Author Archives: Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Sajid Baloch, 22, is holding on to two books: In the Shadow of History, a compilation of scholar Dr Mubarak Ali’s articles, and In Search of Solutions: An Autobiography of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. Hailing from the Kech district of Balochistan, Sajid is studying history at the University of Balochistan in Quetta. He has come to Book Point, a bookstore located on campus, hoping to cajole its owner Mohammad Essa to give him a discount.
Essa, a pleasant-natured 35-year-old who wears a cap to hide his bald spots, agrees to give Sajid a 25 per cent discount. The bookstore’s owner says he has a special affinity for students hailing from Makran division, of which Kech is also a part. A large number of his customers come from there and he often gives them special concessions. Though he doesn’t say it, he seems grateful to students like Sajid who have kept him in business.
Many bookshops in the city, such as Newsweek Time Bookland on the affluent Jinnah Road locality, haven’t been as fortunate.
At the age of 72, Sohail Ahmed has a childlike smile. He owns one of the oldest bookshops in Quetta: New Quetta Bookstall, established in 1936. Banks have offered him as much as half a million rupees a month in rent for the premises, but he refuses to shut his store. “Saleem Bukhari, the owner of Newsweek Time Bookland, used to tell me not to close my bookshop at any cost,” he recalls. “But he himself gave up and now wants to sell his shop!”
Ahmed then adds as an afterthought, “What else could he (Bukhari) do? He had become senile, one of his sons settled in England and the other in Lahore, his wife also passed away.” But more importantly, there was no money to be made.
These days, Ahmed says, hardly any customers come to his bookshop despite the fact it is situated on Quetta’s main Jinnah Road which is in the center of city.
Ahmed, however, has persisted for a number of reasons. New Quetta Bookstall was founded by his father, Mohammad Ayub, before Partition. And with Ahmed’s son now taking over, the bookstore is part of their family legacy. The bookstore is also a place for Ahmed’s friends and old colleagues to socialise. Even then, the temptation to give in to offers from banks is never too far. “Had it not been my own shop, I would not have been able to run it. I would have shut it down a long time ago.”
Ahmed’s son Ali and two other employees are having a discussion in one corner of the single-storey bookstore. No customers walk into the store during the hour that I spend there on a bright June afternoon. “Students from different parts of Balochistan would regularly visit my shop,” explains Ahmed. “Now they hardly come. Rather, they do not come at all.”
The shrinking clientele of bookstores is attributed to the supposed decline in the culture of reading in Balochistan, which in turn is attributed to the lack of libraries in the province.
There are only two functional libraries in the provincial capital: Quaid-e-Azam Library on Adalat Road in central Quetta and Umeed Public Library in Marriabad in the city’s east. Shamim, a bachelor’s student at Government Degree College on Sariab Road in southern Quetta, says he studies in the lawn of Children Hospital Quetta, but is often asked to leave by the hospital’s employees.
But, Imran Jattak, the senior librarian of Quaid-e-Azam Library, which opened earlier this year on Jinnah Road, does not agree with the assertion that people have stopped reading books. He says there are several libraries outside of Quetta and there is still great interest in books, particularly among students. He claims 500 to 600 students visit Quaid-e-Azam Library each day.
Ghulam Ali Baloch, the provincial secretary for culture, tourism and archives, admits the Quaid-e-Azam Library is so crowded that many cannot find a place to sit. He, however, insists the government is making an effort: “There are 16 functional libraries in the province, with 34 others under construction.”
Sajjad Hussain Changezi, 31, a columnist from the Hazara community of Quetta, says the younger members of the Hazara community are avid readers. The community is also running the Umeed Public Library. Changezi, however, feels people now prefer to read books on current affairs and politics as opposed to classic literature.
Dr Shah Mohammad Marri, the author of several books in Urdu, also feels the way people read has changed. “I don’t agree with the hypothesis of the death of reading culture,” says the 64-year-old who has around 4,000 books in his personal library. “Maybe you can change the format, like the internet and social media, which have now become the source of books, essays and newspapers. But it’s not that [the practice of] book reading has disappeared in Balochistan.”
How can Dr Marri be so confident of books being read in the province? He knows because he gets feedback on his own work. “People do read my books. They appreciate and criticize my books. They respond to me when they go through my books,” he says.
Still, he admits bookstores are having a difficult time surviving. He sees three reasons for their decline: deteriorating law and order, alternative sources for reading such as the internet, and the increasing price of books.
The writer is a staffer at daily Dawn (Herald)
Muhammad Akbar Notezai TFT Issue: 10 Jun 2016
Chinese engineer targeted in a bomb attack in Karachi
Muhammad Akbar Notezai TFT Issue: 29 Sep 2016
Muhammad Akbar Notezai reports on the origins, spiritual practices and contemporary concerns of the Zikri community in Balochistan
Zikris, who are predominantly Baloch, have been living in the southern part of Balochistan called Makran. Besides Makran, they also have settlements in Awaran, Khuzdar, Lasbela, Karachi, in the interior parts of Sindh and even in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan region. Unofficially, it is stated that the global population of Zikri Baloch is around 750, 000. Most reside in Balochistan proper.
They are simple, indigenous mountaineers, shepherds, and nomads – traditionally not very interested in the compartmentalisation of spiritual beliefs
Hakim Baloch, who is a prolific Baloch author and former chief secretary of Balochistan, tells me the Zikris came from Fatimid Egypt. In this version, they travelled through Iran and arrived on the Makran coast centuries ago. In a nutshell, he tells me, they were a Muslim sect and you could just as easily describe them as Shia or Sunni. For him, they are between the two.
“In all four provinces of Pakistan, the Zikri are present. And they could not move up ahead, because they just did not do invasions. Nor did they use war as a means of propagating their sect. They kept their beliefs to themselves. And to this day, they are the most peaceful society,” Hakim Baloch tells me.
He also added, “Though there was not communism during the old days, Malik (King) Mullah Murad, a Zikri leader, was something of a communist, because he would distribute equally the wealth, crops, etc, among paupers in Makran.”
