Monday, August 24, 2009

A Baloch perspective on Sharm el-Sheik declaration

By Sajid Hussain

There has been much debate on the reference of Balochistan in the Indo-Pak joint declaration in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. It remains a thorn in the Indian government's side, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is facing firm opposition from voices within and outside the ruling Congress for allowing Balochistan's reference in the joint statement. On the other hand, people in Pakistan see it as a major success, claiming to have put India on the back foot for the first time since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. However, most of the discussion on the subject lacks a Baloch perspective, who view this development from a different angle.

In an interview with a major Indian daily, the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood said the declaration would help highlight the Baloch issue internationally and pave the way for international intervention in Balochistan. He asked India to use the opportunity and raise the issue in talks with Pakistan.

The repercussions that the mention of Balochistan in the communiqué has in store for Pakistan and India is yet to be seen, but it is obvious that it will earn the Baloch case international recognition. That is what the Baloch militants have been fighting for. The killing of Chinese engineers or the abduction of UNHCR official John Solecki was meant, at least partially, to attract world attention. In fact, all insurgencies strive for international recognition. For the Baloch insurgents, the Pakistan government has done the job.

Many Baloch political activists see the Sharm el-Sheikh statement as a turning point for their struggle. It is for the first time that the Baloch issue is being discussed so widely in the international media. Even Obama's special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, commented on it for its importance in terms of regional security.

Before the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, the Baloch insurgency was little known outside Pakistan. In fact, most of the Indian parliamentarians lack basic information about Balochistan. During a discussion on the joint communiqué in Rajya Sabha on July 29, an Indian parliamentarian, Sharad Yadav, confused Balochistan with NWFP, saying that it was a part of Pakhtunistan. While discussing the inclusion of Balochistan in the declaration, he continued saying that Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was a true nationalist. More interestingly, one of the most reputed Indian daily, The Statesman, wrote in its August 3 editorial that Khan Abdul Samad Khan was the 'Baloch' Gandhi. However, thanks to the Pakistan government, the Balochistan issue is now set to become common knowledge.

Though the Baloch nationalists may lose some sympathisers in Pakistan for their alleged link to India, yet it is a cost they are ready to pay if their case is recognised internationally. They would not care about the allegation of being Indian agents if their issue is discussed at regional or world forums. In fact, the sense of alienation is so deep among them that they have publicly invited India to help them highlight their issue. In his latest interview to a TV channel, Brahundagh Bugti, Nawab Akbar Bugti's grandson and a leading figure in the Baloch insurgency, had asked India and other countries to help them fight Pakistan. In a relatively more sophisticated comment, veteran nationalist leader Attaullah Mengal had said sometime back that he would even accept the "devil's help" against Pakistan.

The Baloch have nothing to lose -- Pakistan has. Once the Balochistan issue is included in the Indo-Pak talks, especially the composite dialogue process as Prime Minister Gilani has demanded, events in Balochistan will gain international attention. The world will more closely watch nationalist protests, militant activities and government moves in the strategically important region. This will bring a lot of pain for the militancy-hit Islamic republic. Besides, the pressure will come from international rights groups for hundreds of missing political activists, killing of Baloch leaders, and other government measures to suppress the Baloch uprising.

This is the reason why some Baloch leaders believe that India's acceptance to allow the Balochistan reference is tactical. They argue that there was not enough pressure on India to accept such a fate. On the contrary, Pakistan was on the defensive when Gilani and Singh met in Egypt owing to world pressure on Islamabad to act against the Mumbai attack perpetrators. Before the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, Singh had said that he was expecting Gilani to assure him of dismantling the anti-India terror infrastructure when they would meet in Egypt. However, in a surprise development, rather than pressing Pakistan for action, Singh allowed a mention of Balochistan in the joint statement.

Whether India's decision is tactical or flawed, the disillusioned Baloch have pinned their hopes on the latest developments. However, only time will tell who is going to benefit from the Sharm el-Sheikh declaration.

(Published in The News on August 25, 2009)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Baloch militants make a comeback?

