By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
February 24, 2012
FOR all the talk doing the rounds about Balochistan in the popular media these days one cannot help but wonder why there is so little mention of east Bengal and the series of events that led to the break-up of the state in 1971.
Throughout the 24 years that the original Pakistan remained intact the makers of public opinion incessantly propagated a narrative that dismissed unrest in the eastern wing as the work of ‘foreign agents’ and completely ignored the genuine, organic movement for self-determination of the Bengali people.
Today too Balochistan’s elevation to the most important news item is not motivated by a desire to understand what the Baloch people are thinking and feeling, but because the Americans are purportedly out to undermine Pakistan yet again.
For the record, the Americans have historically been quite content to support the Pakistani state’s colonial dispensation in Balochistan. Whether or not Washington’s posture is changing — and why — should be the subject of discussion but ought not to distract from the real issue at hand.
Balochistan is burning, and has been for a while. The Americans did not start the fire, and will definitely not put it out. More than ever, we need to delve into history to understand why the raging flames threaten to engulf us all.
This past Tuesday, on Feb 21, events were organised all over the world to commemorate International Mother Tongue Day. In Pakistan too a handful of low-profile activities were reported, in the typical nondescript way. Unknown to many Pakistanis is the fact that Feb 21 is recognised by the United Nations in memory of (then) East Pakistani students who faced
the full force of the state in the name of defending their cultural heritage.
If we are to move beyond the tired rhetoric of ‘conspiracies’ and ‘foreign hands’ that continues to blight our collective consciousness it would serve us well to recall exactly what happened that day.
The year was 1952 and the place was Dhaka. Bengali students of the University of Dhaka defied Section 144 to organise a march in protest of the Pakistani state’s linguistic and educational policies, which, the students believed, belittled Bangla and its status as the country’s most widely spoken language.
True to form, security forces fired on the protesters, killing several and injuring dozens more. It would be inaccurate to suggest that this one event gave birth to the nationalist movement that culminated in the creation of Bangladesh almost 20 years later, but it would be equally wrong to understate just how important it was.
State-sponsored ignorance of Bengalis and Bangla was commonplace back then, just as a startling lack of knowledge and concern is evident amongst far too many of us about the Baloch people and their genius today. Bangla was derided by Pakistani rulers as a language ‘contaminated’ by non-Muslim influences; today the Baloch people are regularly and insultingly referred to as ‘Balochi’.
Highly educated and otherwise informed Pakistanis continue to believe that Balochistan is a ‘tribal’ society and that the current insurgency is fomented by (CIA, RAW and Mossad-backed, anti-Pakistan) Sardars. In fact, as even Sardar Ataullah Mengal has admitted, a large number of insurgents hail from expressly non-tribal backgrounds and have no love lost for the prototypical Sardar.
Unfortunately there is still much resistance within this country to the recognition and acceptance of the multiplicity of nations that constitute Pakistan. It is not surprising then that so many of us born and bred in the core of this state continue to view those on the peripheries — which include the Baloch — with so much suspicion.
For all of the (misinformed) talk of Pakistan being divinely ordained and the indivisibility of the Muslim ‘nation’, there is an awful lot of ‘them’ and ‘us’ doing the rounds in the land of the pure.
At least part of the problem, as I hinted at earlier, is the incredible destruction we have waged against the study of history. Even now, the secession of East Pakistan is mentioned quite sparingly in official textbooks, and the explanation goes no further than to implicate the forever-evil Indians.
In the weeks and months to come, something will have to give. The gap between our idealised notion of the Pakistani state and its actual practices has to be confronted head-on.
Yes external powers have played, and will continue to play, a part in exacerbating the internal conflicts that afflict us. But we do ourselves — and particularly the Baloch people — no favours by refusing to accept the primary role of our own state in getting us to this point.
A collective voice needs to emerge in the Punjabi heartland demanding an end to the atrocities being visited upon the Baloch people.
Until this day there has been no collective acceptance within society of complicity in the actions of the Pakistani military against the Bengali people four decades ago. It is no longer good enough to say we did not know what went on, or worse still that all objective historical evidence is actually propaganda fabricated by the enemies of Pakistan.
The Bengali people have now long since moved on, even though the horrific memories live on. The Baloch people, on the other hand, are formally still part of the complex mosaic we call Pakistan. The American Empire has clearly signalled its intent to take advantage of the severe disaffection gripping Balochistan. It is up to the rest of Pakistan’s people to convince the Baloch people that they still have a future with us.
As for our hallowed guardians, I am tempted to remind them of the words uttered by Pervez Musharraf back in 2005 when referring to the fledgling insurgency that had gripped the Bugti areas.
The good general claimed: “They won’t know what hit them.” Baloch separatists and ordinary people alike are well aware of what is hitting them and who is doing the hitting. The rest of the world is also starting to sit up and take notice. Heaping more fuel on the fire is only going to make it more difficult to put out.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Source: The Dawn, Karachi