According to some other writers, Zikri Baloch are followers of the Indian Sufi Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri. They further add that Jaunpuri founded the sect in the 15th century, when he claimed to be a Mahdi – a messianic reformer of Islam. However, it is also said that followers of the Zikri belief system flourished in the 16th century in Balochistan. “Simply put, Zikris are Baloch who belong to the Makran division of Balochistan,” Shah Mohammad Marri, a well-known Baloch historian, told this scribe. He went on to add, “They are pure Baloch, who are simple, indigenous mountaineers, shepherds, and nomads, who are traditionally not very interested in the compartmentalisation of spiritual beliefs.”
When I went through the writings of prominent Baloch political leader Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, he writes in 1981: “A Baloch who may have spent his life in the mountains and never visited a city is liberal in religious outlook.” And amongst the Baloch, he further writes, a single tribe is divided into two or more religious groups with somewhat different practices, but this has never strained relations among them. Moreover, he cited the example of the Zikri Baloch and Namazi Baloch (which is the term used by Zikris for their Sunni Baloch compatriots). He writes that their customs and practices are very similar, wherein it is quite possible that one brother in the same family is Zikri and another is Namazi.
As Zikris are predominantly found amongst the Baloch, they have peacefully and harmoniously lived side by side with Namazi Baloch. Historically, there has been little – if any – tension between them, except during the first major invasion of Zikri Baloch lands by Nasir Khan, the Khan of Kalat, from 1749 to 1795. It is not without reason that progressive writers dub him the most ‘fundamentalist’ ruler in the history of Balochistan – he chose to paint his conflict with the Zikris in religious colours.
Dr. Naimat Gichki, a Baloch intellectual and the author of a recently published book Baloch: In Search of Identity, tells me, “There was a conflict of interest between the Khan of Kalat and the the sardars of Kech, who were Zikris.” He further added: “Makran was ruled by many families: Hooths, Buledis, and ultimately Gichkis. So, Gichkis were last in the chain, and their rule coincided with the rule of Nasir Khan. Nasir Khan, during that time, was for the first time in history expanding his rule through what is today Balochistan. He came into conflict with different sardars who presumably did not take well to the idea of paying him taxes. So, he decided to fight them.”
He goes on: “Gichkis were a strong force and Gichk (associated with the Gichkis) in Panjgur and Makran, was richer than any other places of Balochistan, except Kachhi. Due to this, it was necessary for the Khan of Kalat to extract taxes from the Gichkis. On the instigation of mullahs, the Khan of Kalat attacked Makran. On the other hand, the Khan of Kalat himself also encouraged mullahs to propagate against Zikris and incite violence against them.”
As far as the Zikris’ beliefs are concerned, they say they do not harm anybody, as their religion is not a missionary one. Nor do they come into conflict with anything. That is why, they say, they have survived to this day.
“The Zikris’ religion and origin is unknown despite the fact that some researchers say that the founder of the sect either came from Attock (Punjab) or Hyderabad (India),” said Mr. Gichki, further stating: “In my estimate, it (Zikrism) is homegrown. The reason is that it is the belief of Zikri Baloch that Koh-e-Murad is the place where they received religious inspiration and all their places of worship are in Kech and Makran. So, in this context, one can argue that their origin is from Makran itself.”
Conservatives exerted pressure throughout Zia’s regime to declare the Zikri Baloch to be non-Muslims
It is also to be noted that Zikri Baloch and Namazi Baloch cannot be distinguished, when it comes to the language, customs, weddings, burials, etc. “Perhaps a few centuries back, one could even divide the Zikri and Namazi Baloch on the basis of sects and religions. Today, when you go to Makran, you cannot say who is Zikri or Namazi. A father is a Zikri, his son is a Namazi. There is intermarriage between them, too,” said Mr. Marri.
Mr. Naimat Gichki also opines: “I do not think that they have come from somewhere else. They belong here. In a nutshell, this belief flourished in the same area in Makran, and expanded into the rest of Balochistan up to the coastal areas around Karachi. Though a big chunk of the Zikris is living in Karachi, it is not that all of them migrated. Many of them are also indigenous to Karachi, Ormara, Gaddani.”
Hakim Baloch tells me: “Now, hatred has been created against Zikri Baloch that they are not Muslims. Previously, there was a bifurcation of ‘Zikri and Namazi’; now, it is ‘Zikri and Muslim’. Besides this, there are a lot of misgivings about them in the province.”
“In my opinion, Zikris are purely Baloch, and they are among the finest representatives of Baloch culture,” said Hakim Baloch.
On the 27th of Ramazan , Zikri Baloch say special prayers at Koh-e-Murad, which is considered to be a sacred place for them. “They are simply Muslims; with great affinity to Shiites. They are simple people, having four enemies. One is the wolf that attacks their live stocks; second is drought; third is the thief who steals from them; fourth is conflict among the tribes. And to prevent the last, they have a simpler set of beliefs,” said Shah Mohammad Marri. He went on, stating, “Their prime worship night is the 27th of Ramazan, and they all come to Koh-e-Murad from far-flung areas to perform their prayers. They claim that the Mahdi has already come, unlike Namazis.”
Back in 1977-88, during the dictatorial days of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Zikri Baloch also faced discrimination and assaults just like other religious minorities. Once Ahamdis were constitutionally declared non-Muslims by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after 1974, conservatives also exerted pressure throughout Zia’s regime to declare the Zikri Baloch to be non-Muslims in the same way.
“Yes, Zikri Baloch did face assaults at the hands of religious parties and state-sponsored mullahs. But local population in Turbat and Baloch as a whole and nation resisted it,” recalls Baloch historian Mr. Marri. “And to this day, mullahs and extremist forces with links to the state are trying their level best to segregate Zikris and then declare them a non-Muslim religious minority so that they hit them.”
