Pakistan’s heart of darkness: Quetta

Before embarking on...

Before embarking on the journey to Quetta, we were relentlessly reminded to not expect an authentic insight into Balochistan by just visiting its capital.

While we found that to be true upon arrival, we almost immediately also realised that Quetta is partially submerged in the darkness of the restive province.

En route to this epitome of stark beauty, Quetta stands tall and proud like its mountains. It is only when you draw near; that the city permits you to look upon its open wounds.

Once entered, it is a living testament to the sectarian, political and tribal strife that grips the entire province.

Not to forget the looming presence of terrorism that keeps residents forever alert, and distrusting of everyone.

Yet, underneath these burdens, the city breathes. It lives each day, as if only for the resilience of its people, all from different ethnicities and sects.

On the face of it, the people of Quetta look gruff, unwilling to exchange pleasantries. But that lasts until they know you are a guest, homes and hearts both open in the moments that follow.

Almost everyone that we came across appeared to be fighting their own battle. Bruised and broken, one person was linked to another, all as victims of terrorism, either state-sponsored or otherwise.

Whether it was a Pashtun girl who doesn’t want to give up on her education after a suicide attack on a university bus, or a Gujjar family who are struggling with the ghastly memory of picking up their daughter’s pieces after the attack, or a vice chancellor who wants to provide security to her students while she secretly fears for her own, they all speak of the same sadness and trepidation that life in Quetta now offers.

With no relief in sight to their sorrows, they do what all survivors of tragedies do, they cope.

Adjacent to Hazara Town, stands the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University – Quetta’s only university for women.

Built in 2004, it has grown to include female students from all over Balochistan, but specifically a strong majority from the tribal areas of the province, like Makran, Turbat, Loralai and Kech.

The university is undergoing some repair and renovation work as the new vice chancellor, Dr. Rukhsana Gul takes charge on her first day.

It’s apparent that she’s holding back from saying anything controversial, yet despite herself she staunchly says, “We are on a Jihad, a Jihad to educate women, to not bow before fear.”

Then, just minutes before lunch break, at around 1pm, Dr Gul goes to meet with the transporters at the university on the bus route schedules and respective security arrangements.

Since the suicide attack in the premises, a pungent smell pierces the air, one that is hard to ignore. On her way out, Dr Gul instructs the gardener to see if he can do something about it.

Born and brought up in Quetta, Dr Rukhsana acquired her doctorate from the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, she returned to Quetta and worked as a senior faculty member with the Balochistan University for the next 25 years. Teaching is the only thing she knows, she says.

When asked to talk about the June 15th incident, a shadow fell across Rukhsana’s face.

“Our girls are still scared. Many are having nightmares. We used to pride ourselves on having such a large number of female students from the tribal areas, ever since the incident, most of the girls have gone back.”

There’s a palpable sense of guilt in both the vice chancellor and the registrar about the incident taking place on campus.

The registrar SBKWU, Dr Naheed Haq said that they were now being accused of making the university “castle-like” with security and questioning at every step.

Just like any other incident, the bus attack generated its fair share of unconfirmed reports, one of them being that the female suicide bomber, referred as ‘Ayesha Siddiqa’, by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi while accepting responsibility for the attack, was an Islamic Studies student at the university.

Both women completely refuted this, adding, they had no clue whatsoever about the nature of the attack and who did it.

“The police haven’t shared much information with us, yet. On our part, we are getting the scanning devices installed…” Dr Naheed trailed off.

Dr Gul quietly adds, “The attack was not a one-off incident; neither is it going to be the last.”

If the route of the bus had not been changed three days before the blast, it would have been the Hazaras mourning the brutal murders of their daughters, says the SBKW University Registrar, Dr Naheed Haq.

The usual route of the bus that was blown up was Hazara Town. But the university felt that the Hazara girls needed a bigger bus. While a bigger bus was set aside for them, a 24-seater bus was arranged for the remaining girls going towards Jail Road, an area full of Punjabi and Urdu speaking settlers.

