It may be by turns disgusting and refreshing to see the ongoing debate in the electronic media over the political situation in Balochistan. It is disgusting because often the anchor person on a TV talk show displays more than palatable ignorance of the issues at stake; it is refreshing because never before dissident voices were given such an open forum from which to put across their points of view.

It can be argued that the electronic news media in Pakistan has yet to come of age, especially when it comes to responsible reporting and holding a logical debate on current affairs. But some kudos is due to the media for the latest coverage of the political situation in Balochistan, which, despite its tardiness and inadequacies has crushed a number of myths and challenged some longstanding notions.

Dissident Baloch nationalists like Brahamdagh and Talal Bugti, Akhtar Mengal and Harbiyar Marri are these days seen speaking their minds on TV, challenging the many half truths non-Baloch Pakistanis have been fed over the years by a civil-military establishment that the Bloch nationalists blame for their woes.

This is a part of the country where disappearances of young Baloch men and then appearance of their tortured and bullet-riddled bodies have become the norm. The highest court in the land is seized of the matter for a few years now, without having made much of a dent in the working of the security forces whom the Baloch leaders accuse of carrying out the like atrocities against their people. Those targeted include mostly young men, students and dissident party workers.

There’s no telling who will get picked up when and where, say the dissidents. Baloch nationalists hurry to draw a comparison of what’s happening in their midst with the situation in the Valley in Kashmir and with the last days of the former East Pakistan — not entirely without merit. Reprisal attacks by armed wings of Baloch nationalist parties on non-Baloch residents, foreigners and state installations complete the picture of a full blown insurgency. Yet, the unfolding events and the reasons behind them continue to be under-reported.

The Baloch leaders holding forth on TV own the truth that many sardars in Balochistan are responsible for keeping their own people in abject poverty through resistance to building basic communications, education and health care services infrastructure in their respective areas. But it is also true, they point out, that this is only half the truth because despite the so-called insurgency in Balochistan, Islamabad continues to do business with a majority of such sardars who sit in the provincial assembly and occupy coveted ministries in Quetta and Islamabad.

They say that there is no finger pointing at those sardars who act as the ‘stooges’ of the federal government, and who are just as responsible for keeping their people in ignorance and poverty as the rest who have been driven to taking up arms. The sad fact is that in the worst of times as these days, the historical pattern of patronising and bolstering up one group of sardars against another continues by the powers that be.

The ordinary Baloch and non-Baloch residents with divided loyalties just bear the brunt of the violence perpetrated from both sides; sadder still, violence resorted to by state functionaries, the intelligence and security apparatus, is totally disproportionate to that practised by armed dissident groups. The civil-military establishment is still able to work the sinister system because the sardars can be bought and sold. A major contradiction is that today’s dissidents come with family names that took turns doing the Centre’s bidding in the past — against one another. They having vacated the field, now a whole new crop of sardars is at play.

However, another key contradiction that Baloch nationalist leaders now rightly point out pertains to the backwardness of the areas in the province which are not beholden to a feudal, tribal sardari system. The vast region of Makran readily comes to mind, where despite the development of a modern seaport at Gwadar, for instance, no public development projects have been launched for the uplift of the ordinary Baloch to show them that the old sardars instigating them to rebellion mean them no good. People in these areas too report missing persons and find bodies of their loved ones riddled with bullets.

The state really has little defence in the face of such critical contradictions, which reveal total apathy to the condition of the people of Balochistan. Add to this the disappearances of Baloch youth, leaders and their mutilated bodies, and you have what you have: a rebellion against injustice with a popular appeal.

These well-founded grievances need to be heard by the Pakistani public, and the media is doing well to mainstream the dissident Baloch leaders albeit a bit late in the day.

Unfortunately, the precarious situation on ground does not permit TV crews to be there and bring documentary coverage of the actual situation and happenings. And ensconced in their ruling privileges, those in the Balochistan government remain equally apathetic to the woes of those who elect them.

The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.

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