Mr. Gichki highlighted other factors behind the pressure on Zikri Baloch in Zia’s regime. “Some mullahs tried to incite other Muslims in Makran and Balochistan to push Zikris into being a minority.” He went on to add, “Basically, it was used for election tactics because in Makran, the nationalists were winning. That was why the political parties and government in Islamabad thought that nationalists were winning with the support of Zikri Baloch, who have a great majority there. By cutting relations with Zikris, they were creating rifts so that nationalists lose.”
Ironically, with Zia gone, the problems of the Zikris were further compounded. They faced a tough time from violent extremist forces and fomer Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, on becoming Balochistan’s chief minister in 1988, protected them from violent extremists. Due to these reasons, his government faced extraordinary pressure from the right-wingers.
In 2014, six Zikris were shot dead in their place of worship, a Zikr-khana in Awaran district, by unidentified assailants. In the same year, Zikri passengers of a bus were also attacked in Khuzdar district of Balochistan. Seven of them were injured.
Besides these all, Zikri Baloch, in present times, have another concern – displacement due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route and related security measures.
CPEC originates from Gwadar, where there is a significant population of Zikris. Also, the CEPC route goes through Zikri settlements throughout Makran. Amanullah Baloch, who is an elder, educated Zikri Baloch leader, tells me: “Yes, the Zikri community resides in many areas where CPEC passes through – starting from Gwadar to Hoshab-East of Turbat (M8) on one side and Gwadar to Lasbella, as well as Awaran. There is no direct threat to the community where the project (CPEC) connects, but indirect effects can’t be ruled out.”
M8 connects Turbat to Hoshab, where one can find a significant population of Zikris. Areas with a strong presence of Zikris include: Gwadar and surrounding areas, Turbat city, Kissak, Kikkin, Shahrak, Shapuk, Sammi, Karki, Hoshab and some parts of Dander and Kohlwa.
Since 2004, when the fifth Baloch insurgency started, government officials at times accused Zikris of having joined the ranks and files of the banned separatist outfits that target the government.
For some Zikris, before the CPEC era, the insurgency itself was the main threat. There was widespread speculation that insurgents ambushed, attacked and kidnapped the workers from the Zikri community. This makes it even more tragic that Zikris are sometimes viewed by security officials as having a significant role in the armed insurgency.
Hakim Baloch believes the Zikris are a less violent people and more rational when it comes to questions of survival. For that reason, he believes, many Zikri youth have left their native areas for studies, so that their education is not affected by the many forms of violence plaguing their native land. He believes better education will help these young Zikris to secure the jobs created through CPEC.
In the past, there were attacks on law enforcement forces and as a result there were reprisals by state forces. Not so long ago, Shahrak, Shapuk, Sammi and Hoshab were considered a hub of the insurgency. But now the areas are claimed to be free from insurgent activity. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the areas in recent times and inaugurated the M8 route.
Khalid Baloch, who is a rights activist based in Turbat, also agrees that due to security issues a large chunk of the Zikri community has migrated from rural areas of Turbat. The CPEC route is one of several reasons for today’s displacement of Zikris. In recent years, the community has found itself, at times, in the crossfire of war between separatists and the state.
“They have mostly moved to Turbat city, Hub, Karachi, Quetta or other big cities. But those who were financially weak have gone to other districts of Makran division, where their relatives were already present – like in Pasni, Gwadar and other rural areas of Gwadar and Panjgur districts,” Khalid tells me.
In the past, Zikris were present in large numbers on the night of every 27th of Ramazan at Koh-e-Imam. Numbers have since reduced – from tens of thousands to mere thousands – as Khalid Baloch watches.
I spoke to another member of the Zikri community, Jan Mohammad Baloch from Gwadar, and he said: “Officially, we do not know how many of us have left their areas. What I know is that a small bazaar in Gwadar has been displaced, which had been run predominantly by Zikri Baloch people.” He expects the displacement of Zikris to increase as the CPEC projects pick up steam.
“We, the people of these areas, have not yet benefited from CPEC. Though the government says it is for us, in reality we have only got menial jobs, not any real benefits,” he further adds.
Gulzar Ahmad Baloch, a member of Zikri community, was apprehensive when talking about CPEC and Gwadar port project. He said, “Definitely, not only Zikri Baloch but many other Baloch communities too, have been affected by the CPEC route. In Gwadar, it is believed that local Baloch would be sent in the near future to locations some five kilometres away from the main city. So far, it has not happened. But it is being discussed.”
When asked about discrimination toward Zikri community, Gulzar Baloch says: “Historically, there have not been any problems. In the present times, hatred toward Zikri community is being created by some forces. There is also hatred toward the community wherever we go. I think this is all part of a conspiracy. Our religious practices are coming under suspicion too, unfortunately.”
“In this context, what else we can do?” he continues. “We have to reduce the visibility of our religious practices. Or perhaps, even give up some of our practices.”
He also regrets that while in the past, Zikri Baloch would be perhaps 90 percent of the population in Balochistan’s Makran division, that has now been reduced to 30 percent. This has happened due to the discrimination being faced by Zikri community, he believes.
He tells me they are internally displaced persons (IDPs) but there is no official acceptance of that fact and in any case, the Zikris don’t want themselves to be in any limelight – for the fear of repercussions.
Khalid says “As the CPEC route goes through areas populated by Zikri community members, they have left these places due to pressure from security measures. One of the reasons behind suspicion from security forces is that they think Zikris are sympathizers of the Baloch separatist campaign.”
He insists, however: “In reality, it is not so because many Zikri Baloch from various parts of Makran have not been impressed by the separatist movement. Instead, they constitute a major vote-bank for parties which engage in parliamentary politics. And they will go on voting for them!”
Muhammad Akbar Notezai TFT Issue: 27 Nov 2015
How has the Balochistan chief minister performed so far?
Dr Abdul Malik Baloch became the first chief minister of Balochistan after the May 2013 elections, some say “due to the political wisdom of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”. He is the first chief executive of the province to come from a middle-class background, and he is not a tribal elder. His party did not win a majority in the province, but he was nominated for his nationalist credentials.
