Radicalised Balochi culture in the wake of conflict

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The conflict in Balochistan in the past few years – involving a low-level insurgency, an aggressive military operation, numerous enforced disappearances and the murder of two key Baloch nationalist leaders – has tremendously radicalised the Baloch culture, signs of which are visible in Balochi films, music and poetry.

Previously known for their humourous themes, Balochi films have undergone a paradigm shift and producers have resorted to churning out films with strong nationalist themes. The Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps (FC) and intelligence agencies are often depicted as enemies of Balochistan and its people, while the heroes are young men who opt for resistance under the umbrella of armed groups.

“Serious films based on social issues normally do not appeal Baloch viewers,” points out Zubair Takur, a Karachi-based Balochi film producer. “There are two extremes: the film has to be either hilarious or revolutionary envisaging an independent Balochistan. There is no middle path in Balochi films,” he added.

“A religious film was recently made but it was booed by viewers,” said Takur, who made his first Balochi film, Tamasha, in 1982.

Inspired by the phenomenon of enforced disappearances, Zindan (prison) has emerged as the most popular Balochi language film in recent years. The film is based on the story of two young educated Baloch boys committed to the dream of an independent Balochistan. They are whisked away by intelligence agencies and are tortured to reveal information about the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

Sceptical of the ‘enemy’ – which in the film are the Punjabi speaking officials – the film implicitly shows media as a gallant tool to debunk the issue of enforced disappearances. After the disappearance of Dr Baloch, the hero, and his friend, Dr Baloch’s little sister, Hani, sit in a hunger strike. Hani is joined by several other children carrying the photos of their loved ones who have gone missing. Asked if they had registered a case with the police, Hani tells an inquisitive journalist that the government officials say Dr Baloch is not in their custody. “We went to the court but were denied justice,” she complains.

In the torture cell, Dr Baloch is lured to provide information about BLA’s background and locations in return for an offer to become a minister in the next elections. Dr Baloch declines the offer, saying it is not for the agencies but for the masses to decide as to who qualifies for a ministership.

“I don’t want to become a minister. I want an independent Balochistan,” insists the imprisoned young Baloch, who supports killing Punjabis in Balochistan saying the outsiders man the intelligence agencies and deserve this kind of treatment.

The film visibly shows Pakistani flag being burnt on the screen.

On the instructions of a corps commander, Dr Baloch and his friend Colonel Doda Khan are killed in the torture cell without having revealed any information about the BLA, whom Colonel Doda describes in his last words as the “organisation of the Baloch people”.

Though nationalist films are circulated widely across Pakistani and Iranian Balochistan and the Gulf region, not much is known about the venues where they are made as their covers do not show the names of the production houses. However, Youtube, an online website, has been the best forum for the separatists to screen Zindan and other similar films in the midst of fear of government’s raids on video shops.

The military regime of General (r) Pervez Musharraf had moved with an iron fist to control nationalist films and songs. For instance, arrest warrants were issued against a Balochi singer Azeem Jan Baloch after he sang a revolutionary song paying tributes to Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Balaach Marri. The local music shops were raided and the cassettes were taken into official custody, and Azeem Jan and popular Balochi poet Mubarak Qazi, who had composed the song, were put into the jail for several weeks. The government agencies arrested another Balochi poet Dr Hanif Sharif and kept him in solitary confinement for several months.

“The government pressure is still there, but no new cassette can run in the market until it includes at least two revolutionary songs,” says Younas Baloch, who runs the largest Balochi production house, the Karachi-based Washmaly Production. “Even those who only sang love songs have now shifted to nationalistic songs to improve their sales,” he added.

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