MORE than 45 years ago, Jamil Ahmed, a young civil servant posted in the border areas of Balochistan, started writing a novel based on his experiences. The Wandering Falcon came out when Ahmed was 78, long after he retired after serving as the chief secretary of Balochistan. The ‘wandering falcon’ or Tor Baz of the title is a dapper young Baloch wanderer who is a witness to random atrocities but usually has no role in them.
Tor Baz, is a fascinating character — sometimes a hustler, sometimes a saviour, never at the centre of the story, ‘familiar but unknowable’, as a reviewer wrote. He is the kind of person who does not wield a dagger but is grateful if asked to wipe the blood off the floor after the dagger has been put to use.
Jamil Ahmed, in one of the very few editorial asides in the novel, wrote: “There was complete and total silence about the Baluch, their cause, their lives and their deaths. No newspaper editor risked punishment on their behalf. Typically, Pakistani journalists sought salve for their conscience by wrongs done to men in South Africa, in Indonesia, in Palestine and in the Philippines — not to their own people.”
Reading about the minor controversy over adman and seasonal politician Mr Javed Jabber’s nomination to the 10th NFC and his stance — one didn’t ask for it but one deserves it, actually one has earned it — it occurred to me that JJ is a bit of an urban wandering falcon, sporting a suit and wielding a cigar, appearing and disappearing at the crucial junctures of our history, familiar yet unknowable. A pioneer adman and filmmaker and writer of many books, he served with Benazir Bhutto as well as her tormentor General Pervez Musharraf.
About his nomination to NFC, JJ is honest enough to admit that ‘one is not an economist’. But his only qualification for representing Balochistan is that he is not from Balochistan. Yes, a bureaucrat from Punjab will represent KP, if he had this minor qualification of serving as KP’s finance secretary.
JJ has many more qualifications. Few men devoted to learning and serving in Pakistan have achieved as much as Javed Jabbar has. Politicans like Sheikh Rashid and Yusuf Raza Gillani have written books, but only when they were in jail and had nothing better to do. JJ has written 11 of them without ever stepping into a jail compound. Which writer has had their books endorsed by Dr Eqbal Ahmed as well as that other great literary critic late President Farooq Leghari and also by someone called Ferry de Kerchecv, a Canadian high commissioner to Pakistan? Aspiring writers take note, this is how you should roll.
His last book was called Pakistan: Unique Origins, Unique Destiny; if you haven’t read it, it’s your loss. Urdu translation is also available, if you have trouble following complex ideas in English.
Why would a man as accomplished as him accept a position for which he is not qualified, but also many people from Balochistan find his nomination suspicious. Maybe all he wants is a seat on the table. Doesn’t matter what table, don’t care what chair, just get me in the room, as Don Draper of advertisement drama Mad Men used to say. JJ doesn’t even care which room.
Balochistan government is not even competent enough to give reasons for his nominations. So one has to speak for them and give us reasons. His inique reason: “45 per cent of the territorial dimension of my national identity is derived from Balochistan!”
More than the percentage it is the exclamation mark that is scary. Is it something that just occurred to him? You wake one morning and say “hip, hip hurray, one is 45 per cent Baloch”. Maybe one can also claim that one’s gender dimension of national identity is 51 per cent woman, or all of us are a fraction of a fraction of Jahangir Tareen.
JJ’s CV also claims that he has had an association with Balochistan for 45 years. Anybody who claims to have served Balochistan for 45 years should take a glance at today’s Balochistan and wonder maybe I should have stayed away. Instead JJ is asking why can’t he have another go? Even his former boss Gen Musharraf who was very keen to have another go has given up.
But JJ has other qualifications: ‘one remains familiar with care for the orphaned and abandoned children of Balochistan’. For a moment, I hoped that maybe he wanted to write abducted children of Balochistan, but then you realise you might accuse the man of anything but never of misspelling.
Even the incompetent residents of Balochistan probably remember that Jabbar had a seat on the table with Musharraf who threatened to kill Akbar Bugti on live TV and then went ahead and did it. The insurgency that followed gave Balochistan a whole new generation of orphans. Some are still confused about being orphans as they don’t even know if their fathers are dead or just missing.
That’s our state at its best: first make them orphans and then send in a suave man, a compassionate man to heal their wounds.
But I personally understand JJ’s sense of entitlement. One has often felt that one should be appointed the health minister or at least the director of Jinnah hospital because once one wrote a moderately successful novel about a nurse.
If JJ did really take a glance at today’s Balochistan, he might notice that Pakistani armed forces are routinely targeted, migrant labourers are killed in brutal attacks, Hazaras are made to live in an open jail and educated and uneducated Baloch young men either take to the mountains or are disappeared.
It’s often said that Balochistan has immense economic potential, its mountains and rugged planes holding gold and minerals and other potential goodies that can transform not just Balochistan but the entire country. People of Balochistan often complain that Pakistan wants its natural gas and gold and minerals but has no interest in its people. Last two NFC awards failed to reach any agreements. For the 10th award, the person representing Balochistan doesn’t have to be a native but at least should have the requisite qualifications to fight its case and some passion to realise Balochistan’s economic potential for the benefit of its people.
But maybe it’s not about Balochistan, it’s about our enlightened entitlement. Just get us in the room with the big boys. There is that big little troubled place called Balochistan, yes. But then didn’t Jamil Ahmed say: nobody cares.
If the state really wants to utilise JJ’s many talents, make him our chief image builder on the international stage, get him to rebrand the country, if anyone can make Madina ki riasat look sexy, it’s him. Let some nerdy economist with a proven record of loyalty to Balochistan haggle around the NFC table.
Regardless of continuation with the NFC, my personal esteem for JJ and his Unique Origins, Unique Destiny is forever! Even that exclamation mark is inspired by him.
The writer is a senior journalist and author
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020