“He has made the dysfunctional Balochistan government functional,” says Behram Baloch, who edits a bilingual magazine in Quetta. He has controlled law and order across the restive province to a great extent – especially in Makran and Khuzdar, where abduction for ransom and assassinations have waned, he said.
“He wants to carry out revolutionary governance reforms, but the system does not allow him to do that,” said Naqeeb Zaib Kakar, a teacher based in Quetta.
Qayyum Gichki, a resident of Balochistan’s Panjgur district, does not agree. “On the whole, his performance is not satisfactory,” he said. Qayyum said the chief minister had made “tall claims”, and people had expectations from him because he belonged to the middle class, but he did not fulfill his promises. “He said in a speech in Balochistan Assembly that he would resign if he failed to serve the people of the province.”
Noor Ahmed, who is a writer, says a new policy to recruit teachers on merit, and the establishment of new educational institutions in Balochistan are important moves. “Despite these,” he says, “Balochistan’s key issues remain unresolved.” Noor believes the province is “politically and naturally a tough region”.
Ali Raza Rind, an Urdu columnist, believes Dr Baloch “tried a lot to do what he had promised”, but he could not. “For example, his first step – an ‘educational emergency’ in Balochistan – failed to meet its goals.” Reforms in the health sector and a job creation plan were cancelled because they did not work, he added. He acknowledged that law and order had improved, and the government deserved credit for that.
“There is an acute leadership crisis in the parliamentary politics of Pakistan,” according to Shahjahan Zehir, a social worker. “When Dr Abdul Malik Baloch became the chief minister, a group of optimists had great hopes from him. People were full of nationalistic enthusiasm.” But the chief minister was “good but not excellent”, he said. “He still talks about education, health and development, but he has turned a blind eye towards Balochistan’s core issues.”
Asghar Kakar, a resident of the Quetta city, believes Dr Abdul Malik Baloch did well, because “he put a tight check on corruption and other evils that plague the whole nation.”
“There is an acute leadership crisis in the parliamentary politics of Pakistan”
Anwar Sajidi, the editor of the Urdu daily Intekhab, believes corruption has increased. He cited media reports of graft allegations against ministers belonging to Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s National Party.
In 2014, Dr Abdul Baloch appointed Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, as the vice chairman of the Board of Investment in Balochistan. He too had been accused of deception and corruption in the past. In the beginning, the chief minister stood by him. But after an uproar in the media, he was compelled to ask for Arsalan’s resignation.
Jaffer Baloch, who is a worker of the National Party, claims that the political and economic situation in Balochistan has improved, and law and order problems in Quetta have also decreased. “The chief minister is working on setting up new universities in the province, upgrading schools, improving the procedure for the appointment of teachers, and cracking down on ghost schools, teachers and students,” he said. “Importantly, it is due to his tireless efforts that the dissident Baloch leaders are showing interest in negotiations.” Balochistan was the first province to conduct local council elections, and that is evidence of strong governance, he added.
But Dr Ababagar Baloch, a young educationist in Islamabad, believes these measures are “limited to newspaper statements”. He especially complained about a lack of provincial government scholarships for students from Balochistan studying in other provinces.
“When Dr Abdul Malik Baloch was nominated as chief executive, he did not have a policy,” said Shabbir Rakhshani, a freelance columnist. “The focus of his government was on security issues. With the help of security forces, he has managed to normalize the situation to some extent, but when it comes to social and political issues, the government has not been able to do much.”
While his critics cite acid attacks on women and the closing down of schools in Panjgur district because of threats and intimidation to argue that law and order are still a major concern, jury is still out on how Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has performed so far.
Two attacks target Shia mourners
Extremism continues to simmer in northern districts of Sindh
On October 23, a suicide attacker blew himself up in a Muharram procession in the Jacobabad district in Sindh, killing 24 people, mostly children. More than 40 people were injured in the explosion.
A day before that, there was a similar attack outside a Shia mosque in Balochistan’s Bolan district. Sarfraz Bugti, the province’s home minister, told reporters at least 10 people were killed and a dozen others were wounded in the attack. The death toll later rose to 11.
Despite a decline in violence this year after a consensus decision to fight terrorism, these attacks indicate the battle is far from over, analysts say.
“They are recruiting madrassa students and building a network to generate funds”
“The people of Jacobabad are in grief,” a local reporter told me. The Shia mourning procession was on its way back in the city’s Lashari Mohalla neighborhood when it was targeted. “There were pieces of human flesh lying everywhere at the site,” he said. A power breakdown that followed made it worse for the survivors. The nearby government hospital was understaffed that day, and some of the wounded died because they could not be given immediate medical care. A protest outside the premises flared up, and an angry mob ransacked the hospital.
According to newspaper reports, police found the severed head of the 20-year-old attacker. He had attached explosives attached to his torso and legs, and witnesses said he also had a pistol.
Jacobabad, which borders the Balochistan province, and the neighboring northern-Sindh district of Shikarpur have seen a number of sectarian attacks in recent years. On January 30, a suicide attack on a Shia mosque killed more than 60 people.
The responsibility for the October 23 attack was claimed by Jundullah, a splinter group of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) last year, according to some reports. But Sindh Home Minister Suhail Anwar Siyal said he had information that banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack in Bolan was claimed by an LeJ spokesman who identified himself as Usman Saifullah Kurd – the notorious leader of the group’s Balochistan chapter who is believed to have been killed in a clash with security forces in Quetta in February. Talking to reporters on the phone, he threatened to carry out more attacks against Shia Muslims.
“Various offshoots of the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have found a new recruitment base in northern Sindh,” according to Shaikh Abdul Rasheed, a human rights activist. “They are recruiting madrassa students as their new fighters, and building a network to generate funds,” he said. “Growing extremism in the area is hurting Sindh’s pluralistic character.” The sole purpose of such attacks is to kill Shia Muslims, he said.
