On a hot day, in 1998, days before Nawaz Sharif´s government tested the “Islamic nuclear Bombs” in Balochistan, three Baloch men hijacked PIA Flight 554, a Fokker F27 Plane, in an unusual step. Balochistan was in a completely peaceful phase at that time.
The hijackers demanded the atomic tests be stopped. Presumably, for the harmful radiation that it would cause to the local population. In addition, the men – Shabbir Rind, Shahsawar Baloch and Sabir Rind – also demanded a greater share of Balochistan´s resources for their people, such as gas and electricity. They were caught. The tests were eventually conducted on 28th May 1998.
The hijackers were drug smugglers. I later learned from one hijacker´s brother when I met him in UAE. According to him, his brother had operated a drug smuggling racket. It was formed by bribing the highest-ranked PIA and airport officials both in Turbat and Gwadar. Each week, they would fly to Karachi with hundreds of kilos of drugs- without being checked. The profits were good enough to keep the racket running for years but never enough to make them rich.
They were also drug addicts. The kind of drug addicts from Balochistan´s thousands of addicts, who when high, build with their words and dreams, the massive towers of what good deeds they were going to do tomorrow. The dreams would topple the next day as the drugs were flushed out from their system, reminding them how futile their lives were.
Unlike the other addicts who would dream with every high but never get there, these guys got out of their futility. They carried weapons inside their bags instead of drugs on that given day, to fulfil their dream of saving Balochistan from becoming an atomic testing zone.
Then, I was in 10th class at a Pakistani school. Being the only Baloch in my class, and often referred to as Balochi Bhai, I had since my early school days acquired an impression of being surrounded by Punjabi aptitude and ambience. These were the kind of class groups where I would talk about sports, books, and hindi films and the classmates would simply replace the topics with talks on expensive computers, games, their parents´ cars, eat-outs in restaurants, and visits to theme parks.
Remaining in these friends’ circles was like a perpetual struggle to find words, topics and habits that made it easier to navigate through their understanding of us. Apparently, alienation was part of my school years.
At one time, when the alienation was at its peak, I developed a notion that I had a speech impediment which rendered me incapable of fitting anywhere. The thought kept lingering in my head for months until I found something motivating.
It was the story of Prophet Mussa´s speech impediment. According to the Quranic story, his God taught him a prayer, a mantra. The mantra was also a verse of the Quran. Upon saying this mantra, he was cured spontaneously. I dug deeper into the story until I was convinced it could help me. I started chanting the verse on a daily basis. Soon, I was of the view that it had helped me in communicating with the “Punjabi friends’ circle.”
I don’t know when I stopped chanting the prayer, but it could most probably be after the interesting exchange with Sir Riaz Khan, my Pakistan Studies teacher. It was either on the day or after the Baloch had hijacked the Plane.
Sir Riaz Khan had graduated from the UK and had a strong command of English. He liked to be called Riz Kan, as he was called in the UK. He was one guy who would roll his mouth, twist his tongue and speak the accent of a Britisher. Just like a native Britisher.
However, he still had a small flaw because of which one could catch him. It was so, after speaking for a few minutes in English his mouth would get moist, and saliva would start spilling from the corners of his lips. He did not have this habit when he spoke in Urdu.
Nevertheless, he was still the only one who could pull the feat off of speaking British accent English, albeit with a saliva outflow. The others were simply incapable of it. Sir Riaz Khan was from Attock and claimed to be a Pathan and a Punjabi at the same time.
He claimed his white complexion, brown hair, tall height, and command of English rendered him indistinguishable and he had once almost passed through British immigration as a Britisher until he produced his Pakistani passport. My bench fellow, who happened to be a devoted admirer of Sir Riaz, lamented “If Sir Riaz did not spit while speaking English and did not scratch his scrotum, no one could ever know he was a Pakistani.”
Like everyone else, Sir Riaz was of opinion, the hijacking being a work of anti-development tribal chiefs. According to him, Balochistan was to be blessed with Allah’s bounties after the Islamic atomic tests and the tribal chiefs were stopping that.
“The Sardars of Turbat do not want Balochistan to develop,” he told us.
Being the only Baloch, I found myself in an urge to correct the teacher. So, I explained to him how Akhter Mengal was the biggest Sardar of Balochistan, and he was in Nawaz Sharif´s government and how the hijackers were unhappy with the Sardars helping Nawaz Sharif.
In order to make myself believable, I told him my relatives live in Turbat and how Makran and Turbat had no tribal system.
His answer was self-indulgent. “I have been to Turbat. When I stepped out of the train at the station. I saw these Sardars’ people crowding. They observe every foreigner and report back to their chief. The Sardars have also people in the airport who helped the hijackers pass with guns.” He said.
I could have said. No sir, you are lying. There are no train stations in Turbat.