By Sajid Hussain

The Baloch uprising, remaining eclipsed by a much more sophisticated insurgency in Fata and Swat for quiet some time, has made a conspicuous comeback after the abduction of UNHCR's Balochistan chief John Solecki and its claim by a previously unknown Baloch militant outfit Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF). A videotape of the kidnapped official was released on Friday in which the kidnappers threatened to kill Solecki within 72 hours unless their demands are met.

Among other things, the incident, which should be seen in a broader perspective of events that have been taking place in Balochistan since 2001, unveils two important aspects of the Baloch militancy: 1) emergence of a new militant group, and 2) the first-time use of a Taliban-like tactic by the otherwise secular Baloch militants.

Both these developments are a matter of worry for the Pakistan government as well as the Western powers, as I will try to explain in the lines ahead.

Previously, three militant organisations have been fighting Pakistani security forces for what they call the 'Baloch cause'. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) was the first to launch the insurgency in 2001. It was led by veteran nationalist leader Nawab Khair Bux Marri's son Balach Marri until he was assassinated in a little-known encounter with security forces on November 21, 2007. Most of the attacks in Balochistan are claimed by this group, having perhaps the largest infrastructure among the Baloch militant outfits. It's mainly based in Marri areas but its operations are extended to as far as the central Balochistan, including the Brahui-speaking built. The group, known for its resourcefulness, was banned by the government in 2004.

In 2004, another group, the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), earned international fame when it claimed responsibility for killing three Chinese engineers in Gwadar on May 2. Reportedly formed by a former head of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), Dr Allah Nazar, the group enjoys support of a significant number of the educated Baloch youth. Dr Nazar was picked up by intelligence agencies on March 25, 2005 from Karachi. However, after remaining missing for around a year, he was surfaced on August 12, 2006 and released after some months. He is in hiding since then. The BLF camps are based in Makkuran and Awaran.

The Baloch Republican Army (BRA) was supposedly created by Brahundag Bugti in 2008 after his grandfather Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s assassination on August 26, 2006. The BRA, based in Dera Bugti, has proved to be more aggressive than other groups for the last two years. It has particularly targeted the ‘local associates’ of security forces in Bugti areas.

In the presence of these groups, the appearance of another one should worry the government. There have been rumours in Baloch nationalist circles, as reported by the local media in Balochistan, that the leaderships of the BLA and the BLF have joined hands by agreeing on a merger of the two groups. In view of this, I dash to the conclusion, like many others, that the BLUF, as its name also suggests, is the united front after the merger. If it is true, the Baloch insurgency may gain impetus. The resources and infrastructure of the BLA and the educated cadre of the BLF together tend to give Pakistani forces, already engaged with a ruthless insurgency in the tribal areas, a tough time.

Besides, abduction of a high-profile Westerner is first-of-its-kind activity by the Baloch militants. They have, so far, mostly relied on hit-and-run and remote-controlled device attacks, specifically on military targets. Kidnapping of a Westerner and putting demands for his release is a tactic widely known for the Taliban, who consider Americans and Europeans non-believers and are against their presence in the region. But the Baloch nationalist militants, who do not hide their secular and liberal leanings, have for the first time claimed to have kidnapped a Westerner. It shows their frustration.

“We have kidnapped the UN official to draw the world’s attention to the Baloch cause…. we want the UN to facilitate release of 6,000 missing Baloch and 141 women,” BLUF’s spokesman Shehak Baloch told reporters on phone days after Solecki’s abduction.

The Baloch nationalists have been asking the United Nations and the Western powers to intervene and help them achieve their ‘national rights’. They have particularly demanded help for the release of what they say 6,000 missing Baloch, allegedly abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies. Recently, a disclosure by a Baloch journalist Munir Mengal -- who was himself abducted and kept in secret custody for around a year -- about rape and torture of a Baloch woman Zarina Marri by intelligence personnel had further provoked the Baloch. Several memorandums were presented to local offices of the United Nations and US consulates by different nationalist groups, asking them to put pressure on Pakistan to release Zarina Marri and other missing persons.