Malik Ishaq, the chief of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was killed in a reported gunfight with the police in Muzaffargarh in July, along with his two sons and 11 associates. His close aide Haroon Rashid Bhatti – a proclaimed offender with a Rs 2.5 million head money – and four of his accomplices were brought to Pakistan from Dubai with the help of the Interpol on October 22, newspapers reported. But the killing of late Punjab home minister Shuja Khanzada in Attock and the continuing violence against Shias indicate that the group still has the capacity to orchestrate major attacks.
Although security was heightened for Muharram in the large cities in Sindh, smaller towns were not provided with adequate protection, says Veengas Yasmeen, a journalist based in Karachi. And although action was taken against militants and unregistered madrassas in Karachi and Hyderabad recently, the government’s ‘National Action Plan’ against terrorism and extremism was not implemented in upper Sindh, she said.
“Sindh was, is, and will always be a secular province,” Veengas said, “but if unregistered madrassas will continue to operate with impunity, such attacks will continue to take place.”
Muhammad Akbar Notezai TFT Issue: 30 Oct 2015
There has been a decline in violence in Balochistan, but the battle against militancy is far from over
On October 19, 2015, a bomb explosion on a local bus in Quetta killed at least 11 people and injured 22. The device was planted on the roof of the bus, a police official told reporters.
According to media reports, the bus was overcrowded with more than three dozen passengers, some of who were sitting on the roof. Most of them were laborers. A majority of the victims were sitting at the back when the explosion took place, while passengers in the first row of the bus suffered minor injuries.
Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Balochistan’s chief minister, condemned the incident and vowed to chase down the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Terrorists do not seek the government’s permission
In the beginning, it was reported to have been a sectarian attack targeting Shias during Muharram. But Sarfaraz Bugti, Balochistan’s home minister, said the purpose of the attack was only to kill innocent people.
A militant outfit called the Baloch Youth Tigers (BYT) claimed responsibility for the attack in telephone calls to reporters.
“Terrorism will continue to threaten Balochistan in general and in Quetta in particular as such groups and their sympathizer networks intact,” according to Jan Achakzai, a strategic affairs analyst in Islamabad. “Balochistan is situated on international political fault lines, and is therefore even more vulnerable. There are the Saudi Arabia-Iran proxy wars, the emerging threat of ISIS next doors in Afghanistan, and the involvement of India. So Balochistan is in for long haul in terms completely eradicating terrorism: Expect less but more spectacular attacks unfortunately.”
Without administrative, social and educational reforms to supplement the use of military muscle, Pakistan will not be able to insulate Balochistan from outside influence, he believes.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, a veteran journalist based in Quetta, says the security situation in Balochistan has improved in general after action against militant groups since June, but it is hard to say if that change is permanent.
But this decline in violence does not mean sectarian and ethnic militant groups are not present in the province, according to independent journalist Kiyya Qadir. “The terrorists have changed their tactics,” he says. “For example, many sectarian groups are now trying to build a soft image, holding public demonstrations against Shia Hazaras and Ahmadis.” In short, he says,
they are using new tools to spread hatred.
The Hazara community has been a soft target in Quetta in the recent years, where they have faced a spate of attacks because of their Shia beliefs.
“Somehow, these religious fanatics have realized that bombing a minority group is not their only option,” says Kiyya Qadir. “Their policies have changed. They are now using other tactics.” He said sectarian leaders had been openly using hate speech in their Friday sermons.
Government officials say the police and the Frontier Corps (FC) launched a crackdown against hate speech in Quetta and other towns of Balochistan earlier this year. Security forces have carried out a number of raids since the beginning of this year after the government decided to go after militant groups following the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. In February, the head of the Balochistan chapter of banned sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was killed in one such raid in the provincial capital. The Balochistan government says it is fully implementing the prime minister’s National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism.
“Pakistan is good at making plans,” says Sajid Hussain, formerly associated with The News. “But do these plans work? The government says terrorism will not be allowed. But terrorists do not seek the government’s permission.”
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
In South Asia, Dalits are considered to be a lower caste; they have been facing discrimination and violence in South Asia, particularly in India, for a long time. In mainstream Indian newspapers, human rights abuses against the Dalits frequently take place at the hands of the upper caste Hindus. Despite constituting 16 percent of India’s total population, they (the Dalits) are oppressed culturally, politically and economically in the South Asian country. This is why they are immensely impoverished, illiterate and uneducated to this day. Moreover, in order to escape persecution and discrimination, many Dalits converted from Hinduism. Despite converting, persecution and discrimination against them did not end. After converting, their old co-religionists treated them as second grade citizens, too.
Before the partition of the Subcontinent, it is said that Dalits did not support the INC (Indian National Congress), because it was dominated by upper caste Hindus. One of them was Jogendra Nath Mandal. He himself was a Bengali politician; he also belonged to this class of so-called “untouchable Hindus”. Being a critic of the Indian National Congress, he was inclined towards Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. After the partition, he agreed to serve as Pakistan’s first minister for law and labor.
Unfortunately, Mr Mandal was oblivious of the fact that the caste system was/is not only deeply entrenched in India but also in Pakistan. If Dalits are being traditionally regarded as “untouchable” in India, then in Pakistan, due to their status of being “non-Muslims” as well as of a “lower caste”, they have been facing discrimination and persecution, too. This is why he (Mr. Mandal) was shunned by his own cabinet colleagues after the demise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, massacring the face of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secular Pakistan.
Subsequently, in 1950, he fled to Calcutta, India. After fleeing to Calcutta, in his letter of resignation to the-then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, he mentioned the deliberate policy of discrimination against the minorities.
Moreover, in recent years, Bhuro Bheel, who belonged to the Dalit caste and was killed in a traffic accident, was buried in one of central Sindh’s places called Pangrio. (Remember, the Dalits have a long tradition of burying their dead ones). On the very next day, a mob dug out the body and desecrated it. Dalits are not even spared after their deaths, in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, beside other places, Dalits are abundantly populated in Thar district of Sindh. At the time of partition, 80 percent of the Thar population constituted of Hindus (mostly Dalits) and 20 percent was of Muslims. But their number decreased due to India-Pakistan wars, which were fought in 1965 and 1971. The reason: Thar is situated on India and Pakistan’s border, which compelled them to leave the district.
