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Balochistan: More Spokesmen; Fewer Journalists

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Viewpoint Online recently published a response to one of my Huffington Post articles, “the End of Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency”. While I write these words, today’s (November 22)Daily Tawar, the most widely read Baloch nationalist newspaper, has a front page story quoting Khalil Baloch, the chairman of the pro-independence Baloch National Movement (BNM), expressing concern about mounting differences among Baloch armed groups. “It is going to be very unfortunate [for the Baloch people] if the pro-independence (forces) fight each other even after the sacrifices of thousands of (Baloch) sons.”

Yet, Mohammad Akbar Akbar Notezai, the author of the article insists that by highlighting the newly developed differences among Baloch armed groups I have offered “immature, raw and unidimensional” information to my readers. Well, the BNM chairman is acknowledging exactly the same thing as I had already stated in my article two weeks ago. “The damage caused by this infighting is so severe that we cannot imagine the consequences,” he warned. The only difference between my prediction and that of Chairman Khalil is that I had foreseen a less severe outcome i.e. the possible end of the Baloch armed resistance but the BNM Chairman, with whom I played cricket in the same Young Stars Cricket Club Panjgur, is warning of unimaginable and unforgivable consequences”.

Mr. Notezai still remains in a state of denial and does not agree with my assessment of the sensitivity of the situation. As an overly optimist, I am sure he would also rubbish Chairman Khalil Baloch’s conclusions about his comrades. Well, in Balochistan, it is easier to challenge a journalist as compared to a politician. So, I do not take offense for being the scapegoat of the situation. However, I wanted to offer some clarifications in response to theViewpoint Online article since it had taken several things out of context.

1-The article assumes that I am not familiar that there had been Baloch resistance movements in the past. Well, of course there had been movements in the past but the topic of my article, at the outset, was not the past movements. The article exclusively dealt with the ongoing armed movement that began in 2004. Prior to that, there was no full-fledged armed struggle in Balochistan in 1980s, 90s and early 2000 against the Pakistani state. The Baloch movement ended in 1970s after differences broke out between Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. It took at least three decades to reignite a new resistance movement. The last time the Baloch had fought the central government was in 1970s. Some of the initial events that come in mind with regards to the beginning of the armed movement include the killing of three Chinese engineers in Gwadar on May 3, 2004, the rape of Dr. Shazia Khalid in Dera Bugti in January 2005; the attack on Nawab Bugti’s fort (March 17, 2005) and the firing of rockets on General Musharraf during his visit in Kohlu in December 2005. For the general public, the first pictures of BLA camps emerged in 2004 when Irfan Saeed (now Quetta Bureau Chief Dunya News), the then bureau chief of Online News Network, visited the Baloch training camps. Based on those pictures, the first detailed report on the Baloch insurgency that ever resurfaced in the mainstream Pakistani media was a cover story in Herald Magazine (September 2004) by M. Ilyas Khan. The cover story “Back to the Hills?” was the first dispatch telling the rest of the country an insurgency was about to kick off in Balochistan. While I am able to provide exact dates and names for almost every single event that I mention in support of my argument, it would be helpful if the Viewpointwriter had done the same to contest my argument. Hence, I stick to my point that the current phase of the Baloch movement began in 2004.

2- Since the ViewPoint writer has offered an overdose of history; I wish to correct some distortions. Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s government fell down because his own party mates revolted against him. This was totally different from the dismissal of Sardar Attaullah Mengal’s government in 1973 which led to a military operation in Balochistan. On the other hand, in Junior Mengal’s case, not only did his provincial government end because of rifts within the party but it even led to the disintegration of the Balochistan National Party. If you ask a lot of people who broke away from Mengal’s BNP whether or not they have any regrets, I am sure they would say no because they formed their own Balochistan National Party (Awami) and they joined almost every government. Besides the BNP Awami, the new political parties that emerged because of rifts among the nationalists include the National Party of Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch which is in government today. If the arrest of Nawab Marri under the charges of Justice Nawaz Marri murder case or the removal of the Mengal government were the actual causes of the resistance, then how come the Marri, Mengal and Bugti all three even joined the future assemblies? They were there because until 2004, many of these political figures were still willing to live and work with Pakistan provided that they were granted maximum provincial autonomy. Nobody talked about Balochistan’s separation at that time.

3-My article does not “draw parallels” between the Baloch resistance movement and the Taliban at all. The word “Taliban” has been used only twice to say that Pakistan is battling two insurgencies. No two battlefronts always have the same dynamics and goals. They are all different in their operations and motives. Recognizing the fact that there are two insurgencies in Pakistan does not mean they are the same in their structure and demands. In fact, I was among the very first journalists in Pakistan who highlighted the alarming government policy of patronizing Taliban to counter the Baloch nationalists as early as 2006 (in my FridayTimes article Looking for Taliban? Check Quetta”). I pointed out this alarming policy to a much larger audience in March 2009 in an op-ed “Threat to Secular Balochistan” in Pakistan’s most respected English language newspaper, Dawn.