However, neither the world body nor the world power, being too occupied with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Fata, reacted to those appeals. Instead, the United Kingdom included the BLA in its list of international terror groups on Pakistan’s pressure. Later, it arrested Hairbyar Marri and Faiz Baloch on the charge of having links with the BLA on December 4, 2007 in London. The British and Pakistani media had believed at that time that the Baloch leaders were arrested to be exchanged with Pakistan for Rashid Rauf, a suspected terrorist wanted to the UK. This was enough to frustrate the Baloch groups to the extent that they resorted to kidnapping a UN official – an act which may cause them tremendous damage too. They may be declared terrorists by the UN and the US.

Nevertheless, the Baloch militants have sent a strong message to the world body and the Western powers: if you damn care about us we can hurt your interests in the region like Taliban.

The timing of Solecki’s abduction is also important, as it coincided with the arrival of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Pakistan and also the trial of Hairbyar Marri was in a concluding phase. It is also interesting to note that days after Solecki’s abduction, a Crown Court acquitted Marri from three out of five cases.

In view of this, the Pakistan government should act in haste to address the grievances of the Baloch nationalists, as promised by the Pakistan People’s Party during its election campaign. Downplaying the insurgency in Balochistan may prove to be a fatal mistake, as Balochistan is strategically an important region and Pakistan’s adversaries may exploit the situation in the province for their own vested interests. As a gesture of goodwill, sincere efforts should be made to trace the whereabouts of the missing Baloch. It should also be ensured that incidents like that of Zarina Marri would not happen in future as the Baloch are highly sensitive about their women. One should not forget that Nawab Bugti had thrown down the gauntlets when a Sindhi woman was raped in a Sui hospital allegedly by an Army captain.

At the same time, the UN and the US should show restraint over the abduction of Solecki, who is also a US national, and make diplomatic efforts for his release. UN’s human rights body should show its willingness to play a role in the release of the missing Baloch. This will no doubt help creating a conducive environment for Solecki’s release. On the other hand, the supply route for the Nato forces from Peshawar is already insecure and they cannot afford annoying the secular Baloch militants as one of the proposed alternate supply routes passes through Balochistan.

Also, the Baloch militants should avoid opting for Taliban-like tactics that may hurt their case badly -- internationally as well as nationally. Presently, it is believed, at least by some, that they have picked up arms as the last resort after failing to draw government’s attention to their grievances through political means. But the abduction of a human rights activist and making threats to kill him may turn the public opinion against them.

It's a media war!

By Sajid Hussain

“Publicity is the oxygen of terrorism.” — Margaret Thatcher

Everyone knows terrorists need the media to propagate their cause. But it is hard to believe that the media are attracted towards terrorist activities for increased audiences and profits. In the competing market, news outlets are engaged in more emotion-generating news reporting than purely informational one. News channels love to run a ‘breaking news’ ticker on their screens to attract viewers. And terrorists can help more than anybody else in providing them with a breaking news item. There is a blast, and here is a ‘news alert’.

The primary aim of a terrorist attack is to get attention or publicity. By covering such events, the media in a way help terrorists in their cause. Though we can suggest terrorists -- as our innocent leadership often does -- to stop their terrorist activities, there is no logic behind asking media persons not to cover acts of terrorism. They cannot afford to ignore it. They have a ‘responsibility’ to inform the people. So, rephrasing my previous statement, the media cannot avoid helping terrorists.

One can agree with the government that reporting of terrorism events has its disadvantages, but putting restrictions on media not to cover such events has far greater adverse effects on society. The Musharraf regime, by overemphasizing the damaging aspects of media coverage of terrorist activities, had purposefully put restrictions on the media in the form of the Pemra Ordinance.

All governments love to restrict the media freedom in the name of national security -- a vague concept which is almost impossible to define. The government can stop the media from covering all issues of importance in the name of national security.

