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Friday, May 08, 2009

A day in Pakistani Baluchistan

Pashtoon, Baluch, Hazara, Barahvi, and many more. Pakistan which is binding all the components together is a blessing for heterogeneous Baluchistan.
The Bangladesh Today

It is an entirely different world. As if I have landed in another arena of Time. Men are wearing black turbans. Some of them are with caps which are of every hue. Their trousers (shalwars) are sloppy. Almost all of them are clad in sheets to withstand the cold weather. Those who are not clad, carry sheets on their shoulders. Women, seen very few, are with long shirts almost all of scarlet color. It is dust everywhere. The town consists of mud houses, very few with bricks and there is hardly any double story building. It is a fairly large town but there is no bookshop, no decent restaurant, and probably no chemist- not to speak of a plaza or shopping mal.

I shake my head and pinch myself but it is not hallucination. I am in Pakistan, it is 2008 and this is Kachlak, the first town you come across after leaving Quetta's northern outskirts.

The Persian speaking, soft spoken, Yahya Tajik and veteran journalist Maqbool Zafar are accompanying me. We keep on driving. The mud houses are spread over miles and miles. "These are Afghan refugees but almost all with computerized Pakistani I.D. cards!" My companions tell me. They can differentiate between a refugee and a local because of style of turbans. "These refugees will never go back. Most of them are from Qandhar. Pakistan is Dubai for them."

We hit an intersection. The road on left leads to Pasheen, and onward to D. I. Khan. We turn right. This is Ziarat road. For miles there is no habitation. Earth is red. Mountains are stark barren. The landscape is all wilderness. It frightens.
Suddenly Maqbool Zafar orders the driver to stop. We get down. There is a huge crack on the road, the aftermath of recent earthquake. We see another gigantic crack far away at the peak of a mountain. Had the population been dense, loss of human life would have been more colossal.

"Why Baluchistan is Sickman of Pakistan?" I ask my companions and they open a floodgate. What the intelligentsia at Quetta sees and foresees is horrendous. The area wise biggest province is the center of modern Great Game. All regional and international players are striving here. There are currents, countercurrents and crosscurrents, proxies and ambushes, traps and waylays, both tactical and political and the only sufferer is common man of Baluchistan.

Isn't it tragic that Sardar Akbar Bugti has been killed but the anachronistic Sirdari system is intact. The murder of this pro-federation old chieftain has supplied a new lifeline to the centuries old socio-economic set up which is depriving common Baluch of basic facilities of health , hygiene and knowledge . How strong this set-up is can be imagined by having a glimpse of chief ministers of the province during last three decades. But the non-Sirdar politicians have been equally indifferent to the woes of common man. The turbans and robes of Moulavies turned politicians also can not claim any radical change in the milieu to their credit. Instead they stabbed the voter in his back by making bargain to support the notorious 17th amendment!
The word "Kachlak", basically, is used for a permanently inhabited settlement". Maqbool Zafar educates me. This is in contrast to "Elagh" which means a village which is populated during the season and then deserted for a certain part of the year. But the influx of Afghan refugees has changed everything. Many temporary settlements are no more temporary. There is no going back to war-ridden devastated Afghanistan. The demographic imbalance created by this influx is ignored by the locals because language is bond stronger than many other considerations. The Baluch of southern part of the province have no linguistic affinity with Punjabis and Memons who, they apprehend, would disturb the existing demography of Gawadar if the port is developed. What a paradox . India, America, Iran and UAE feel threatened by Gawadar and so is a Baluch!

We leave the dusty town of Kachlaak. "Either a miracle is needed to change hundreds of towns like Kachlaak or we have to wait for centuries , whatever is earlier." I say in a tone of soliloquy .

Alamdar Road is a pleasant contrast to Kachlaak. We tread this longest road of Quetta. Dominated by members of Persian speaking Hazara the vicinity speaks of affluence but not of ostentation. I always visit this road to shop "dawaween" (anthologies) of classical and modern Persian poets fabulously printed in Iran. "Will all of these books be sold here?" I ask the Persian speaking shopkeeper pointing to stacks of Irani books. "No. But we export them to Afghanistan." I browse voluminous Shahnama Firdosi avariciously . It is published in extra large size with fantastic large paintings and miniatures and only in two thousand Rupees. If a book of this size, volume and standard is imported from a western country, the price would not be less than twenty thousand rupees. I recall having inquired about Brown's Literary History of Persia in an Islamabad bookstore. Four volumes of normal size with no illustrations and photos. The store owner, a friend, asked for twenty five thousand rupees!

We eat a typical Hazara lunch at a restaurant of Alamdaar Road. Aash, made of homemade spaghettis with soup of cheese. Strange combination- as strange as Baluchistan itself . Pashtoon, Baluch, Hazara, Barahvi, and many more. Pakistan which is binding all the components together is a blessing for heterogeneous Baluchistan.

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