over if Pakistan allowed the US to unleash their drones on the city.

Talk to local politicians and when they fail to convince you that India alone is responsible, they will conveniently turn to the drug mafias using the traditional smuggling routes through Dalbandin as an explanation. Local police officials will simply refuse to admit that anything is wrong beyond a few footloose and fancy-free unemployed youth being exploited by self-serving nationalists.

Finally, ask the nationalists and they will tell you that over the last four months alone, more than 60 political activists have been abducted, tortured and murdered by the security agencies.

We shouldn’t have to wait for something like WikiLeaks to tell us what and how much of all this is true. Balochistan is a story that the Pakistani media must investigate on its own. It may be a terrifyingly difficult assignment for one organisation or one journalist, but if the media teams up, it can blow the lid off a story that may turn out to be far more sinister than anything to have come out of the tribal areas so far.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Dec 19, 2010 - 2:06AM

    The question is why have journalists, the papers and the news channels remained silent for so many years? Is it that a non-Baloch audience is not interested in what’s going on in the nation’s largest province? Or have journalists been victims of sub-concious omission or are they just an instrument of stakeholders who prefer that reality does not see the light of day? Recommend

  • Rajat
    Dec 19, 2010 - 7:23AM

    We just want to know, regarding India, where is the evidence? what is the evidence? who is providing the evidence? Your Mussharaf always harps on the fact that “we have enough evidence” Show it general. What is keeping you back? Till now we have no even got one single piece of evidence of indian support of Balochi freedom movement. Recommend

  • Chandru
    Dec 19, 2010 - 10:34AM

    Balochistan is a story that the Pakistani media must investigate on its own.
    Yes. You are 100% correct. The situation reminds us of East Pakistan before 1971. If no remedial measures are taken in time the history will repeat and will not forget Pakistan people.Recommend

  • Dec 19, 2010 - 1:49PM

    Pakistan was able to bleed India in Kashmir was mainly because of the India’s atrocities in the region. That’s the case with Balochistan since last 45 years. Recommend

  • vasan
    Dec 19, 2010 - 5:36PM

    Ameer Hamza, Pl stand corrected. Pakistan tried to bleed India in Kashmir, Finally what bled was Pakistan and Kashmir valley people.
    Pl investigate Balochistan, But why not an UN commission,.Pak army will create false pakileak papers anyway. And Pakistan has this habit of running to UN commissions for high profile cases which they dont want to investigate and solveRecommend

  • Baloch
    Dec 19, 2010 - 5:52PM

    The media you are talking about is only doing own business because where ever it sees more and more profit … … it has been done but who cares of Balochs and Balochistan .I agree with Mr Rajat . I understand as a Baloch the one n only reason of all is pakistan Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Dec 19, 2010 - 6:13PM

    @Rajat — Wikileaks showed cables in which US state department thought that post Mumbai India was going to “increase” its activities in Baluchistan. If this is not a smoking gun then I dont know what is?Recommend

  • Karim Mengal
    Dec 19, 2010 - 7:18PM

    @Rajat Have you discovered your missing journalists in Lal Garg aka Red corridor? Recommend

  • Karim Mengal
    Dec 19, 2010 - 7:23PM

    @Baloch or what your name this week. Despite business and profit our Pakistani Media is doing right job we don’t have Barkhas in our media. Do you have any independent (I repeat Independent ) newspaper or channel in India? Recommend

  • Anoop
    Dec 19, 2010 - 8:01PM

    @Maulana Diesel,

    The Cables say that UK THINKS that India is going to start trouble in Baluchistan. It doesn’t mention that it IS doing it now. So, dont try to intentionally misinterpret the Cables.Recommend

  • akhtar
    Dec 19, 2010 - 10:02PM

    @ Karim Mengal quoting one missing journalist is not enough. You have to produce many precedents for India as per ratio to Balochistan. Population of Balochistan is 65 lacs and India is 12500 lacs.The rate of missing journalists is aprox. one / lac. so statistics of 12500 missing journalists is needed. Recommend

  • Baloch
    Dec 20, 2010 - 12:56AM

    @Karim Mengal I am not a Indian me a Baloch who lives in Balochistan Recommend

  • Raqib Ali
    Dec 20, 2010 - 2:09AM

    Balochistan is completely different from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

    Injustice level is not similar to east Pakistan.