Though it is not to restrict the media from reporting acts of terrorism, the nature of such reporting could be debated. Despite the fact that the media are primarily supposed to inform the people, news outlets seem more interested in entertaining them. The logic behind this is not hard to understand. Media organizations can win an increased viewership/readership by sensationalizing events. Therefore, despite naively asking media organizations to stop giving coverage to terrorists, they could be requested not to sensationalize terrorism events.

Media should understand that terrorists are fighting a psychological war. They are far inferior militarily to the NATO or Pakistani forces. They know they cannot win the war with military means. Therefore, they are more focused on using psychological tactics to defeat their adversaries. A suicide attack is not only meant to kill people. Taliban’s suicide bombings are primarily targeted against the morale of their adversaries. They want to defeat their well-armed ‘enemy’ at the psychological front as they know it is not doable on the battlefield.

For terrorists, media coverage is the only measure of success of a terrorist attack. It’s not the number of people they kill, which amuses them. They use the yardstick of media coverage to measure their success.
Maulana Fazlullah’s FM channels, Tehrik-e-Taliban’s spokesman Maulvi Omar’s regular media interactions, Al-Qaeda’s media productions house As-Sahab, and militant’s video messages to news channels all suggest that militants are fighting a sophisticated, propaganda warfare.

As-Sahab produced 58 videos in 2006 and 97 videos in 2007. In February 2006, the then US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld warned that his country was losing a media war against Al-Qaeda.
"Our enemies have skilfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but... our country has not," he had said. From all appearances, terrorists seem to have a highly-developed propaganda mechanism. They are using the means of mass communications, including the print and electronic media, in their benefit.

Britain's former spy chief and former governor BBC Dame Pauline Neville Jones accused the BBC in September 2007 for being used for Al-Qaeda’s propaganda. "Is the BBC so naive as to take Al-Qaeda's propaganda at face value? Or is there something more sinister at work here?" she had asked.

She is right, but why blame the BBC alone? Almost all the media organizations are being used by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to propagate their cause. But, unlike Pauline, I don’t suspect that “something sinister” is at work. I rather believe the media cannot avoid being used by terrorists in the given market conditions. However, media owners would have to voluntarily forgo some of their profits to avoid a terrorist takeover in the country.

This is a media war. Journalists and media owners can fight it more impressively than the troops. As terrorists carry attacks mainly for media coverage, they will get frustrated and eventually demoralized if they do not get their desired coverage.

Balochi stories

By Sajid Hussain

The art of storytelling is as old as the mountains. The short story as it is known today, however, was developed in the 19th century with the publishing of journals and newspapers. It is, therefore, a latecomer to the world of literature as compared to the other major literary genres, including poetry and the novel. Its entry in Balochi literature took place even later. Balochi short stories hardly have a literary tradition of 50 years.

Sher Muhammad Marri, a nationalist leader and guerrilla commander during the Baloch insurgencies of the 1960s and 1970s, is regarded by most historians of Balochi literature as the pioneer of the Balochi short story for his ‘Ganoukh’.

These 50 years have seen the emergence of many regular and industrious writers of the genre but, unfortunately, none seem to have mastered the art. Still deprived of a practitioner to be proud of, the Balochi short story is in fact the most embryonic genre of Balochi literature. The backwardness of the genre is obvious from the fact that Naguman’s recently published Nagdaank is the first collection of critical articles on the subject.

Naguman, a medical doctor by profession, is himself a writer of short stories. His first collection, Dar-i-Asp (2004), was genially received by readers and warmly acclaimed by critics.

Humour and satire are the most prominent ingredients in Naguman’s writings. He is known as the “naughty boy” of Balochi literature for his sense of humour which he often uses against his contemporaries but without heaping scorn on them. Due to this, besides the lucidity and clarity of his style, Naguman enjoys perhaps the largest readership among Balochi writers of his time.

Nagdaank is divided into two parts: the first comprises articles written by Naguman on the art of writing short stories and the other Balochi story writers; the second consists of articles written by different writers on Naguman’s art of story writing. Naguman seems to be more inclined towards practical criticism, however, a couple of his articles in the book also address theoretical issues.