And so, it was the bus that was heading for Jail Road that was attacked. News reports of a missing girl filtered in, as parents frantically searched for their daughters at the hospital. Dr. Naheed breaks down and cries, while clarifying that no one went missing, “as there was nothing left of them to go amiss…”

Hailing from a Pashtun background, Neelam Fatima is the youngest and most pampered member of her family.

The bus attack on June 15 left her traumatised yet resolute about continuing her education; a decision her family also supported.

Now that the university has reopened, she is relieved to be back.

“Sitting at home, I would constantly go over and over what happened. At the university, I can at least speak to my friends and classmates about it and try to make sense of what happened to us…”

A BBA 5th semester student, Fatima was waiting for her friends behind the bus ‘9769’ which was attacked in the blast. In that moment, she recalls how relieved she was that exams were almost over.

“We had a field trip scheduled for the IT University for which we were all quite excited and busy making plans,” says Fatima now sitting in her two room home on Jail Road.

As girls started filling in the buses, Fatima waved to two of her close friends, Hina and Mahwish who were also bound for Jail Road but through another route.

Within a minute there was a blast, not a very loud one insists Fatima. Within seconds there was another, this one prompting Fatima and others with her to run out of their bus to see what had happened.

Fatima didn’t think the two successive sounds would have caused that much damage, but she emerged from her bus covered in blood.

“All I could see was blood, and body parts scattered across the lawn. I saw a girl’s arm on a tree branch. All I know is I’ll never be the same again,” Fatima says simply.

In those moments of incoherence, the girls found themselves covering their friends’ bodies with headscarves and chadars.

“There were men around and they wouldn’t go forward because the blast had ripped apart every shred of clothing from the girls. We put our head scarves over them, thankfully by then the ambulances had started arriving…”

Following the bomb attack, Sajeela Shahjahan Gujjar’s father received a phone call from his neighbour, informing him about the attack. The family rushed to Bolan Medical Complex. By the time they arrived, other families had crowded to see what had become of their daughters and sisters, and the hospital staff had to ask the security personnel to hold them back.

“As I got into an argument with an FC guard there was another blast, right inside the hospital. I have never seen anything like that, ever,” he says.

But for those looking for their children, there wasn’t much left to see. The hospital received stretchers with a few kilograms of body mass, nothing else. One girl identified her sister through a ring that she was wearing on her left hand. Shahjahan’s family received only a torso and is considered among the lucky ones.

Back at her home amid the deafening silence, the sounds of Sajeela’s presence resonate everywhere – in a flowerpot decorated with a golden marker, paper cut flowers inside a vase, a heap of clothes recently sewn for herself and her sister.

Since her death in the blast that claimed the lives of 13 other girls, her parents fight with the pangs of pain and loss every day.

Her mother, Seema Gul, can only say “I don’t know how I lived through this.” She smiles only when showing proudly her daughter’s picture journal and poetry she wrote for assassinated political leader, Benazir Bhutto.

Though young at the time, Sajeela keenly participated in preparations for BB’s visit to Quetta in 2007. “She was very active. I wanted to see her sit still for a while and relax. But she used to get angry if I insisted.”

Her father Shahjahan shares stories of how she taught the neighbourhood kids. She would take up a new cause, be interested in a new profession every day.

Things will never be the same again. “I still can’t get over how someone could attack a girl. It ruined our family. We may move on but inside, we are ruined,” Shahjahan says slowly.

No one wants to talk about the attack itself much. But when they do speak of Sajeela amongst themselves, they reminisce fondly.

Shahjahan wants to remember her the way he saw her a day before she died: With a bowl full of fresh water and a sponge ready to give him a facial massage. The family still laughs at the memory, as they remember how Sajeela applied cream to his face. “He looked at me helplessly,” says Seema, “to help him out. But he couldn’t say no to her.”