    Balochis are self respecting people but they are very different. Literacy rate, awareness and political acivities were very high in East Pakistan. Our Balochi brothers work under Sardar (feudal) system.

    East Pakistan was 8 times smaller than West Pakistan but its population was 52%. Balochis are spread over a big area. They are nearly 4 million and are half of Pakistan’s size.

    Unlike East Pakistan, there is no India between two countries. Balochistan is fully accessible to rest of Pakistan.

    Almost half of Balochistan’s population is Pathan and Punjabis. These people have been there for nearly five decades and are part of that province. Many of them haven’t seen any other province. These people (nearly half of population) are not considered Balochis by nationalists and this way they are not part of any struggle.

    Pakistan is a nuclear power unline 1971. Recommend

  • Raqib Ali
    Dec 20, 2010 - 2:12AM

    Forgot to mention that I know many Sindhi and Balochi nationalists (children of leading figures). They only want more rights. Recommend

  • Rajat
    Dec 20, 2010 - 2:26AM

    @M Diesel
    Using wikileaks, as an evidence is even worse than using wikipedia as the source of information while writing a technical/scientific paper. I hope you understand the comparison, though they have go nothing to do with each other. It does not have proper references or any concrete citations, moreover it just depends on word of mouth, the US diplomat in that particular cable just echoed the view of your minister/politician (not getting the name right now). It was not the US govt’s analysis.

    I beg your pardon Karim Mengal, but who is Lal Garg?Recommend

  • Raqib Ali
    Dec 20, 2010 - 3:05AM

    @ Rajat

    That never stops your countrymen to get very excited when Wikileaks is about your neighbour?Recommend

  • sanjithmenon
    Dec 20, 2010 - 6:42AM

    Nations cannot be united by religion alone. Recommend

  • RAVI
    Dec 20, 2010 - 3:39PM

    It is said that journalists are being targeted for the sake of restricting their “right of expression”. Media must be free, especially in violence-hit areas like Balochistan so that the voice of destitute can be heard. We hardly get aware of the facts in Balochistan. So, please stop targeting the journalists and let them report the “truth”. Recommend

  • Bangash
    Dec 20, 2010 - 7:08PM

    every article about Pakistan is infested with rats from across the Indian border simply repeating their old curses against Pakistan.Recommend

  • Faz
    Dec 21, 2010 - 4:29AM

    To all the indians. If you want to see the difference between the thinking in Pakistan and India, just look at the broad views in the comments posted. No Indian paper has the courage to post comments from Pakistanis because you guys like to live in your lies and feed those lies to your poor and ignorant masses.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Dec 21, 2010 - 8:18AM

    @ Bangash – Bro, we are on media and expressing our opinions. Right or wrong, It is participants or readers to judge? The writings whether it is of rats or snakes are no curse on anybody. We admire ET to give space to divergent views.Recommend

  • Chandru
    Dec 21, 2010 - 8:46AM

    @ RAVI
    Well said. But will the Establishment allow it to happen?Recommend

  • Fahd
    Dec 21, 2010 - 7:24PM

    @Faz very trueRecommend

  • SKChadha
    Dec 21, 2010 - 8:57PM

    It is true that Balotch have distinct ethnicity and culture which is at slight variance from Indus Valley Civilization. Ethnically and culturally Balotch are more closure to southern parts of Afghanistan and South-east Iran. However, it is having predominantly Islamic culture. Pakistan also being an Islamic nation is still finding it difficult to amalgamate Baloch. This suggests that there is something terribly wrong with Pak policies towards Baloch.Recommend

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