Even so, they continue to live under the worst circumstances. For example, they are victims of a drought over there, which has caused famine and diseases. Hundreds of children have died due to severe malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhea and other diseases. According to a report published in a national daily, 311 children under five years of ages have died between December, 2013 and November, 2014. But, according to local sources, the number was higher than the abovementioned report. Though the government officials have claimed to have the issue tackled to a greater extent, the children have been dying in 2015, too. Even today we come across news of deaths in Thar.
It is interesting to note that Thar is one of Pakistan’s largest districts, which is scattered over 21, 000 square kilometers along the Indian border. On the other side of the border is the Indian desert state of Rajasthan. In Thar, villages are scattered, and its communities are also caught up in numerous economic woes. In its rural areas, the people are more agonized. That is why in those rural areas of Thar, to which journalists and reporters do not have access, the death toll of children is also increasingly on the rise over there.
Furthermore, the residents of Thar depend upon livestock – goats, sheep, camels, buffaloes and cows – to earn themselves a living. But, unfortunately, livestock is also adversely affected, and animals have also been dying due to famine. This has also compelled the people of Thar to leave their ancestral places and to settle somewhere else.
In recent times, despite attracting unprecedented attention of the government authorities and media personnel, the manifold issues of the Dalit in Thar are still on the rise. As mentioned above, the children of hapless Dalits in Thar are left in the lurch. They have been dying due to various diseases. Other than the governmental authorities, the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) received millions of funds in the name of Thar. Yet, they have failed to take any substantial steps to resolve the woes of the people living in Thar. Instead, they embezzled the funds. This is why the people of Thar have been suffering, and mothers have been losing their children.
To cut the long story short, Dalits are caught in no man’s land. They, in the South Asian region, have increasingly been facing injustice, discrimination and violence. Also, they are the worst victims of sexual abuse, abduction and forced conversions, particularly in Sindh. Due to their low status, they are plagued by a plethora of problems at the hands of not only the upper caste Hindus but also the Muslims, who are either silent against the atrocities of Dalits or are themselves involved in these in human crimes. In these circumstances, they are moving from pillar to post to find safe places for themselves and their children.
(The Nation: July 04, 2015)
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
The coalition government of Balochistan, which is led by Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, unveiled Rs.244 billion deficit budget for financial year 2015-2016. As usual, the legislators of the provincial assembly, termed this financial year’s budget “friendly”, too. However, as compared to the previous year’s 215.713 billion budget, the government has increased its funds. On the other hand, independent economists say that this year’s budget, like that of the previous year, will be lapsed before getting reimbursed. Because, they further say, the law and order situation in the largest province of the country has not improved. So, it is seemingly impossible to revamp the provincial economy, which has been crumbling for decades.
While presenting the budget, the government of Balochistan said it would especially focus on the province’s energy sector. Therefore, in the budget, the highest allocation of Rs.14.3 billion, has been awarded to energy. Uninterestingly, while presenting the budget, electricity in the Balochistan Assembly went off. Despite the fact that the energy sector crisis has irked the people of Balochistan a lot, it is still not improving. Nor is the government attempting to end it. Therefore, on a daily basis, the people of Balochistan, particularly farmers, are facing problems due to load shedding. However, Khalid langove, the finance advisor to the Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, announced that Rs.1 billion would be spent on providing solar energy to 300 villages, and Rs.157 on providing that to government buildings. But the question is: can this measure end Balochistan’s energy crisis?
One of the core issues of Balochistan is the situation of law and order, which has deteriorated. In the past few months, labourers were killed in Turbat, Hazaras were targeted in Quetta, and 22 Pashtuns were shot to death after their bus was intercepted in Mastung. These incidents were condemned nationwide. But, in spite of such events, the provincial government of Balochistan, instead of providing security to the masses, merely observed strikes with traders. Does this not show the helplessness of the provincial government of Balochistan? Also, in this year’s budget, like in those of the past, the government has allocated a huge sum for the improvement of the law and order situation – a 26 percent increase from the previous year. It means that Balochistan is going to be deprived of the major developmental works in volatile districts, as long as the dismal law and order situation continues.
Moreover, this year, too, the provincial government has increased allocations for the education and health sector to a greater extent. For education, they have allocated Rs.2.5 billion, which is a 17 percent increase from last year. The money, they said, would go into making 200 new schools, as well as for the upgrading of 456 primary and middle schools. Also, it was announced that as many as 1, 741 new employees, mostly teachers, will also recruited.
According to Article 25-A, education is the fundamental right of every child. But, ironically, it was recently reported by Alif Ailan – a non-profit organization working on education in the province – that 66 percent of Balochistan’s children do not go to school. So, what is the government of Balochistan doing to enroll them into schools? Schools and teachers are already present all over Balochistan, but schools are either closed or teachers do not go to take classes. So, what is needed is to take stern action against such teachers and to close schools that are not functioning.
No doubt, the health sector is ditched. It is also to be noted that Balochistan lacks independent, investigative journalists. Therefore, because villages are remote, their issues do not get reported. As a result, the people over there suffer silently. Despite this, in recent weeks, Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Chaghai, reported that children’s death ratio is 34 percent in Chaghai, let alone other 31 districts of the province. When contacted, local reporters of Balochistan’s remote areas say that hospitals in their areas bear a deserted look. There are neither doctors nor medicines available there. For getting themselves treated, they have to come all the way to Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.
Coming to the agriculture sector, the provincial government has allocated Rs.12.1 billion to it. In the previous year, there was also a huge amount allocated to the agriculture sector, but it did not see improvements even though it plays a crucial role in the provincial economy. The government has not been paying proper attention to it, despite allocating funds. Due to frequent load shedding woes, people working in the agriculture sector are facing problems.
Anwar Sajdi, who is Editor-in-Chief of an Urdu daily in Quetta, told this scribe: “The financial year’s budget will be utilized in Balochistan’s Pashtun belt with ease, which is tranquil unlike Balochistan’s Baloch belt. As for the Baloch belt, the budget may not be properly utilized due to the bad law and order situation.”