Shahjahan’s father moved from Batgram in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to Quetta, in 1942. The family stayed put during the increased violence against settlers in Balochistan in recent history. But what happened now goes beyond his understanding: “Whether it is an attack on Hazaras or Baloch or a Pashtun or a Punjabi like me, the FC cannot control it. Their posting is just a formality.”

Sitting in the middle of the room, Sajeela’s grandfather, a man with drooping shoulders, is pleased at being interviewed by a girl his granddaughter’s age.

He repeatedly inquires whether we have had enough to eat or drink, and Seema reassures him that we have already eaten. He calls for juice anyway, lecturing everyone for not taking care of his “daughters.”

Smiling, he hands me a Rs.20 note and asks me to buy something for myself. He puts his hand over my head, saying, “I’m so happy to see you. You remind me of my angel…” and cries. – By Saher Baloch

Railway Station: The shining days

A historical photo displayed outside the Quetta Railway Station shows, a black turbaned Pashtoon tribesman pushing a cart carrying two Englishmen at the mountainous Khojak Pass, near the Afghan border. The photo dates back to 1889, when British rulers initiated a massive project to dig a four km long tunnel at the Pass. Within three years, they succeeded in developing a tunnel that stretched all the way to the Afghan border. In today’s Quetta, it would be impossible to think of the word construction, a lone tribesman and two Englishmen without a convoy of security detail.

Blurred with years of dust, many photos like this one, inside the Railway Station are a grim reminder of happier days for its citizens, who currently live in a bitter present. They are so certain of an ever-present danger that no one spares a moment to take notice that once, this city thrived with life.

Only the aged Munawar Chacha there stubbornly reminisces of the “shining days of his Railway Station”. He has worked for the Railway all his life and holds on to these images as if to wipe clean the long shadows of what the city has become.

Learning from the devastating earthquake of 1936, its planners built the Railway Station earthquake-resistant, little knowing what would shake it irreversibly would be violence and terrorism.

Much like the train service though, the conditions around the station have suffered the ravages of time and terror.

An electronic watch, tin shades and iron chairs for awaiting passengers installed in 1939 are still intact, and once so thronged with visitors who flocked the colonial-era monument to relax and sip some kava, have now grown desolate.

The clock ticks on for those who need to know the time; but the few trains that arrive and depart and the passengers in them, are not among those. – By Syed Ali Shah

The kingdom of minerals and the walking beasts of Quetta

Hidden as a silent shadow and witnessing the violence that rules Quetta’s Sariab road, the Geological Survey of Pakistan Museum patiently awaits visitors who once frequented it. The museum houses large varieties of minerals – minerals that might have brought fortunes but instead tore apart its once harmonious multicultural life.

On the face of it, it would be hard to believe that it is the oldest and largest Earth Sciences museum in the country. It has a remarkable collection of geological and palaeontological samples, along with ancient fossils dating as far back as 500 million years.

The mineral kingdom

Of the numerous minerals explored in different parts of Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular, more than 102 mineral samples are on display here. “Before the independence in 1947, only five minerals were explored”, well-known geologist Nazar-ul-Islam said.

Among the samples, there is a collection of the Saindak Copper-Gold project, the Reko Diq project and the Dudar project that have also been put on display. But most of these projects have had a big share of space in the mainstream media for all the wrong reasons. These were originally housed here for the benefit of students, researchers and academics.

Islam adds, “People must know what is available in our country.”

Under what agreement these large tracts of land, holding a treasure of mineral resources, are leased to foreign companies and why, is anyone’s guess.

Walking with beasts

The Director of the Geological Survey of Pakistan, Syed Afzal Ahmed explained that the exhibit includes remnants of the giant Baluchitherium or ‘the beast of Balochistan’, a 25-million-year-old land mammal, a 47-million-year-old ‘walking’ whale and a collection of meteorite fragments.

The GSP recovered the fossils of the Baluchitherium in Dera Bugti 10 years ago. “The Baluchitherium is the largest ever mammal on earth,” Ahmed reveals.

