COVER STORY: Balochistan: Pakistan’s Broken Mirror | The Review
A child is fiddling with a poster of a mustachioed man, a missing political worker who may be his father or his uncle, and who is in all likelihood, dead. He draws my immediate attention, this child, because out of the thousands seated around him in row upon neat row inside the open-air tent, he is the only one not focused on the stage, the blazing lights, the young man holding forth in angry punctuated bellows.
“I am not a friend of Pakistan!” Zahid Baloch bangs the podium to emphasise his point, his countenance flushed, severe. “I am not a friend of the People’s Party!” He bangs the podium again, and the evening air swells with the ferocious stillness of his audience, tense and alert like a taut muscle. Two days earlier, on January 15, the Pakistan army’s Frontier Corps had opened fire on a student protest in south-eastern Balochistan, killing two students and injuring four more – the latest casualties in an escalating war between the state of Pakistan and nationalists in Balochistan, the country’s largest and most sparsely populated province, where the fifth sustained rebellion against Islamabad since 1948 is seething.
Zahid is the secretary-general of the largest student movement in Balochistan, a fierce opponent of the central government and the more mainstream Baloch parties. At this twilight gathering in Lyari, home to a sizeable Baloch community, he delivers a verbal blow to the waffling nationalist parties. “The Baloch are the enemy of the National Party! The Baloch are the enemy of the BNP-Mengal!” The crowd has heard itself affirmed. Wild applause erupts, a release.
The next speaker is Abdul Wahab Baloch, the scruffy and soft-spoken, white-bearded head of the Baloch Rights Council. Midway through his talk, he switches abruptly from Balochi into Urdu. “Tonight, we have a foreign journalist among us who is here to report the Baloch cause, and we welcome her.” I turn around to hunt for a foreign face, eager to find another female journalist – and find the crowd watching me. The realisation blooms. Oh. You mean me. Here in Karachi, the city of my birth, I am suddenly a foreigner. I wave nervously, unsure of how to respond. How many among the crowd will talk to me when they realise I am a Punjabi, the politically and numerically dominant group in Pakistan, and the eternal target of Baloch nationalist ire?
A caterwauling rises up from the semidarkness, and then a rallying cry. “Pakistan murdabad!” “Die Pakistan!” Outside, my taxi driver has been waiting uncomfortably, ringing my phone every so often as darkness descends in a plea to hurry it up. He is an ethnic Pashtun: the two groups have an uneasy peace, and Lyari, a large ghetto with a million residents, is nowhere to be after dark. As I get into the car, he asks, “Everything done?”
“Yeah.” “Good.” He sounds relieved that I will not be directing him elsewhere. “Let’s get out of here.”
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