But given the Issue’s sensitivity. I offered my apologies and sat down. I agreed that I had wronged in challenging the teacher with my fabricated arguments. The apology was quickly accepted.
I hate violence. Despite that, these hijackers who were ultimately hanged in 2015, 17 years after being captured, are like a hero in my mind´s heart.
You might think. How is it possible to hate something so completely and also heroize it so unreasonably? How does such two opposing sentiments live together in a man?
Perhaps. It is more like, whenever I had been asked to completely surrender to the majoritarian discrimination and hatred that comes from Pakistani nationalists. I have mostly done so.
On the other hand, I have seen many choose the other way. They chose not to talk or surrender to the gun and weapons which have killed, starved, and impoverished millions of Balochs, and still uprooted thousands to be refugees. They like to call themselves the “shawoori johadkaar”, the conscious fighters, and they are bent on answering violence with violence. Unlike the hijackers of 1998, these new violent men are mostly educated and organized.
I may disagree with their violent ways and ask them to drop their weapons. Strengthen their skills. Excel in studies. Use their energy for peaceful means. But deep down I know, their claim- nothing worse can happen to us than a wretched life under Pakistani occupation- holds weight. I can well understand, it is not paranoia of their minds or a design of an ideology or love for violence but a real social, economic, identity and existential danger to them. Violence is simply their way of dealing with this threat when all other doors have been shut on them.
On 2nd February 2022, 16 such militants stormed the army headquarters of Panjgur and Noshki in twin attacks, taking control of both the Headquarters. Panjgur is my hometown. The subsequent 4 days-long battle to retake the headquarters involved Gunship helicopters and hundreds of specially trained Pakistan army commandos. The attacking militant organisation claims to have killed more than 190 army men at the cost of their 16 fighters.
As is customary, the Pakistan army´s casualties from Balochistan are kept secret. The secret is guarded so vehemently that when Kiyya Baloch a journalist from Balochistan tweeted details of the attack, he was trolled, mocked, character attacked, competence attacked and abused by the Pakistani nationalists.
When that did not stop him, he was finally threatened to an extent that he tweeted “given Issue’s sensitivity, I´m taking a break. “Another resident from Panjgur, Malik Meeran, updated his social media followers on the attacks. He has since then been forcibly disappeared. No one knows his whereabouts.
Nearly a week later Kiyya Baloch arranged a twitter space with the topic “Why Uptick in Violence in Balochistan?”. In a bid, not to further outrage the army and give the discussions a neutral face, he selected his speakers carefully. They ranged from former senators, human rights activists to journalists and writers.
Some demanded socio-economic therapy for Balochistan, reconciliation commission with international observers, media freedom or federalism and some proposed the age-old wish of developing the Baloch people to curb violence.
Among the speakers was also Ahsan Iqbal, the once Interior minister of Pakistan and a loyalist of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). During his party´s rule, in 1998, the atomic tests were conducted with the promise that the tests would bring development to Balochistan. In his Party´s latest rule which began in 2013, hundreds of Baloch were enforced disappeared. The hijackers were hanged to death. Many, including an 11-year-old child Chakar Baloch in January 2014, were enforced disappeared and then killed. In addition, dozens of villages were uprooted by the army to make way for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. All the while PML remained a partner and facilitator in crime with the army on these matters. They kept on providing legitimacy to these killings.
As their relations turned sour with the army, the later rigged the new elections to oust PML from power. Since then, PML has repeatedly projected themselves as pro-democracy and a friend of Balochistan. Even projecting himself as empathic, Ahsan Iqbal took plenty of time to masterfully depict the Baloch people as resistant to logic. Their social evolution being halted in the old age and Nawaz Sharif as the Messiah who had bestowed (shawoor) conscience to them. He also hinted at the Baloch being incompetent of running their own affairs and requiring of Panjab´s leadership and layouts. Apparently, the Samaritan in his story is their party leader Nawaz Sharif who has now supposedly dedicated his life to developing the ill-fated Baloch.
On 21.02.2022 I once again stumbled in Twitter Space on one Asif Durrani. He went one step further claiming Baloch are not hard-working. They are incompetent and illiterate. Most importantly the Baloch don’t make sense at all.
It was Ahsan Iqbal`s and Asif Durrani´s autistic understanding, their lies and their moral ambiguity on Balochistan that brought back Sir Riaz´s memory.
I am not astonished at their self-occupation. We have always been supposed to take the roles of the less understanding fools. We are supposed to believe that we are the incapable ones- incapable of making them understand- especially when an idea or topic is against their material and emotional interests. When something does not rouse their colonial curiosity, it is us who are supposed to be not making sense. We are bound to accept their Imaginary “truths” and identities on our real lives. Not challenge them.
Coming back to the Question one listener posed to Ahsan Iqbal “Why is there a lack of awareness and a misunderstanding in Punjab about the Baloch people?”
My answer. As long as they have an imaginary train station, our realities are too foolish to earn their attention.