Region

Quest for Peace

The people of Balochistan are afraid and unhappy. They have been deprived of their rights and the resources their province is so rich in.

By Nikhat Sattar | April 2021

Quest-Peace

An atmosphere of subdued anger and resentment prevails during my session with five young women from Balochistan. In the hotel lobby, they keep their voices low, but the subliminal frustration is clearly evident. They are, however, restrained in their choice of words, hesitating to cast blame. It appears that they have long learned to exercise care when talking about peace and conflict in the province, which is the topic of my conversation with them. I learn, to my utter surprise, that any such talk on a public platform could lead to a visit from the powers that be and the debate can be closed down. The supposed argument is that there being no war in the region, why are they talking about this subject?

The fact that peace is not an absence of war (however the latter may be defined) is a topic for another time. I find that the people of Balochistan are afraid and unhappy. They have been deprived of the resources their province is so rich in and have rarely been consulted on decisions that matter most to them. While newspaper headlines scream out about large scale development projects, there is little evidence on the ground in terms of changing lives of ordinary people. This sense of deprivation has led to armed rebellion among the youth, but others are trying to remain loyal to the country they belong to. Their region continues to be underdeveloped, despite all the hype about the Gwadar port and CPEC projects. The changes I observe after having stepped in Quetta after over a decade are more concrete structures, mostly related to the armed forces. The provincial capital seems to be under siege, with a heavy army presence where civilian independence and rights are curtailed. A large number of young men have disappeared suddenly and no one seems to be capable of recovering them. When people speak with outsiders, they do so in undertones, as if conscious of being overheard.

shahid husain

We talk of the Hazaras, who have been killed in the hundreds and how their families, especially the women, had come out in sub-freezing temperatures to protest their targeted annihilation. There have been continuous attacks over the past decades, ever since the rise of the Afghan Taliban. One of the women I speak with belongs to this beleaguered community and I can feel the pain and rage emanating from her. It was after many days of protest that the army chief had come and held discussions with the Hazara representatives and promised action against the perpetrators in 2014. It is believed by most people in Balochistan that the inhuman acts are committed by members of outlawed religious parties, Lashkar e Jhangvi and Sipah e Sahaba, who are supporting security agencies in their actions against Baloch rebels. This is a complex situation and one that places considerable doubt and suspicions in the local people, including the Hazaras.

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The writer is a development professional, researcher, translator and columnist with an interest in religion and socio-political issues. She can be reached at nikhat_sattar@yahoo.com

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