Students don’t count
By Malik Siraj AKbar
Enter the crowded canteen near the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Balochistan and one is met by a huge poster showing a young man’s picture and a couplet that reads: “How naive you are; you expect justice from me amid your injustices against me?” The picture on the poster is that of Ghafar Lango, a Baloch political worker who has allegedly been picked up by some intelligence agency.
Looking around one can see the canteen covered by life-sized pictures of other young Baloch; each poster cries out for justice.
That growing militant-nationalist sentiments in students has been noted by the government is obvious from the fact that President Pervez Musharraf has recently been speaking very openly about the ‘misled’ Baloch youth.
“The BLA [Balochistan Liberation Army] is full of your [Baloch] kids; you should tell them to adopt the right path,” Musharraf had thundered in Turbat in November 2006. In last week’s visit to Quetta, he went one step ahead and said that he would “go and talk to the misled youths myself and ask them to return from the hills. There is no Lashkar-e-Balochistan [a long march called by the Balochistan National Party (BNP) against the government]. The only Lashkar in Pakistan is the Pakistan army. I will go to the UoB myself and talk to the disillusioned Baloch youths in order to bring them back to the right path.”
Ironically, however, the President was unable to interact with students during his 3-day long trip to Quetta, the first since the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Though he held extensive interactive sessions with representatives from different walks of life, Musharraf could spare no time to meet students.
Government sources say Musharraf has been informed that besides young Baloch who have armed themselves and taken to the hills, there are also soaring militant-nationalist sentiments among the Baloch students at UoB. These disgruntled young men burnt 20 university buses on August 26 when news of Akbar Bugti’s killing flashed across the country. They also burnt down many banks and hundreds of shops across the province.
It was previously felt that Musharraf had taken note of these growing militant sentiments; in his speeches he requested local people, tribal elders and scholars to lend him a hand in preventing the Baloch youth from turning militant. “Until this Quetta trip, and especially after his comments in Turbat about talking to students, it really seemed as if the General was convinced that his strategy to develop Balochistan would not work unless he won the hearts of the Baloch youth,” says an observer.
It was even announced in a public gathering on December 7, 2006 that the government would provide around one thousand fully paid scholarships to the young Baloch to help them study in the best professional colleges and universities of Pakistan.
“But during his latest visit, the fact that the president could spare no time for the students shows how sincere he really is about addressing the youth’s grievances against the Centre,” says an analyst.
TFT recently spoke to a number of Baloch students at UoB and the Bolan Medical Collage (BMC). The Baloch Students Organisation has a very strong presence at both institutions. Unlike some of the leading universities of Pakistan, the right-wing Islami Jamiat-e Tulaba (IJT) has almost no presence at the UoB and the BMC where students proudly say they are liberal, secular and leftist.
Hakeem Baloch, the president of the Baloch Students Organisation, believes that even though Baloch students no longer have the same degree of enthusiasm and commitment they once had, walls in the hostel rooms are still covered with life-sized posters of Nawab Bugti and nationalistic songs blare from the loud speakers.
“We want to politically educate the Baloch youth so that they learn about their rights and their existence as a separate nationality,” Bashir Zeb Baloch, chairman of the BSO, told TFT. “The younger generation coming to us now seems much more frustrated and emotional compared to their seniors. Baloch nationalism gained impetus with the commencement of the military operation in the province and has taken a significant turn in the aftermath of August 26. The Baloch youth sees us [seniors] today as cowards. They think there is no solution but to move to the hills and take up arms. How can we stop them?”
Hakeem Baloch, too, views the BSO sceptically and says that while it concentrated on educating young men in the 1960s, that spirit is missing now. “In the past, BSO got overwhelming support from ‘progressive’ elements and leftists from other parts of the country. Several well-to-do Punjabi families, including the editor of a leading progressive Lahore-based magazine, travelled to Balochistan and actively participated in the insurgency of 1973. Today the BSO lacks that kind of moral support from other parts of the country,” he adds.
Baloch also doubts that the BSO worries Musharraf: “Since he is a military man, he only looks at things from a militaristic lens. He views young Baloch engaged in armed struggle as a threat to his interests. He has no interest in educating them.”
Indeed, even moderate Baloch forces subscribe to the idea that the only solution to the problem of Balochistan is armed resistance. The BLA has gained tremendous acceptance and moral endorsement from the ordinary Baloch who considers it the ‘true’ fighter for Baloch rights.
“It is strange that Musharraf expects the Baloch to give up arms when he himself refuses to pull out troops from Balochistan and announce an end to the military operation in the province,” says an observer