Respecting Citizens' Voices Is The First Step In Peace-building

Respecting Citizens' Voices Is The First Step In Peace-building

Bolte jo chand hain…

Sab ye shar pasand hain…

(Very few dare to speak

They are all miscreants)

Habib Jalib

The mysterious death of journalist Sajid Hussain has failed to stir Pakistani conscience. Internationally too, it has not received the attention as say the attacks on Western journalists generate. It is hardly surprising as Sajid was not just a Pakistani but a Baloch. His death can be attributed to many things – accident, suicide, murder – despite the asylum he sought in Sweden due to the threat to his life in Pakistan.

Many say it’s the work of the same old perpetrators – the ones who must not be named. I refrain from speculation but wonder why it’s so often a Baloch that gets in the line of the fire. I was naïve enough to think that such incidents cannot happen in Sweden. Hopefully, we shall find out more when the Swedish authorities investigate the matter in weeks to come.

Becoming a journalist is difficult and becoming a respected one is harder still. But if you come from an area that is hardly equipped to help you achieve your dream, you are faced with a much greater adversity. Sajid, like several others, realized his dream only to be chased out of the country and then eventually out of his life.

According to many media watchdog reports, Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world. It was ranked the fifth deadliest country by the Committee to Project Journalists in 2017. Three years down, not much has changed, especially for those in Baluchistan.

Bodies surface in the dark of the night – like raising from within the ground, tortured and battered, bearing clear signs of brutality. This has been the reality of the desolate and under-resourced but the largest province of Pakistan.

Baluchistan has remained a step-child throughout the country's history. Whether it is the unilateral decision to break the Kalat State into Kharam, Makran and Lesballa (from where Husain hailed) or to kill Nawab Akber Bugti in 2006, so close to reaching an amicable settlement, the state has made numerous mistakes. Violence has remained rampant in the desolate province. The most resource rich area of Pakistan was compromised – wealth from the Sui earnings were poorly distributed, which led to the Marri tribe being more averse to exploration in their lands.

While the NFC award and the 18th amendment met with some of the demands of the Baloch, the violence continues. Bodies kept coming – bearing marks of cigarettes, scars and gashes and their eyes wide open in shock, with a bullet wound on their heads.

The tactics are foolproof – no charges, no court cases, no long drawn hearings. Just a little torture and a tiny bullet wound on their heads

While the fear keeps traditional media houses from reporting about the conflict in Baluchistan, some brave men have taken the charge. Sajid, like his brother, was one of the brave ones. He wrote about forced disappearances and did not quit despites several friendly warnings from colleagues. He had to flee the country in 2012 after his house was raided by once again.

There is a gross erosion of domestic legal order in Pakistan – powerless courts, enforced disappearances, internment camps – and we call ourselves a democracy. We marginalize the already marginalized and use the country’s defense as our excuse to do it. Whether KP or Baluchistan, violence against civilians has continued unabated. I’d like to see who gets caught under ATA and who gets a death penalty for killing Hussain.

This conflict within the country has to stop. It is time we openly spoke about the tribal areas – former FATA – and Baluchistan. It is time to demilitarise and let civilian institutions take charge. It’s time more Sajids openly write about whatever they want to say and not be fatality punished for it. It’s time the national budget is not spent on the prosperity and development for the impoverished people of the province. And most importantly to protect its voices, like that of Sajid.

For over seven decades, Baluchistan has been exploited, which has led to some Baloch leaders believing the solution is nothing less then independence. While, many believe that’s a catastrophe, there is no foolproof way of finding out. The only solution is to consider them as our own and listen to them.

An amicable resolution will start with respecting the people and their lives.

Nida Jaffery is a communications and policy professional working in the field of development and human rights.