Balochistan is Misunderstood. Its Stunted Development Driving Pakistan Back onto The Rocks

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A CPEC-proposed new road will devastate the local boat construction industry. The old town of Gwadar looks like a dump, but Rawalpindi doesn’t care.

“You mean they actually read books in Balochistan?” My Lahori friend sounded sceptical. For him, as for most Pakistanis, Balochistan is a war zone where people want guns not books. But, just back from the 2023 Gwadar Book Festival, I told him he was not only wrong but as wrong as wrong could be. Young Baloch are thirsty to know; they buy nearly three times more books than sold at literary festivals in Karachi, Lahore, or Islamabad.

More importantly, this festival — and others I have attended in Balochistan — was organic, energetic and unfettered. Thankfully, I neither saw nor heard support for BLA/BLF terrorists. With a shoestring budget, staffed by young volunteers, and held inside a rundown high-school compound, the GBF was unlike the tepid, uninspiring Karachi-Lahore type of lit-fests. Held in five-star hotels with abundant corporate and embassy funding, these are feel-good events with lots of self-congratulations, but topics and speakers deemed controversial are carefully excluded.

My friend was pleasantly surprised to learn that more female students than male students asked questions after my Gwadar University lecture. I had long complained to him that, over the past 35-40 years, female students at my old university in Islamabad have taken up the veil and turned into passive listeners, rarely summoning the courage to stand up and ask.

But if my well-read, well-travelled, and well-meaning friend was so consistently wrong, what’s going on in other minds? When news is blacked out, good news and bad news both stop. For fear of weakening CPEC, authorities are hypersensitive about negative news. Except for that cleared from ‘above’, print and TV media may not touch Balochistan on anything.

None has underscored this sad fact more brilliantly than a fisherman’s son, Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rahman of Gwadar’s Haq Do Tehreek. At last year’s Asma Jehangir Conference in Lahore, he stole the show. When a mouse found its way into a halwai’s shop in Lahore, he thundered, Pakistani media was set ablaze. But when dead bodies appear by roadsides in Balochistan, none dare whisper. The redoubtable maulana, also a Jamaat-i-Islami leader, is currently under arrest and charged with murder. People say he is at the centre of a tussle between two agencies, one of which wants him in, the other out.

Source: The Print