QUETTA is no longer the city of love, peace and sectarian harmony. Like other major cities in Pakistan, its streets and alleys are now full of people who have been taught the vile ‘talent’ of identifying people on the basis of their faith and ideology.
Similarly, it has lost its reputation of ethnic flexibility and linguistic diversity, which has for centuries been a significant hallmark of the secular demography of Balochistan, in general, and Quetta, in particular.
Its colourful flowers have long forgotten the art of blossoming and its mesmerising winds have stopped blowing the way they used to in the past.
Today, its air is filled with the obnoxious smell of blood and gunpowder rather than the fragrance of cherry and almond flowers.
The city, which used to remain awake till the middle of the night, now wears a rather desolate and terrified cloak during the early moments of dusk.
It is no longer the romantic city that enchanted the greatest ever Balochi poet, Atta Shad, in such an enthralling way that he chose to settle there forever, leaving his ancestral town of Turbat on a lifelong wait.
He had a great affinity with the sociable climate of Quetta, and went as far as preferring to be buried in the soil of this affable city hundreds of miles away from the graves of his ancestors.
Likewise, it is no more the city where famous Balochi folk singers Mureed Buledi and Faiz Mohammad Baloch recorded their melodious folk songs in the building of Radio Pakistan, Quetta.
Today’s Quetta is altogether different from the one that used to shower its boundless love on all its citizens irrespective of their ethnicity, linguistic and ideological associations.
There were no Shias, Sunnis or Hindus in the city, but revered human beings beyond all ethnic and ideological boundaries.
Unfortunately, its traits of love, romance and humanism have now been replaced by hatred, acrimony, intolerance and ethnic extremism as it has slipped into the hands of religious fanatics and zealots who have turned this paradise of harmony into a slaughterhouse, especially for the Hazaras, a community that has lived in the province for around 100 years.
The sectarian genocide of this hapless community, which was unleashed mainly by the militants of a proscribed outfit a decade back, has seen an unprecedented surge in terms of human losses in the last couple of years.
Succumbing to the threats of dire consequences, many Hazaras have shut businesses in Balochistan while a large number of youths have made their way to European countries, including Spain, Italy, the UK and the US.
I wish Quetta once again became the same place that mesmerised Atta Shad a few decades earlier. I wish its dry fruit shops remain open till late in the night, and the fragrance of its almond and cherry flowers take over the pungent smell of blood and gunpowder. I wish its citizens transcend all ethnic and linguistic boundaries once and for all.
FAZAL BALOCH Turbat