By Malik Siraj Akbar
Two consecutive phone calls on Monday morning, one from our senior scholar Hakeem Baloch and the other by Obaid Shad, the resident editor of Daily Asaap from Turbat, woke me up the other morning. They gave me an extremely shocking news that ‘Dashti Sahib’, as our very own renowned Baloch intellectual Jan Mohammad is known to us all, had been ambushed by unknown assailants. They said conflicting reports were being aired on the news channels. While some of them said that the 58-year old leading Baloch intellectual had passed away, the others reported that one thing was certain that Mr. Dashti was not luckily dead but in a very critical condition. The news left me in a state of utter disbelief and anguish. As soon as we arrived at Quetta’s civil hospital, everyone and anyone from the Baloch world was there. Everyone was shocked and praying for Dashti’s safety. After all he is a man whom we all love and need.
Leading Baloch politicians, senior bureaucrats, intellectuals, journalists, doctors, political workers and hundreds of admirers of Jan Mohammad had rushed to the hospital to inquire about the health of a man who has rendered unmatched services to the Baloch cause. This time, the attackers had targeted a very valuable asset of the Baloch nation. Jan Mohammad is a man with multiple identities. Not many people are lucky enough to achieve so many successes in their respective lives and come up with such boastful accomplishments. He is a serving provincial secretary, the de facto editor-in-chief of a reputed Urdu newspaper, the author of several English and Balochi books, a bold and articulate journalist.
Jan Mohammad Dashti is widely known for the marvelous contributions he has made to the preservation of the Baloch culture and history. His books Essays on Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan: Emergence, dimensions and repercussions and Baloch Cultural Heritage are considered as the best books ever written about the Baloch culture and history. He also served as the chairman of the Balochi Academy and the personal secretary of the former chief minister of Balochistan Sardar Akhtar Mengal in the 1997.
Born in October 1951 in Kunchiti, Balochistan, he completed his education by taking a two-year post-graduation course in Journalism at the University of Karachi. Passing out in 1972, he subsequently, joined Pakistan’s Press and Information Department (PID) in 1974 after passing the CSS exam. He switched over to Balochistan Civil Service group after five years and now is serving as the provincial secretary mines and minerals.
Mr. Dashti contributed many articles on Balochistan during 1978-79 to Weekly Viewpoint¸ under the pen name of Sahak Baloch. His first book the Baloch Cultural Heritage was published in 1982. He has also extensively contributed to the Balochi language under the pen name of Shay Ragam. His book “Shap Roch Shap” got tremendous popularity in the Balochi literary circles. Dashti also served as the chairman of the Balochi Academy
Dashti is widely regarded for his straightforwardness and bold views. He has been disliked and criticized for his political views. He has been in the bad books of certain quarters of the establishment due to his very courageous struggle for the rights of the Baloch people. He has vocally spoken against the exploitation of the Baloch resources and the colonial approach of Islamabad towards the Baloch demands for self-rule. He has consistently fought for the rights of the Baloch people on multiple fronts.
There is no doubt that the attack was meant to kill this top Baloch intellectual and respected bureaucrat. Mr. Dashti was on his way to his office when unidentified persons ambushed his car and fired two bullets on him. While his driver received minor injuries, the reputed Baloch scholar was badly wounded in the attack. The occurrence of such an ugly incident during a democratic government is a major setback. It clearly shows that the enemies of the Baloch are out with a well planed strategy to kill the cream of the Baloch society. It is true that if one wishes to further weaken an oppressed nation then they try to target the well wishers, progressive and intellectuals of a particular nationality.
The attack on Jan Dashti has been widely condemned by the people from various walks of life. According to Habib Jalib, the central secretary general of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), the state apparatus is deliberately attempting to target kill all the top intellectuals of the Baloch society. It is regrettable that a fanatical religious group has accepted responsibility on the life of Mr. Dashti on the charges of writing blasphemous stuff in one of his books. This is surprising that the prescribed book was written some 20 years ago and revenge was taken after twenty years. Do we not know who crated these religious groups and against whom they are being used in Balochistan? Because for the past many years, Mr. Dashti has penned no books. His last books appeared in 1980s.
Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, provincial ministers Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, Ghulam Jan, Sardar Aslam Bizanjo, Zumurak Khan, Abdul Rehman Mengal, Asghar Rind, central secretary general of the National Party, Tahir Bizanjo, BNP secretary general Habib Jalib, provincial president of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Nawabzada Haji Lashkari Raisani, leading nationalist leaders Mir Hasil Khan Bizanjo, Dr. Ishaq Baloch, Akhtar Hussain Langove, Sajid Tareen well known intellectuals like Siddiq Baluch, Abdul Wahid Bandeeg, Anwar Sajidi, Dr. Shah Mohammad Marri and other reputed personalities rushed to the hospital.
When the injured official was taken to Karachi, there he too was attended by a large number of reputed politicians such as Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly Mohammad Aslam Bhoothani, former MNA Rauf Mengal, minister Zahoor Buledai, a group of leading Baloch journalists including Arif Baluch immediately arrived at Agha Khan Hospital to inquire about the health of Mr. Dashti.
The government must take notice of the growing religious intolerance in Balochistan. There is a group of people who discourage the freedom of speech and free thinking. They consider themselves as “better Muslims” than the others. They continue to be the self-proclaimed custodians of Islam. Such fanatical mindset should be strongly discouraged. We do not live during the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. This is not the 1980s but the 21st century where there is too little room for religious militancy and intolerance. The Baloch people, mainly scholars such as Mr. Dashti, largely believe in progressive and secular thoughts. If such people are targeted then the society would surely gradually fall in the hands of extremists.
Jan Dashti has rendered valuable services to the Baloch cause. The Baloch nation respects his contributions and needs him for floating free and progressive thoughts in the society. He has stood with the Baloch people during the rainy days. His words have given the nation courage to face the deadly military operation, cases of enforced disappearances and displacements. As hundreds of people from all walks of life gathered at Quetta’s Civil hospital the other day, it clearly indicated the popularity of Mr. Dashti among various circles. Even those who disagree with his political views can not deny Mr. Dasthi’s magnificent journalistic and bureaucratic credentials.
Despite a very disappointing performance, the Balochistan government is still expected to take tangible measures to immediately arrest the culprits who attempted on the life of Jan Dashti. If today they manage to go unpunished, they will surely target another progressive and right-minded intellectual tomorrow. Balochistan does not have enough top writers and intellectuals like Jan Mohammad. Therefore, we can not afford to lose them. They are the ones who can prevent this province from falling in the hands of the religious fanatics. The secular and progressive Baloch society must not be given in the hands of the elements who have even not learnt the philosophy of life yet.
We hope that the progressive people of Balochistan will join the BNP strike calls irrespective of their political and ethnic affiliations. The society must wake up and protest against the elements who are bent upon eliminating the brainy individuals of the province. We are hopeful that Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Raisani and minister of interior affairs, Mir Zafarullah Zehri, will take personal interest in the investigation process so that the real faces are exposed. The people of Balochistan justifiably need to know who directed the activists of a banned religious group to carry out an attack on Jan Mohammad Dashti.