The museum has seven galleries, each exploring vast arrays of gems, fossils and astrogeology. The Vertebrate Paleontology gallery displays the first-ever dinosaur fossils recovered nine years ago in the Dukki area of the Loralai district in Balochistan.

Even though all the galleries at the GSP Museum offer a quarry of information on prehistoric times, the Invertebrate Paleontology gallery in particular, significantly showcases a large collection of extinct marine fossil specimens, as old as 540 million years. A portion of this gallery is dedicated to an impressive collection of the Ammonites fossils.

The fossils of the walking whale are also displayed inside this gallery. They were recovered in the Kingri area of the Musa Khail district, Nazar ul Islam said.

The GSP museum features a fascinating fossil collection of dinosaurs and meteorites, offering great insight into the catastrophic event that led to the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Apart from the GSP museum, the Balochistan government has also established a museum on Spini road in Quetta as homage to the history and heritage of the ancient civilizations that had settled in the province.

A tale retold

Historian, Noor Khan Muhammad Hassani says that the McMohan museum was established in Quetta during the British rule in 1906. British officers and their families would visit the museum, mostly on Sunday evenings. The museum is said to have had a spectacular display of primeval coins.

“It was extremely well-maintained,” Hassani said. However, the museum was razed to the ground in the Balochistan earthquake in 1935.

After the devastation of what is now termed one of the deadliest earthquakes that hit South Asia, the British rulers dispatched most of the antique collections to Calcutta.

The artifacts are still there. “The government has yet to play its role in bringing them back,” Hassani said.

The lost civilization of Mehrgargh

Mehrgarh in Balochistan’s Sibbi is one of the most important Neolithic sites in archaeology; it has the oldest ceramic figurines in South Asia to its credit. Intricate pottery and metallurgy are among the other artifacts recovered here.

According to French archaeologists, historical evidence of early dentistry has also been discovered in the area.

“Balochistan is witness to the exquisite history of humanity,” Hassani adds.

But all this remains a forgotten, yet wondrous shadow of what it could have been.

The kingdom of minerals, the walking beasts and the exquisite history of Balochistan awaits visitors, the few who can make it through the blood soaked Sariyab Road of Quetta. – By Syed Ali Shah

Christian Cemetery: Peace amid unrest

Here, in the heart of Quetta, is a piece of land oblivious to the insecurity around it. Visible through a barricade from the Ordinance Road, a 150-year-old Christian graveyard sits peacefully.

From afar, the graveyard looks spacious and clean upon entering, however, one realises that it is overcome with congestion.

Falling in the cantonment area, seeking permission to enter the graveyard warranted a long and tedious process from intelligence agency officials. When we were finally allowed, we were also asked to keep in mind the national security and sovereignty of the state while writing this report.

One section of the graveyard has tombstones that have the year 1860 written on them, some even earlier. Parallel to this section, lie graves of people buried recently. A pastor, requesting not to be named, informs us that apart from the British army soldiers, those who are buried here include doctors, as well as the victims of the great earthquake of 1935 in Quetta.

As I walked amongst the beautifully constructed 18th century winged memorial sculptures of angels, placed between rows of Celtic cross headstones, I felt a serene, natural aspect at play; a respectful silence. The occasional whistling of the military guard would break this silence, every time I leaned in to read an epitaph. 'Don't get too close', his whistle screamed.

Built at the turn of the 18th century, the Christian graveyard is one of the oldest in the city. Souhan Masih, the former caretaker of the graveyard, says that there are only two Christian cemeteries in all of Quetta – one on Ordinance Road and the other on Zarghon Road, linked with Baleli Road.

“That one is 200 years old. It is derelict and currently under the authority of the army,” says Mr Souhan, adding that the Gora Qabristan is only used to bury infants. Most of the adults are brought to this cemetery.

With a population of over a hundred thousand, the Christian community in Quetta mostly belong to the areas of Yahunabad, the Christian Town on Samungli Road, Essa Nagri on Brewery Road, the Municipal Corporation Colony and Basti Punchayat on Kasi Road. Some reside at the Railway Colony.