One of my most read articles about earlier warnings about Islamist groups’ increasing influence in Balochistan is called “How Panjgur is Losing the Battle”. What is happening today with regards to closure of girls’ schools Panjgur, my hometown, had been predicted by me five years ago.

Ironically, Viewpoint Online, on May 21, 2010, had published a detailed article by me called “Religion as a panacea for Baloch nationalism”. In my article, I had warned about the increasing radicalization in Baloch populated areas. I wrote, “Baloch towns have recently become major hubs of the Tableegi Jamaat’s gatherings in such districts as Panjgur, Gwadar, Khuzdar, Sibi, Turbat and Quetta. Mammoth congregations come together from time to time and are viewed with concern by Baloch nationalists. The Tableegi Jamaat’s harsh rejection of worldly life and non-violent approach has attracted many Baloch youth. In fact we now see many young men dedicate four months, or even a year, to being Islamic preachers and traveling to different cities throughout Pakistan.”

3-As far as differences among the Baloch nationalists or movements elsewhere are concerned, that is a reality of life. My job as a journalist is only to identify data points and important events. I had said that in the past ten years I had not seen such intense exchange of newspaper statements among the Baloch armed groups and some pro-independence leaders. The kind of tactical differences the African National Congress (ANC) faced in South Africa were similar to what exist between the Baloch armed groups and the Balochistan National Party (BNP). Some leaders left the ANC when some whites joined the anti-apartheid movement. In Balochistan’s case, there is a difference between the armed groups and the political parties whether they should apply violence to achieve their goals or use political methods. I am even not talking about differences between moderate and hardliners. It is differences among people who have had the same vision and strategy together for nearly a decade.

At one point, the Baloch armed groups went on to allege each other of killing their fellow fighters (when had that happened in the last ten years? Is there a single example available?) Whether difference is good or bad or exists elsewhere is not my focus. What I am looking at is what is happening right now and if it had occurred before. If it is an unprecedented development then it merits analysis. As I had mentioned every example of infighting with the exact date and the name of the newspaper where these statements had appeared, I wish the writer could also disprove my points with similar facts. Journalism is more about factual accuracy than rhetorical superiority.

 4-There is a difference between “drawing international attention” and diplomatic support. The Baloch movement has drawn more ‘international attention” (which is different from ‘support’) as we see more coverage in the international media (such as Al-Jazeere, BBC etc) and reports from international human rights groups like the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. But that is not the same as diplomatic support. The U.S. Congressional hearing did not represent the policies of the U.S. government.

So, there is no contradiction when I say there is more (of course not enough) international attention to Balochistan. I do not know if there is any country that officially supports the Baloch movement. For example, when East Pakistan (Bangladesh) was fighting West Pakistan, it enjoyed the support of India. In Balochistan’s case there is no foreign diplomatic, military support for the Baloch. If there is such international support, I would like to know more.

Lastly, my article had begun with a question mark. We, journalists and writers, are not scientists or mathematicians. Our calculations and theories can be totally wrong and there is nothing wrong with accepting that what you had predicted did not turn out to be correct. Do I make wrong analysis? Have I made wrong predictions? Of course yes. But who (among political analysts) has not made predictions that proved wrong?

Our job is to raise questions and predict political scenarios. All I had raised is a question whether the infighting could lead to the end of the insurgency. Throughout my career, I have done election predictions. Some of them proved right and the others did not. Here is a word of caution: doctors should not fall in love with their patients and journalists should not fall in love with the subjects of their stories. What we should instead love is the work itself i.e. curing the patients for the doctors and analyzing the stories in journalists’ case. We should never make any topic that we chose to write about, whether it involves an ideology or an individual, bigger than our inquisitive instincts. 

We are analysts not politicians or clergymen. Thus, we cannot afford to be “pro” or  “anti” someone. We must learn to question everything and everyone because that is our job as journalists. Journalism is a thankless profession. If you constantly receive praise from one quarter than there must be something wrong with your work. So, it is totally fine and normal to receive criticism from political leaders and their supporters, politics constantly changes whereas journalism requires you to be loyal to your work/story not the charters in your story.

If we cannot do that then we are called spokesmen not of journalists. I have repeatedly said my loyalties lie with my profession than any political point of view. Balochistan has too many spokesmen but fewer objective journalists.

The answer to the question whether we have reached the end of the Baloch insurgency could be yes, no or maybe. As I stated earlier, I am not expecting a mathematical response. However, since that article, there has not been a single newspaper statement in which the Baloch leaders criticized each other. It is a good thing for them. If they do not fight among themselves, the clear answer to my question would surely be “no” and if they continue to fight, the answer would be “yes’. In both situations, journalists have to continue their work regardless of who wins and loses the insurgency. Our goal should be to remain accurate in reporting and firm in decision-making.

Published in The Balochistan Point on November 21, 2014

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and The Balochistan Point not necessarily agrees with them.

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