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March 15, 2019

Building an inclusive Balochistan

Opinion

March 15, 2019

Most of us who have been told stories of violence and terror in Balochistan tend to believe in them. But in doing so, we lose sight of the real Balochistan, its people and its pluralistic culture. The miseries heaped upon the wonderful people of Balochistan have indelible imprints, which may not go away any time soon. But life does go on and the peace-loving people of Balochistan still have hopes for a better future.

Balochistan is a mesmerising land of incredible geographical diversity and beauty. All the prose and poetics that one may deploy to describe Balochistan stop short of giving an appropriate account of its magnificence. I am lost for words to express what I experienced during my recent visit to the province to explore it beyond the stories of horror and terror. The natural beauty is magnified by the hospitality of its people as well as the cultural diversity.

It was an amazing journey of learning about the untold stories of extremism which is being presented as the root of all our socio-political evils. Who are these extremists and how do they see themselves and the world around them? Extremism has its own political history of disillusionment and deprivation which can be overcome through an inclusive political process. When we lump together the political classification of extremists, anti-state insurgents and objects of political control we lose the battle for their reintegration. We also lose political legitimacy in the eyes of so many peace-loving people of Balochistan when we show our hatred for them as being anti-development, anti-civilisation, anti-freedom and anti-peace and so on and so forth. The narrative of extremism, fear and terror gravitates around the value chain of an informal border economy. This is a whole new subject for a separate article, but what is important to know is the fact that fear is a veneer for the politics of domination and control over the lucrative black economy.

If you really want to know the unknown, beyond the media-created stereotypes of people of the peripheries you must visit them, interact with them, speak with them and explore the politics behind the stereotyping. Influenced by the simulated media images, we tend to homogenise the diversity of people and their cultures, and define them as per our narrow liberal perspectives.

Last week I visited some of the peripheries of Balochistan, which are known as the hotbed of religious extremists. While I was planning my journey, I was told by my friends to avoid going into what they termed as the ‘heart of darkness’. Most of them might not have read Joseph Conrad’s novel but they were made to believe that most peripheral areas of Balochistan are unliveable. This is how our perceptions have been framed through consistent hammering which reduces peripheries to havens of brutal beings. But beneath this fear mongering, there is a huge economy at work.

My visit was not an anthropological mission but part of my job. However, I could not resist going beyond what was required by my job, to explore the untold stories of the political economy of conflict in the peripheries of Balochistan. One day before my visit to the Gulistan and Chaman Pak-Afghan border region, I was in the Pishin district on a daylong official visit. This was my third visit to Pishin, after almost eight years. There was not much difference in terms of its pace of continued decline but what was amazing to see was the way people are being governed.

The simmering anger of people against the political arrangement of society makes it hard to think of any peaceful transformation towards better. Those who think that they hold the power to determine the future of Balochistan must understand that the people of Balochistan are not the collateral in a war not of their own choosing. Conflict in Balochistan is triggered and perpetuated due to the politics of exclusion and economic marginalisation of the local people.

The stories that come to us are not always true, particularly when they are about those people and cultures that live on the margins of a society. Myths are stories fabricated by a creative mind to satisfy unmet human dreams and desires. All of us believe in some myths as reality in this virtual world we live in today. We all have some myths which we can unfold only if we strive to go beyond the narratives of daily life in search of an authentic knowledge of life. This authentic knowledge can neither be found on Google nor under the layers of manufactured truths. The secret of authentic life and truth can only be revealed to us with experiential knowledge of people and their cultures.

If we claim to hold the key to authentic knowledge, then we must learn the art of living among the people rather than relying on stories about them. The people who are framed as the objects of politics can never be understood through an anthropological account only. We must learn to communicate with them without imposing our validity claims about life and existence.

Simulated reality and its constant hammering through modern media becomes our second nature and we unconsciously create our own myths out of this virtual reality – and we live them. In the so-called postmodern age, our myths are so deeply entrenched in our liberal values that we seldom challenge them. Our perspectives about society and culture without experiential knowledge are skewed, shallow and unfounded because they are mere stories we imbibe and we pass them on.

There was nothing unusual, unknown or unseen about the people of the border areas of Balochistan, quite contrary to our perceptions of them being hardened extremists. They are impressive and hospitable and will not tag you as an unfriendly opponent if you do not agree with their ideas. Our urbane, educated and liberal fellows usually keep a distance if you roam around in a posh locality of an urban centre wearing shalwar qameez and a turban or in traditional tribal attire. You will be tagged as uncultured, a conservative and someone not to be mingled with. What if you feel welcomed in a tribal territory with your liberal ideas, jeans and modern attire and you do not feel isolated for your views and outlook?

This is not simply a matter of the urban-rural divide or difference of perspectives; this is more about our inability to communicate with the peripheral communities. The liberalism that we cherish the most is incapable of communicating with our own people, whose right to define their social existence is denied in the filthy politics of domination and control.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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