While Mr Souhan insists that Quetta is a “heaven for Christians” with no conflict whatsoever, he does mention the community’s grudge against the authorities.

“By rule, Gora Qabristan does not come under the ownership of the army, yet they have taken over control,” he says irritably.

With a heavy military presence at the gates and surrounding areas of the Christian graveyard, non-Christians are discouraged from entering. Even Christians, however, when going in for burials are harassed for the “precise information” of their purpose of visiting the graveyard.

To avoid these stand ups, people often submit a written application to the authorities, at times a day before the burial. If they’re lucky, it can take about six hours to seek permission for a burial, he says.

At the gates, military men usually ask for a service card along with an identity card to grant permission to enter the cemetery. “If they are not in a good mood, then they ask for a license, and at times, a signed letter by a military higher-up. And they don’t let us enter until we produce one,” adds Mr Souhan. Hence, once inside, people who come for burials do not linger on, no matter how grieved. Instead they are in hurry to complete the process and leave.

Similarly, Mr Souhan adds that Gora Qabristan is completely closed and opens up only if a child has to be buried. “There is no cleanliness there, no plantation, just weeds everywhere. If you complain about it, the authorities get angry, as if we are not supposed to complain.”

This is among the reasons why the Christian graveyard is getting congested. During his regime, military dictator General Zia ul Haq allotted a three-acre land for Christian burials. Over the years, that land filled up, and place is now running out.

Ironically, it may also be that partly because of the military presence the graveyard has survived this long.

Locals informed us that a few sculptures’ heads had been knocked off and sold in the market, to be later used for “sharpening knives.” To curb these desecrations, the authorities tightened regulations for the locals coming there for burials.

However, Mr Souhan feels that this is something that the caretaker and the community can resolve amongst themselves. “We know there can be problems of this sort but we are capable of handling them ourselves, without the needless harassment of the authorities,” he says.

While the submerging sectarian and ethnic strife has not affected the Christian community yet, Mr Souhan wonders if it will continue to be the same.

“One often hears of incidents against minorities from across Pakistan, but being in Quetta, the only thing I know about the future, is that I don’t know,” he smiles politely. – By Saher Baloch

Balochistan’s Hindus: Migrating to safety

Over the years, Hindus, who make up a good majority in Balochistan, as compared to other religious minorities, are gradually migrating to safer places as abductions for ransom are increasing in most parts of the province.

The community involved in trade and business is scattered across the province, living in areas like, Mastung, Khuzdar, Kalat, Sibi and Quetta. Over the years, it is the same areas and a few more like Dera Murad Jamali and Dera Allah Yar from where an exodus towards Karachi, Punjab and India has been seen, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) researcher in Quetta, Shams ul Haq, informs.

But those who seek asylum in India don’t have it that easy as papers of most Hindu families either await decision or have been rejected. At times, this happens on grounds of determining “authenticity of a case, Haq said, adding that other factors, including the shaky ties between the two countries, also come into play”.

The HRCP Karachi informs that so far 50 Hindu families have settled around the outskirts of the metropolis. Some have moved bag and baggage, while others still have a link with Balochistan due to their businesses.

Haq said most Hindus were not so vulnerable to threat before, but mentions one exception. “When the Babri Mosque was torn down in the 1990s, two Hindu children were torched in the middle of a bazaar in the province with the consent of a sitting MNA at the time. It created a furore and many people from the community scurried out of Balochistan to protect their children. That MNA is still a politician.”

A journalist, fiction writer and an active spokesperson for the rights of Hindus, Shaam Kumar, said contrary to news reports, abductions for ransom started in 1997 “under the supervision of sardars and political leaders”.

“There are organised criminal gangs, having backing and protection from political and tribal leaders, who are involved in abductions of wealthy Hindus. It started back then, but has gained momentum now.”

