“Journalists have become deeply vulnerable”

, Nargis Baloch about the current situation in Balochistan, the role of the military in the downward spiral and the rise of religious militancy in the province

“Journalists have become deeply vulnerable”
Nargis Baloch is a Baloch woman journalist and editor belonging to the lush green and agricultural area of Kohi Goth in the Malir district of Karachi. She started working as a journalist in different news organizations in Karachi while she was still a student. Currently she is the editor of daily Intekhab, a newspaper widely read in Balochistan. She has written extensively on the social, political and cultural issues of the Baloch people, and played a key role in the negotiation between the Musharaf government and the Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. In the light of her experiences, she has authored two books ‘The Death of a Lion’ (2006) and Maadar-e-Watan (2013), analyzing the current political situation in Balochistan.

Hanif Dilmurad: How did you come in the field of journalism?

Nargis Baloch: I was 7 when I started writing for children’s magazines. After my marriage I completed my 10th grade exams and have never stopped writing since. Pakistan Press International (PPI) was my first regular media institution where I wrote many different Features. Then in the 1990s, I joined daily ‘Intehkhab’ as a sub-editor and started my research-based work on Karachi’s Baloch neighbourhoods, subsequently extending it to the far-flung parts of Balochistan. I also started writing a regular column ‘Gumnaam Sipahi, critically highlighting the issues of the Baloch and Balochistan.

Reports suggest that Balochistan is a most dangerous place for journalism. What do you say?

Yes, I agree. In Balochistan, journalists have been under attack since 2008, with dozens losing their lives. Journalism is a dangerous task there as journalists face threats from all quarters, including Baloch insurgents, religious militants and state agencies. I know many journalist colleagues who were murdered. In the beginning, journalists were targeted mainly in the outlying areas of the province, but now it has expanded to the provincial capital of Quetta. Recently, Irshad Mastoi, a very competent journalist, was killed in Quetta in his office while performing his duties. The situation wasn’t quite as dire earlier but ever since the killing of Nawab Bugti things changed. No one is safe in the province. Anyone can kill anyone anywhere and flee easily. In such a situation journalists have become deeply vulnerable. I was personally targeted several times, but escaped. I received many phone calls threatening me to leave journalism. Our local reporters in the field are not safe. According to the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), so far 41 journalists have been targeted in Balochistan in different incidents.

The Baloch rebel leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti speaks on a phone outside his compound in the remote region of the restive Balochistan province
The Baloch rebel leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti speaks on a phone outside his compound in the remote region of the restive Balochistan province

How do you see the current turmoil in Balochistan?

The Balochistan government does not have the authority to play an effective role in bringing about peace in the region. Dr Abdul Malik is a weak chief minister, but it is hard to blame him completely as he has faced a number of problems and challenges since day one. He is heading a coalition government where he is under constant pressure from other partners. In reality, the military governs the province.

Baloch insurgent groups are also still powerful. Dr. Allah Nazar-led Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) is the stronger group in Baloch parts of the province and carrying out its subversive activities. Dr. Malik Baloch and its party are very serious in resolving the issue and they can also manage it, as the BLF people were associated with his party in the past, but because of the non-serious attitude of the federal government, they cannot start any initiative in this regard.

You had played a third party role in negotiation between the then government and Nawab Bugti. Why do you think you people failed?

I don’t think we failed but things were not easy. I personally think that it was a game in which Nawab Bugti was pushed to go to the mountains and fight with the government. At that time the government did not show any seriousness and today Balochistan is burning. I think the Musharaf government is the main party responsible for the turmoil in the province today.

It was Dr. Shazia’s case which worsened the situation. Instead of resolving the Dr. Shazia rape case, they started protecting the accused and even Parvez Musahraf came out on TV channels and started giving harsh statements. At that time I met Nawab Bugti in the mountains and tried to persuade him to leave the Dr. Shazia issue. But he openly said that it would be a shame for him to do so. I told him that Dr. Shazia was an employee of the Pakistan Petroleum in Dera Bugti and not his guest, but he replied that she was in Dera Bugti and therefore she was living there as a guest, and thus a Balochi ‘mayaar’. He saw the rape incident on his heartland as a breach of the Baloch code of honour. I, as an independent and third party, met Nawab Bugti ten times. Mushahid Hussain Syed, Tariq Aziz and Mian Muhammad Soomro, ministers in the Musharaf government also met him. But none of us could reach a workable solution.

How do you see the rise of religious militancy in Balochistan?

In the last ten to twelve years we saw the mushroom growth of religious seminaries, which are not only destroying the secular and progressive fabric of the society but also spreading hatred and militancy in the region. Resultantly, we saw a rise in attacks on girls’ schools and religious minorities.

I think it is a game in which the key players are our state agencies. The Government, instead of resolving the already worsened issues, is making the province a complete security zone. They are basically trying to divert the attention of the people, especially the international community from Balochistan’s genuine issues to religious militancy. It is the need of the hour that people, political parties and civil society organizations of Balochistan make their strength known and foil these conspiracies, but they are afraid of reprisal from both state and non-state actors.

The writer is a Baloch journalist and researcher