Meanwhile, the opposition parties, particularly the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal-ur-Rehman faction (JUI-F), boycotted the budget presentation. They are sitting on opposition benches, and most of their ministers’ constituencies are in Balochistan’s Pashtun belt, who lament that their constituencies have been neglected in the budget.
Lastly, what is surprising is to know that the documents of the budget were not revealed to the media, clearly denoting a lack of commitment and transparency from the government’s side. This is one of the major reasons behind the harsh criticism that the government has to face at the hands of the opposition, as well as the media.
(The Nation: June 25, 2015)
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
About half a dozen women and children gather in front of a house in Killi Ismail on a frosty December afternoon. They are there to collect water – pots and jerry cans in hands.
Noor Ali Longove, the owner of the house, has installed an electric tube well that fills a 500-gallon water tank every day. His poor neighbours, around 40 families, take turns to fill their small containers with water to take it home without having to pay. Without his help, they will have no water to drink – as well as for washing clothes and doing dishes. “For two consecutive years, we have received no water [from the government supply],” says Zaib-ul-Nisa Bibi, a local resident clad in embroidered Balochi clothes.
Killi Ismail, a village of approximately 40,000 residents in northern Quetta, mostly consists of mud houses. Most of its male residents either have menial jobs or they work as rickshaw and bus drivers.
Asif Baloch runs a corner shop in the village. He echoes Bibi’s complaints. “I buy water from a tanker operator,” he says. Each tanker contains 1,400 gallons of water, costs 1,300 rupees and lasts a month.
The quality of water he buys is suspect but his family uses it for drinking and cooking as well. Others in his street line up at a government tube well to collect water for those purposes but he cannot leave his shop “to fetch water every day.”
The government has installed five tube wells in the village, according to a local councillor, Farooq Langove. Water drawn from one of them, local residents complain, is being supplied to Jinnah Town, a relatively posh locality adjacent to Killi Ismail. Another, according to Langove, has been in the process of being installed for months.
Most poor, informal settlements in Quetta such as Killi Ismail have similar water woes. Except the military cantonment, Hazara-dominated localities of Mariabad and Hazara Town and some formal residential areas dominated by well-off Pakhtuns, water is scarce everywhere in Quetta.
Inayat Ullah, a Pakhtun daily wage worker, was forced to shift home in search of water (and gas). He was living in Pashtunabad, in the east of the city, where gas and water were in short supply. He shifted to Pashtun Bagh, in Quetta’s west, in 2005 but continues to “face similar problems.”
Inayat Ullah’s family gets water from the government supply only once in five days and that too after paying 1000 rupees each month in bribes. He and his three brothers pay 700 rupees each every month to buy from a private tanker operator the rest of the water they need.
Even in the heart of the city, people complain about water not being available. Fasial Shehzad, a Punjabi settler living on Mission Road – a pre-1947 avenue – says his household became dependent on private tanker operators long ago.
But tanker operators would sometimes tell him to wait because they had many other customers to cater to. This made Shehzad and his neighbours install a tube well of their own. “Now, we do not have any water supply problems,” he says.
Quetta was designed for about 200,000 people after an earthquake flattened it in 1935. Now, according to its mayor, Dr Kaleem Ullah, its population could be as much as three million.
The city had about 700,000 people in 1998 when the last census was held. Since then, it has seen two major population influxes – from Afghanistan after war between Taliban and America-led foreign forces started there in 2001; and from Baloch-dominated districts where an insurgency – and its attendant counter-insurgency security measures — have raged since 2006.
Barkat Ullah, project director for Mangi Dam, a water supply scheme being planned for Quetta, says the city needs 50 million gallons of water per day but gets only 28 million gallons. This gap is expected to get bigger before it can decrease.
Many reasons for water shortage are administrative: Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa), a government department set up in 1986, operates 460 tube wells across the city but residents often complain the agency operates as if it “does not exist”. Its pipes are leaky and its tube wells often break down – one in Killi Ismail has required an electric transformer for weeks.
On a mid-December day, no senior officials were present at Wasa’s headquarters on Quetta’s Double Road. Many days and phone calls later, Jahangir Khan Kakar, Wasa’s managing director, concedes “there is leakage in pipelines”. He also acknowledges flaws in Wasa’s working. “We lack human resources and funds.” Wasa did not have money recently to even pay salaries to its staff, he says.
Lack of planning is another of his department’s handicap. According to Dr Shahid Ahmad, an Islamabad-based expert who has studied water-related projects in Balochistan for more than eight years, Wasa replaced its leaky steel pipes with polyethylene lines many years ago. “But the [agency] could not link them with its existing lines.” Polyethylene lines are still not functional, he says.
Wasa has also failed to develop new water resources to overcome the depletion of water table, he says. By the current pace of depletion, Quetta will have no water left in its underground aquifers after ten years, Ahmed fears.
Aslam Ghani, revenue director at Wasa, confirms the high-speed depletion of water table. Tube wells in Quetta have to sink their pipes as low as 800 feet into the ground to fetch water, he says. “Every year water level is going down,” he says, in some places at an alarming rate of 60 feet a year.
Officials, experts and observers agree the depletion is mostly caused by private tube wells. More than 10,000 of them are installed in Quetta valley. The federal government provides free electricity for these tube wells to support agriculture in Balochistan but many of their owners sell water to tanker operators who, in turn, sell it to the residents of Quetta.
A prospective tube well owner needs a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government. A district water board committee, with members derived from the district administration, Wasa, Public Health Engineering Department, Irrigation Department and Revenue Department, has the authority to issue the NOC. With only one vote in the process, Wasa has no power to block the issuing of an NOC. “[The] certificates are issued through other departments,” says Kakar.
Many thousand tube wells, in fact, have been installed without the NOC. A recent report in daily Dawn quoted an official of the Quetta Electric Supply Company as saying that “more than 15,000 illegal tube wells operate throughout Balochistan”. By 2015, according to Kakar, Wasa had sealed more than 300 tube wells working without the NOC in different parts of Quetta. In 2016 alone, the number of sealed illegal tube wells has been 92, he says.