Born and brought up in Sindh, Kumar has spent 45 years of his life in Balochistan. He said the tribal leaders for most part of Balochistan’s history were “secular in nature”. Leaders like Khair Baksh Marri, Ataullah Mengal, Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo and Mehmood Khan Achakzai were open minded and did not intimidate members of the community on account of their faith, he says.

Kumar lamented that Bizenjo and Marri were no more and that Mengal no longer had it in him to exercise his influence in the matter. He further said that although Achakzai is currently in a better position, the PkMap chief may not be able to handle such matters by himself.

Along side the abductions, a few incidents were reported from the province’s Quetta, Mastung and Kalat areas in which young girls were forcefully converted. “The cases are relatively lower here than in Sindh, but have been occurring nonetheless,” Kumar adds.

About the migration of Hindu community members from Balochistan to other parts of the country and abroad, Kumar says: “We were born here and we’ll die for our province too. Just because of a few selfish and insolent people, we have to leave our own soil and settle in a strange land.” – By Saher Baloch

Reporting from the blind alley

So brutally tortured it was, that it took an excruciating twenty four hours for Abdul Razzaq’s family to identify his body. They had found it a day after it was dumped in Surjani Town.

Apart from being aligned with a political party, Razzaq was working as a reporter for a Balochi language newspaper, the Daily Tawar in Karachi.

Activist Qadeer Baloch has had him on his list of missing persons since March 24, 2013. No one knows who killed Razzaq. Or, maybe nobody wants to push their luck trying to find out.

At a considerable distance from Karachi but not unlike it, journalists in Quetta have to factor in many things before they can report on incidents in the province. Besides, political correctness usually gets in the way of an honest analysis of the alarming state of news reporting in Balochistan.

So far this year, at least six journalists have been killed in Pakistan, four of them from Balochistan alone. A workshop held last year in Quetta reported the killings of 22 journalists in the line of duty there. The figure does not include the recent recovery of the bodies of Baloch journalists in Karachi.

If it is not luck, then it is the tribe that saves some journalists in the province. For most, the job has become almost too oppressive to continue, while others trudge along despite uncertainty and threats because it pays the bills.

Zaibdar Marri, a district correspondent for the Express news channel and newspaper, is one of only two journalists currently working from Kohlu. Having worked in the area for five years now, he has “devised a plan” to avert attacks.

“I live in the middle of a congested bazaar and am on good terms with everyone there. At times, if I’m gone for a few hours, I get calls from worried shopkeepers or neighbours,” he adds. “I am constantly checked up on.”

Additionally, he makes sure not to venture out too far from the district. “Either I don’t share my schedule with anyone, or lie about it. If nothing else, I have become a very good liar,” he says smiling.

When it comes to news reporting, Zaibdar knows there are certain things he cannot write about. He once wrote a story that had a brief mention of the working of the paramilitary forces in Kohlu.

The report was in no way aimed at maligning the forces, and was a follow-up on the number of skirmishes in the area, between the forces and militants. Just a day after the report was published, he was stopped on his way to a press conference.

“I was asked all sorts of questions: Why was I suspicious of the forces, what would I get by writing like that, and so on. The delay caused me to miss the press conference. So I asked them to speak to my editors but they refused, instead they held me for another hour.”

Apart from the paramilitary forces, Zaibdar also receives phone calls from extremist groups.

“It can be anything, really. Either because they’re feeling neglected or that I have given more prominence to the paramilitary’s version. Arguing in such cases can cost you your life.”

To avoid receiving a call from extremist groups, Zaibdar ensures writing “balanced reports”, at times even carefully comparing the number of references he makes about paramilitary forces and the extremist groups, to even them out.

A tumultuous journey

The Mehrdar Institute of Research and Publication, an independent non-governmental organisation in its 2012 annual issue on Media in Balochistan narrates the tumultuous journey of the media in the province.

The Monthly Balochistan Adviser was one of the first newspapers to be published from the province in 1888; oddly it was full of advertisements. Gazettes and newspapers that followed were of the same variety, focusing solely on advertisements than local news.

