Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spare a Thought for Balochistan

It's been less than a week since the most prominent political assassination in Pakistan since Benazir Bhutto was killed in 2007. Of course you wouldn't understand if you just watch talk shows and read newspapers. That's because this particular leader was from Balochistan and his death took place in Quetta, not Karachi or in the Punjab.

Habib Jalib Baloch was Balochistan's most important non-feudal leader. Yup, not the guy who earned billions in state royalties and yet made his tribe's women walk miles for water. Nor was he the guy who picked up guns and fought the Army from the mountains. He was instead of a rare breed of politicians with an educated, middle-class pedigree. This fact is best personified by the way he died: while reading a newspaper, unarmed and unprotected, in his brother's shop.

With his death, Balochistan lost a political voice. But Pakistan lost more. While dealing with an angry secession-inclined province, the state could have benefited from engaging men like Jalib, who by virtue of their background provided a purer connection to the Baloch people, compared to the current policy of purchasing the loyalties of greedy tribal chiefs.

Unfortunately, instead of this introspection all we managed was silence. Consider the dichotomy of reaction in Balochistan and the rest of the country. Quetta was in a state of paralysis for 3 days. Meanwhile, in Islamabad the talk of town was fake degrees, mid term elections and talks with India.

Painful as it sounds, Baloch people are correct when they assert that the reform they need is not constitutional or financial, but that of attitude. That attitude is molded not just by the state, but by people as well. This is where we have failed. How many of the smartest writers in Pakistan covered Jalib's assassination in their columns or blogs this week? How many protests took place in Karachi and Lahore? Heck, does the average Pakistani even know who Habib Jalib Baloch was?

The truth is that while we are enamored by Balochistan's geographic and economic vitality, we have failed to cultivate an emotional association with it. For that we may be a stronger country, but a poorer nation.


  1. I remember we did this to East Pakistan as well. Remember how that turned out.

  2. burhan, while reading this, i was thinking the exact same thing. but you beat me to it! kher it is sad, and umair i am really glad you wrote about balochistan. it's really very sad, how we treat our own people. it's constantly about muhajir, sindhi, punjabi etc, never about pakistani!

  3. i wish there was a 'like' button here..