In defence of the Baloch sardar

Published: November 24, 2010
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Can doing away with the Baloch sardar system help resolve anything?

The unrest in Balochistan is fast becoming taboo in our public discourse. While the issue is granted much less than its due airtime in electronic media, even whatever lately has been written in print also often tends to conform to the national security narrative. Considering how large an impact media can have in forming opinions, it’s a pity that prime time pundits have failed to break free of the establishment’s shackles.

A prime example is Mr Ejaz Haider’s op-ed piece on Balochistan published in The Express Tribune on November 6. When I read e piece I disagreed with his reasoning but did not feel a need to write about it until a couple of weeks ago when I had a discussion with several friends.

There were several similarities in the argument put forth by Mr Haider and the urbanised elite of the Punjab. Both denounced the sardari system and insisted that any solution to the issue needed to be sought within the framework of the Pakistani federation.

What they despised about the sardari system was that it did not recognise the rights of ordinary folk and granted near infinite authority to the sardar.

But while they defend the common good they assert that the Baloch should dare not think about seceding from the federation.

Their ‘within the federal framework’ argument ignores the Baloch’s right to self determination – a right the state champions for  Kashmiris. The ideologues of two-nation theory were also hell bent upon obtaining a separate state for Muslims in the pre-partition India.

Is it just the sardar?

As a matter of principle the exploitation of humans at the hands of other humans is condemnable. But we ought to give Baloch sardars some leeway in after all, he isn’t the only one who is not conforming to the urbanite’s liberal democratic ideals. We have witnessed some of the most cruel and bare negations of human rights in very urban regions where the critics of the sardari system hail from.

Recall Advocate Naeem, who allegedly killed his minor maid Shazia after torturing her in Lahore’s Defence Housing Authority; the lynch mob of Sialkot; the religious bigots of Gojra; the plethora of cases filed against oppressed groups under blasphemy and hudood laws; the never-ending sequel of target killings in Karachi and the inhumane working conditions of industrial labourers; brick kiln workers; daily-wagers and most domestic servants.

A Pakistani perspective on a Baloch issue

Blame it on ethnic or linguistic differences, religious or feudal bigotry, elitism or worse on man’s competitive nature but the bottom line is that Pakistan’s educated urban elite stands shoulder to shoulder with the Baloch sardar when it comes to their track record on human rights.

Sections of the elite have accrued numerous socio-economic benefits during their 63 years of dominance within the state-structure and the marketplace.

Their interests are now entrenched interests in the national project and can never view Balochistan’s problems from a Baloch person’s perspective.

One Baloch point of view

A few weeks ago, while I was covering the Punjab convention of the Workers Party Pakistan, I met Yousaf Masti Khan, a Baloch politician who provided several useful insights into the issue.

Khan is by no stretch of the imagination the prototypical sardar my urban, liberal, democratic friends are so keen to blame for all of Balochistan’s grievances.

He is a Baloch by birth who now lives in Karachi and is a member of the central executive committee of the WPP, a union of several left-wing parties.

For him, the problem is not the sardari system, which he said was embedded in the social fabric and could only be fad away through an evolutionary process. Such a transformation of the Baloch society, Khan contended, would do little good if imposed by outsiders (note: one of the central tenets of the European colonialism was to ‘civilize’ the so-called barbarians, yet post-colonial world is hardly a more civil place to live in).

Social change, he maintained, could only be set forth in Balochistan through true self-government. For this to happen, he said, the authoritarian state machinery needed to stop playing its dirty game of co-opting and pitching sardars against one another. His within-the-federal-framework-solution came with the following conditionalities:

1)   Recognising the armed struggle as homegrown instead of linking it to Indian support

2)   Releasing missing persons and political prisoners

3)   The military’s withdrawal from civilian areas – and –

4)   Autonomy to the people of Balochistan over themselves and their resources

A federation first needs to provide representation to all people falling within its borders, only then can it claim sovereignty over them and their territory.

Umair.Rasheed

Umair Rasheed

Works at the Lahore desk of The Express Tribune and tweets @umairrasheed1

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.