Even though initially most newspapers like the Border Weekly News, Balochistan Gazette and Daily Gazette were in English, there was a gradual shift towards Urdu becoming the main language for news.

The main focus then also became doing away with actual news about the promotion and demotion of military personnel, and instead gave space to literary columns.

During the pre-partition era, some journalists opposed British rulers through their writings on the plight of the underprivileged in the province. This did not go unpunished by Baloch jirgas, they were accused of spreading “anarchy in the province”. While those who wrote in praise of the British were revered as heroes.

Nawab Yusuf Ali Magsi was among the prominent journalists of the time, who while being admired by the people for his courage was hated by the British and Baloch rulers.

Until 1937, since no press act had been implemented in Balochistan, many newspapers were launched and later shut down due to a lack of funds. Newspapers that were launched post-partition, however, are still in business.

At present, there are many local newspapers in the province, but as Zaibdar mentions, not all of them can independently write about the prevailing situation.

In order to get the news out, many publishing houses stationed outside of Balochistan try to play their role in imparting information from around the world to the public. However, this has given rise to a whole new set of issues in the industry: a serious dearth of understanding of the problems in Balochistan, by journalists and editors working in other provinces.

In the same publication, Malik Siraj Akbar, editor-in-chief of an online (and presently banned) news website Baloch Hal, writes: “It has become evident with time that the national press is devoid of news from Balochistan. And at the same time, is the news that does get published, accurately portraying the emotions and plight of the people?”

He goes on to state that there are two categories of newspapers being published in the province at present: Those, that would do anything to stay in business even if it meant putting up advertisements at the risk of losing out on local news. And those, who while publishing local stories, receive tremendous pressure from the government which often results in the closure of entire publications.

Giving an example, he spoke of the Urdu daily, Asaap, so continually harassed by paramilitary forces for its reporting on local issues until the publication announced shutting down its offices for good.

Ayub Tareen, a reporter working with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Urdu since 1998, admits that, “It is very difficult to work here.”

Just a year ago, Tareen was immediately relocated to Islamabad by his organisation, after receiving threats by the militant group Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).

Tareen also admits that most international news agencies in the region don’t usually support their reporters, unlike his organisation.

He now suffers from a stress induced heart condition following the constant upheavals in his professional life.

Speaking in retrospect, his eyes lit up when he mentioned his first days on the job. “There was a strange passion, an insatiable drive in searching for the best possible story.”

“It wasn’t until much later that I realised just how difficult reporting from Balochistan is.

“Not only does stating the facts isolate you here, the job comes with making more enemies than friends. Worse than the accumulated pressure from the government and militants is the realisation that some of your colleagues work hand in glove with the same elements,” he explains.

It is this fear of being ‘reported’ by one of his own colleagues that Mohammad Zaman Gorgaij, a district correspondent with the Jang newspaper and Geo News, keeps a very low profile. He faces different problems – every story of his filed on the security situation or the recovered dead bodies has been dropped without an explanation.

“I have stopped filing those stories now. Instead, I report on local issues more. However, the problem with that too is that local issues are almost always connected to growing security concerns in the province. This just leaves most of us in quite a quandary,” he explains. Understandably Zaman also prefers print over television. “I get more visibility on the TV and hence, can not openly speak openly.

But despite all odds, Online International News Network Bureau Chief Irshad Mastoi is adamant on taking a firm stand against the militants, as well as the government.

Having lost his right arm in an accident a few years ago, Mastoi says mischievously: “I’ve been electrocuted by 11,000 watts of electricity, I fear nothing.” – By Saher Baloch

Summing up:

For past many years, professors, lawyers and doctors have moved to different cities of Pakistan in order to protect themselves from the recent onslaught against Punjabi and Urdu speaking settlers. During the last leg of the trip, we spoke to a professor at the Brahvi department of Balochistan University. Following is his take on the over all situation in the province and how things are not exactly how they appear.