Over the decades, the situation in Balochistan has transformed a lot for all the wrong reasons.

The policymakers of the country have not done much for the region and, in a similar vein, neither have researchers nor writers done any remarkable work for the purpose of initiating a constructive and healthy debate surrounding Balochistan’s issues. As a journalist from the province, having read several books on Balochistan, I have started to believe in the fact that most works are, one way or another, a rhetorical rehashing of the same old discussions.

As a result, no new knowledge is disseminated despite ‘new’ books being churned out fairly frequently. They all repeat the same reservations about the region’s resources, exploitation, deprivation and other economic and political woes. And, unlike foreign authors and researchers, the problem with most local authors is that their writings lack substantial research — which is why, instead of new information or insight being generated, they continue to repeat the claims that already exist, simply expanding upon them here and there.

As is a known fact, the question of Balochistan is still unresolved. It is a question political in nature and it needs to be dealt with politically in the corridors of power. Unfortunately, throughout the political history of the country, Balochistan’s question has been dealt from day one through the use of force. Because of this, Balochistan has been witnessing uprisings, piece by piece, during various times in its history. As a result, the situation has evolved into a kind of huge, immovable, solid mass that acts as an obstruction on the path of peace, prosperity and development at all levels.

In my attempt to comprehensively understand the question of why Balochistan continues to flounder, I got my hands on The Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan: Emergences and Dimensions by Jan Mohammad Dashti, a retired bureaucrat and well known Baloch writer, who has put considerable effort into promoting Balochi literature. The title of the book was promising, the author known to be deeply steeped in the affairs of the region. Perhaps now we could get some worthwhile answers.

Dashti’s book speaks volumes about his people and his province and the mistreatment meted out to both. He brings to light the periodic uprisings that have shaken the region since 1948, and attributes them to the deep discontent among the Baloch people, a discontent that is “fairly widespread in Balochi literature and folk traditions.”

A book on the thorny issue of Balochistan’s underdevelopment by a Baloch former bureaucrat, writer and politician, despite his extraordinary knowledge, promises more than it delivers

For all its promise, though, the beginning chapters were kind of a disappointment, the reason being that, while the book is titled “The Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan”, there is no discussion of it in the first half. The title is misleading, as the contents digress from what one expects. Instead of this specific struggle, we get to read about general matters on nation, state and nationalism.

The author expounds on topics of political science, the Two-Nation Theory and other subjects from the wider range of Pakistan’s affairs and, while one may concede that these initial chapters are somewhat informative, there is no dearth of such literature already authored by distinguished scholars and academics. As such, they are not as gripping or attention-grabbing as one would want, bearing the context of the book in mind. Here, it would be pertinent to mention Salman Rafi Sheikh’s book titled The Genesis of Baloch Nationalism: Politics and Ethnicity in Pakistan, 1947-1977, wherein his research documents Baloch nationalism within the state of Pakistan over a period of 30 years from independence. Unlike Sheikh, Dashti’s book fails to stay true to its titled purpose.

This is the major problem with local authors, even when they possess extraordinary knowledge of their subject. In Dashti’s case, he settles into his main theme much later, contextualising it within a comparatively bigger picture with some eye-opening revelations. Very gradually and slowly, the book opens up into the wider context of the Baloch national struggle.

After more than halfway through the book, Dashti takes on the last ruler of the Kalat state, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan Baloch, for his double-standards approach at various points in history. For example, on the subject of the One-Unit system, Dashti writes, “In the beginning, [Khan] was instrumental in bringing the One-Unit system, which he later began to condemn”, but he does not give any explanations for Khan’s change of stance. The author continues to make a critical examination of Khan in several further instances, explaining how Khan was less interested in the welfare of the Baloch and in their political participation, and more interested in securing his own position. To give a nod to this book, this sort of critical analysis is not to be found in most other books on Balochistan.

Dashti presents his rationale as to why the Baloch people have been unable to contribute to the development process of their own province: they are alienated because they are deliberately kept out of any decision-making process.

Because of a lack of full-fledged political parties, the Baloch people have not had proper political representation in the country. As for the National Awami Party (NAP), Baloch nationalists consider it to have been dominated by Pakhtun nationalists, despite the inclusion of notable Baloch leaders at the time. The party the Baloch do claim worked for their representation is the Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO), founded in 1967 and which had leftist leanings. Dashti gives due space to the BSO’s rise and fall in his book.

Having long served in the high echelons of the provincial bureaucracy, the author is aware of how little due representation and share in the bureaucracy is given to members of his own ethnicity. As the situation stands, the contributions of the bureaucracy itself towards the province have been meagre. According to Dashti, officers engaged in the federal bureaucracy are promoted to grade 20 upon completing 15 years in service. On the other hand, officers in the provincial cadres are — for the same period of services rendered — only promoted from grade 17 to grade 18.

Before going to his concluding chapter, Dashti presents his rationale as to why the Baloch people, as a whole, have been unable to contribute to the overall development process of their own province. In one brief sentence he sums it up: they are alienated because they are deliberately kept out of any decision-making process.

Towards the end of the book, Dashti briefly discusses Baloch politics, which have always been topsy-turvy. He says it like it is, in a critical and forthright examination. But he does exaggerate the role of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) to some extent, extolling its virtues at the expense of other political parties in the province. Dashti is affiliated with the BNP-M, having contested the 2018 elections from the party’s platform and, consequently, his complimentary account of the BNP-M overshadows his research.

The Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan channels different aspects of the province’s issues through the one lens of its unresolved national question, and so one may conclude that, while it may not be very useful to readers seeking precise answers to the Baloch question, it would be of interest to casual readers interested in the general affairs of the province. The question itself remains unresolved.g

The reviewer is a member of staff. He tweets @Akbar_notezai

The Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan: Emergences and Dimensions
By Jan Mohammad Dashti
Kalat Publisher, Quetta
ISBN: 978-9698025427
318pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 29th, 2020

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