According to Naguman, a short story besides being short and artistic should also have a proper story line. He argues that a short story should be confined to 200 to 10,000 words and should be read in a single sitting. This definition of the genre, though helpful, may be too traditional and outdated. The short story has undergone tremendous changes since its emergence in the 19th century. If Naguman’s restrictions are kept in mind, Chekhov’s ‘Steppe’ cannot be considered a short story as it comprises some 40,000 words. The same is true for D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The fox’.

Naguman’s definition of a ‘story’, as an element of the short story, is also vague and misleading. He defines it as a “flowing stream of thought delicately arrayed”. Whereas, in its simplest form the “story designates the narrated events, abstracted from their disposition in the text and reconstructed in their chronological order, together with the participants in these events” (Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan).

Naguman’s understanding of the short story is mostly based on common sense assumptions. His critical writings do not reflect a great deal of reading on the art and history of the subject. Nagdaank, when dealing with theoretical issues of the short story, does not offer an impression of the latest trends developed in the field over the past few decades. Structuralistic interpretation of the short story, in particular, has shaken the whole body of traditional assumptions.

But, as stated earlier, the Balochi short story is still in its embryonic stage. Therefore, Naguman’s traditional analyses may serve some purpose. Yet, at the same time, these critical articles are not at all helpful for the understanding of some modern experiences of the Balochi short story such as that found in A.R. Dad’s symbolic stories.

On the other hand, Naguman appears more dexterous and confident when dealing with matters concerning practical criticism. His assessment of the Balochi short story and his comments about most Balochi short-story writers seem valid and insightful. He notes that Balochi literature has not yet produced a single first-class story writer during the past 50 years; but at the same time he is somehow optimistic about the future of the genre as he sees a number of promising young writers emerging on the scene. He is a harsh critic of some senior writers, particularly of Ghani Parwaz. Indeed, most of his articles revolve around Parwaz’s art and personality.

The second part of the book, which comprises articles written by different writers on the art of Naguman’s story writing, pieces by A.R. Dad and Ghulam Farooq’s works, are worth mentioning. Mr Dad dubs Naguman’s story ‘Dar-i-Asp’ (Naguman’s representative story and the title of his collection of stories) as pedagogical and didactic. However, Mr Farooq regards him as a distinct writer and praises his objectivity, characterisation, choice of stories and clarity of style.

Nagdaank, despite its weaknesses, is a welcome addition to Balochi literature. It is, after all, the first and only work of its kind.

(Published in Dawn’s Books and Authors on February 25, 2007)

Balochi books in 2005

By Sajid Hussain

Naguman, a young and promising Balochi story writer, once wrote: “Urdu literature had produced its most brilliant story writer, Manto, within the first 25 years of Urdu story writing. Balochi literature, unfortunately, could not produce even one good writer during the last 50 year’s history of the genre.” This statement can be confirmed by the fact that not a single book of Balochi short stories was published in 2005. On the contrary, more than a dozen poetry collections, including at least four of unprecedented calibre, were published in the same year.

Modern Balochi poetry is in a way fortunate as great poets, such as Ata Shad, Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, Munir Momin, Manzoor Bismil and Asif Shafiq have composed their masterpieces in Balochi. On the other hand, there isn’t a single name in Balochi fiction which can compete with these poets. Balochi poetry has had a glorious 600-year history of poetic tradition and convention. Fiction, an imported genre, hardly has a history of 50 years.

When a writer uses a literary genre for his creative expression, he also automatically sets his own rules and traditions which will be followed, reformed and modified by his successors. Balochi fiction has been unfortunate in this regard, as it hasn’t yet found a writer of such calibre. Until a writer uses prose as his or her major medium of expression, this form of Balochi literature is unlikely to develop.

Har Sahat Chakkas, a novel by Dr Fazal Khaliq, was the only novel published in 2005. Dr Fazal, a poet who has a few translations to his credit (most of which went unnoticed), has written a novel which may not even be taken as a novel if the form and structure of novel writing is kept in mind.