Quetta valley is prone to droughts – if it rains one year, it does not rain next five years. That pattern does not allow aquifers to refill at the same rate that they are depleting at.
Dr Shahid Ahmad stresses the need for water conservation. “We have to [make] people [aware] that water is not an
infinite resource. It is a finite resource.” He also highlights the need for improving water management. “Water is being wasted through leaky pipelines.”
His third suggestion concerns the building of new water supply schemes. The government is planning three dams in the mountains to the northwest of Quatta – one in Mangi on the Khost river in Ziarat district, the second in Burj Aziz Khan in Pishin district and the third in Halaq, just outside Quetta.
An alternative proposal envisions bringing water from Kachhi and Pat Feeder canals through a pipeline more than 270 kilometres long. Its estimated cost – at 40 billion rupees – seems prohibitive. And it has to cross two major hurdles: Pumping canal water 6,000 feet above sea level that will require massive recurring expenses; and ensuring the security of the pipeline through the volatile districts of Lehri, Sibi, Kachhi, Bolan and Mastung.
“It is a difficult project to implement,” says Siddique Baloch, a senior journalist based in Quetta. Yet the provincial government has allocated 10 billion rupees in its current budget to prepare a report, among other things, on its feasibility.
The government has also allocated 2.83 billion rupees for Mangi Dam where, according to Barkat Ullah, construction work is scheduled to start in January 2017. The dam will provide 8.1 million gallons of water every day to Quetta for more than five decades, he says.
Ahmed agrees that Mangi Dam will alleviate Quetta’s water shortage – though only partially. Not all water that will come into the dam can be transferred to Quetta, he says, especially in winter when people living in its catchment areas will need water from its contributory streams to fulfill their own domestic and agricultural needs.
What can the city do to address such constraints? As Quetta’s population increases in the coming years, it “will definitely need [water from] Pat Feeder and Kachhi canals, Ahmed argues.
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Muhammad Ali (Name changed), 68, has been working as a reporter for a private TV channel in Balochistan’s Nushki district. In the view of high inflation rate in the country, he is paid monthly only 15, 000 rupees. Except journalism, he does not have other sources of income.
That is why he has to run his family with this low salary. “Despite my frequent requests, my salary has not been increased yet,” he told Balochistan Inside. “As for my services, I have been consecutively working for my private TV channel for more than 15 years. He further added he was repentant for becoming a journalist, as he could not even earn his livelihood properly.
It is to be noted that Muhammad Ali is lucky enough that he at least receives salary. In rural Balochistan, local journalists are mostly unpaid. Therefore, they are either teachers or clerks in their hometown. But there are some, who do not have jobs. They solely do journalism. That is why they have to attend the press conferences regularly at their district press clubs, so that they may get a trivial amount or, to be more specific, 500 rupees. Besides it, they go to local elites for money, and they get published statements in their favor. Unfortunately, in some districts of Balochistan, journalists who are school teachers and clerks also do reporting part time. That is why they cannot afford to earn the ire of ministers. If they do, they get transferred to other districts of the province. That is why they keep silent.
Similarly, in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, journalists are confronting the same challenges. The reason is: in Quetta, a reporter is not even paid more than 3, 000 rupees monthly who works for a national English newspaper, while a photographer is said to get paid around 2, 000 rupees in a month. There is also much difference between Quetta based bureau chief’s salary with that Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar based bureau chief. Similarly, in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, journalists are confronting the same challenges. The reason is: in Quetta, a reporter is not even paid more than 3, 000 rupees monthly who works for a national English newspaper, while a photographer is said to get paid around 2, 000 rupees in a month. There is also much difference between Quetta based bureau chief’s salary with that Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar based bureau chief.
Many more journalists are underpaid even in Quetta. Only, unlike rural journalists of Balochistan, they have the opportunity of attending works shops in the city, when the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) holds.
Besides it, as Quetta is center of journalistic activities in all over Balochistan, they (journalists) at least can earn their two times’ meal.
Interestingly, Quetta based senior journalists who are affiliated with international news agencies and TV channels are only economically well-off.
Barkat Zaib Sumalani, who is a senior journalist based in Nushki, told this scribe, “Economically, journalists in rural Balochistan are living in a very pitiable condition. They mostly do not get salaries from their organizations, and they have been working voluntarily for years. If a journalists dares ask for salary, he gets cold-shouldered by his organizations and finally expelled. Unfortunately, another takes his position instead of standing by his side.”
He further added, “There is no unity among journalists in rural Balochistan, which is why their woes are compounding by the day. Unfortunately, journalism, which I am experiencing it myself, cannot be considered as a source of income; you have to run either a shop or work as s tutor along with journalism. Otherwise, it becomes difficult for him to run his family.”
When asked, local reporters from rural parts of Balochistan told Balochistan Inside, “In almost all districts of Balochistan, we have only one problem, that we do not get a single penny from our media organizations. On the other hand, it is unfortunate to know that Quetta based newspapers do not pay to their stringers despite the fact they send reports to them on daily basis.
“In rural areas of Balochistan, there are no facilities available for journalists. As I spoke to journalists based in rural Balochistan, one said he kept his own son as a cameraman because he himself did not get salary from his TV Channel. So, he wondered if he could hire someone else to do that job for him,” said Shahzada Zulfiqar, the president of Quetta Press Club, to this scribe. He further added that there are merely a few TV Channels that give the reporters salaries in few districts of Balochistan, not in all 32 districts.
Nevertheless, Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular has been termed one of the dangerous parts of world for journalists. There have been around two dozen journalists killed purely due to their journalistic works.
In spite of it, journalist endeavor for news in the province, as well as bravely work for their media organizations. But their media organizations are least bothered about their reporters.
In these circumstances, Balochistan’s journalists should be unified for their basic rights which they have not been getting for decades. In doing so, they can at least be prospered economically, and can be able to properly run their families.
Source: Balochistan Inside