“I believe there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those doing the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the colour of the skin. You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” — Malcolm X
I’ve traveled across Pakistan several times. I’ve been to the plains of Punjab, the Indus valley, the foothills of Karakorum, the delta of Indus river and the coastal region of Makran. Every region has its attraction and charm but if one asks me honestly, Balochistan is by far the most interesting and fascinating region of Pakistan. Why? It is because the land of Balochistan is blessed with a spectacular terrain that includes mountains, deserts, plateau, sea, valleys, oases, and so much more.
It was my first trip to the region and I was traveling to Quetta to watch a highly charged football match between India and Pakistan. Like cricket, both arch rivals promise to deliver some thrilling sporting moments in football competitions as well. Anyway, I boarded the bus and headed to the provincial capital Quetta from Pakistan’s largest city Karachi.
It is very hard for me to hide my excitement and suppress my feelings. Sat in the bus I couldn’t help but smile and peek out from the window. Soon I noticed that a young guy came to my seat and asked to sit next to me which I did not mind. After formal introduction he asked if I was a foreigner traveling to Balochistan for the first time. “I hope you don’t have preconceived ideas about our nation Mr. Khawaja,” he said in a sarcastic tone. “I believe in my own observations and forming my own opinion based on them,” came my reply with a smile to which he seemed much relieved.
Azizullah was a 23 year old student who was studying medicine at a university in Karachi. Appearing to be a very quiet and reserved young man, he later became more friendly and chatty. He came from a middle class Baloch family from Khuzdar area in central Balochistan. “My father and uncles are doctors as well but I wanted to break the tradition of our family and become a diplomat,” he lamented as we started the conversation. The driver set off to Quetta at the same time.
As our chat progressed he went on to tell me how hard it is to become a diplomat due to his ethnic background. Soon my Baloch friend lobbed this conundrum at me: “Guess a land that is blessed with natural wealth yet suffers from chronic poverty. A civilization that is rich of culture and traditions yet suffers from degradation. A nation that takes pride in its values and traditions yet suffers from suppression of identity. A laborer that works hard with patience and diligence yet gets exploitation and oppression as wages. And ironically, a cow that is forced to give milk yet starves for fodder to survive.” I resorted to scratching my head and wondered what I’m about to learn from him…
Balochistan has been in the news over the past few years due to the low level insurgency going on in the region. Thousands of activists are actively fighting the authorities in the volatile provinces of Balochistan in Pakistan and in Sistaan va Balochistan province in neighboring Iran. Many people in both Pakistan and Iran insist that foreign powers are actively meddling in the state of affairs of these provinces and are bent upon breaking them away from the nation. One can find both Iranian and Pakistani analysts filling hundreds of pages of newsprint with information on how the Baloch fighters are getting weapons from U.S.A. and other regional powers. However, one thing you’ll seldom find them telling is the reason why some Baloch ‘miscreants’ have taken weapons in their hands and are waging a war for autonomy or independence.
I wasted no time and asked Azizullah the same question. “It is convenient to label someone a criminal or terrorist. A person commits a crime and he becomes a criminal. A kidnapping, shooting, killing, assassination or bombing and a terrorist is born,” the medical student expressed philosophically. After a brief pause while reading my facial expressions, he continued: “However, seldom we come to know what the motives were behind every criminal or terrorists’ action. It is not possible to believe that all these people are born evil and their only purpose of life is to bring destruction and harm to the society. So what is the rationale?” Azizullah’s questions started to become intense and critical.
LAND, PEOPLE AND PRIDE
Balochistan is a region that is spread across Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The combined area of this region is around 600,000 square kilometers, which is about the size of Ukraine; 347,000 km² is part of Pakistan, 181,785 km² in Iran and around 70,000 km² in Afghanistan. Despite having large areas in Pakistan and Iran, the Baloch population is around 5 million and 2 million respectively in both the countries. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Baloch people live in southern Afghanistan.
According to contemporary Baloch scholar Dr. Naseer Dashti, Baloch people trace their history to the ancient Parthian family of Aryan tribes living in the Caspian Sea region. The Baloch tribes began to settle in to present day Balochistan as early as 1200 AD. The migration of Baloch population from Caspian Sea region to the present semi-desert land of Balochistan took place in three different times and places.
Baloch tribes first migrated to present day Balochistan from the northern areas of Mesopotamia, what is now called Kurdistan. These Baloch are known as Narui (Nara denoting north in archaic Balochi language). They settled in the area of Sistan in present-day Iran, Helmand valley in southern Afghanistan and Chagai plains in present Pakistani province of Balochistan.