Last year, however, was quite significant with respect to Balochi poetry. Some great works were published. Most significant among these was Darya Chankey Housham Ent, Munir Momin’s second collection of poetry. The book contains both ghazals and nazms, including “Kapoot deewanagein murgey”, a long poem. This book is being regarded as a trend-setter by readers and critics.

Mir Umar Mir’s Pulley Gwat Andem Ent is another significant collection of poetry published in 2005. Mir regards Momin (as both are residents of Pasni, a coastal city in Makkuran) as his literary guru. In fact, so impressed is Mir by Momin that sometimes it seems difficult to distinguish between the two. Like Momin, Mir is a symbolist in the modern sense of the term. Nevertheless, Mir is, to a great extent, a poet of individual talent, with his own diction and tone.

Ambouhein Drout, a collection of ghazals by Zafar Ali Zafar, also came out in 2005. Zafar is regarded as the king of Balochi ghazal or, at least, that is how he likes himself to be known. Lovers of Balochi poetry have waited for this collection for the last four decades as Zafar wrote his first and most popular ghazal in the 60’s.

Lacha Taryak Shakar is Ambar Sameen’s first collection which was overwhelmingly welcomed by serious readers of Balochi poetry. Ambar is regarded as a pioneer of modern Balochi nazm. Ambiguity adds to the aesthetics of his poetry. He seems to be profoundly impressed by N.M. Rashid, one of the most respected names in modern Urdu nazm. Like Rashid, Ambar also enjoys experimenting with the techniques and form of the free verse.

The publication of late Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi’s Gisad Gwar in 2005 was a major event in the history of Balochi literature. Hashmi is known as the Father of Balochi. As a poet, novelist, critic, researcher, linguist, historian and lexicographer, he has written over two dozen books, nine of which are still unpublished. Gisad Gwar is a long poem of more than 1,000 lines, in which Hashmi has depicted his own version of Baloch history. The book is a unique experiment in modern Balochi poetry.

Chawtar is Anwar Sahib Khan’s collection of poetry which went unnoticed. Khan is a nationalist poet with a resounding voice in his verses. His poetry mainly emphasizes on the sufferings of his people. The present unrest among Balochis has been depicted in a straightforward manner. Recently, he wrote a poem (not included in the book) in praise of militant organizations, such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). He is very popular among the Baloch youth due to his revolutionary verses, but somehow his book didn’t do well.

Isaq Khamosh’s Wahag-i-Tun was a best seller in 2005. Khamosh is a poet of the masses. His language is simple and his subjects are quite common. Wahag-i-Tun is his second collection of poems. His first collection, Guman, was published in 2004.

Shalinee Burfein Chadar is Lal Baksh Panwani’s collection, which has been compiled by Dr Fazal Khaliq. Panwani’s verses are composed in the traditional form and diction. Fazal Hayat’s Gidan-i-Sahag and Nadeem Akram’s Alhan are some of the other collections of poetry published last year.

As mentioned earlier, no major work of fiction was published in 2005. Namdiani Drout is a collection of letters written by many late literary personalities to Professor Saba Dashtiari, a notable name in Balochi literature and research. These letters have been compiled by Dashtiari himself. Ulfat Naseem’s Tibbi Lughat is a medical dictionary. Despite many weaknesses, it is an initial attempt to produce this kind of reference material.

Gulzar Marri’s Gwashtan, a book of Balochi proverbs and Haji Abdul Qayum’s Balochi Bomia, one of the very first books about Balochi grammar were reprinted last year by the Balochi Academy. This government-backed institution also published two significant works in Urdu: Wahid Buzdar’s Jadeed Balochi Shairi Ka Aghaz or Irteqa (the origin and development of Balochi poetry), and Abdul Saboor’s Warsa-i-Nasiriat, a book about the legend Gul Khan Naseer.

(Published in Dawn’s Books and Authors on February 19, 2006)