Three Years of The Baloch Hal
By Malik Siraj Akbar
On its third birthday two weeks ago, The Baloch Hal was a sick boy lying in a computer lab nursing two robust attacks from the hackers within ten days. We have remained officially blocked inside Pakistan for the past two years. Attacks by hackers is a new challenge confronting us, as much as it haunts more sophisticated websites like Googele Pakistan. (We are still working to surmount the technical challenges.)
As we overcome the online attacks, we delightedly celebrate with our readers the completion of three eventful years of The Baloch Hal. Honestly, we have more reasons to be exuberant over accomplishing this milestone than grumbling about the usual hardships involving our work such as issues of financial scarcity, censorship and governmental pressure.
On November 20, 2009, my two non-journalist friends (who still wish to remain anonymous because they are too modest to talk about their contributions) and I started this online newspaper from Quetta with a number of goals ahead of us.
Since all three of us belonged to Balochistan’s educated middle class, the challenge before us was how to report the conflict in Balochistan as honestly as possible without being hijacked or influenced by any of the players involved in the conflict. Our intention was not to solely cover politics and conflict. It was just a coincidence that we went online at a time when the conflict was on its peak and there was an overwhelming demand in and outside Pakistan about news and analyses about Balochistan.
Our actual goal was to establish an institution that provided a platform to aspiring journalists and writers of Balochistan to start their professional careers. As a young boy from rural Balochistan who always wanted to become a journalist, I knew how hard (and sometimes impossible) it was for the youth of Balochistan to even get a ‘letter to the editor’ published in Pakistan’s mainstream English language newspapers. At The Baloch Hal, we wanted young people from remote parts of Balochistan to have the courage to write, get published and read across the globe just like regular columnists in Pakistani newspapers.
I am glad that dream has largely come true. Our contributors have received Fulbright scholarships based on their writings published in The Baloch Hal. Their articles have been (re)published in Pakistan’s highly respected newspapers like Dawn and Daily Times. Of course, we do not wish to solely take credit for the outstanding work our individual contributors have done. What they achieved is purely because of their own personal commitment and dedication. What makes us deeply satisfied is the fact that we played a minor role to inspire and encourage these budding writers to start writing and then get published in larger newspapers.
In the midst of the ongoing conflict, we remained clear about one thing from day one that we would not compromise our independent editorial policy regardless of pressures exerted by the government as well as the Baloch nationalists. While we have remained supportive of Baloch nationalist demands by default, The Baloch Hal has endeavored to serve as an independent inspirational and educational institution for the people of Balochistan instead of seeking any kind of guidance from the government, the political parties and armed groups. We have remained committed to liberal and democratic values and confronted the government as well as the opposition at all times whenever they attempted to infringe people’s fundamental human rights. We have advocated equal rights and opportunities for all, particularly those deprived of their voice in the mainstream media.
The Baloch Hal , since its inception has discouraged an approach of ghettoization of the Baloch people. Until we were banned inside Pakistan, we attempted to educate the people in the rest of Pakistan, mainly policymakers, the media and the development sector, about the ground situation in the province instead of discontinuing the academic and journalistic discussion on Balochistan. Besides the Baloch people, we have tried our level best to defend the rights of all people of Balochistan, mainly the Hazaras, Shias and Hindus, women who are facing their own sets of serious problems in Balochistan. Let me reiterate our full commitment to defend the rights of the Hazaras, Shias, Hindus and women living in Balochistan because the future of these communities looks as bleak as that of the Baloch people under current circumstances.
We made sure that we our analyses and critique remained professional rather than personal. Our commitment to professionalism paid off. Our integrity was recognized and admired by highly reputed media organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.-World), B.B.C. Urdu, B.B.C. Online, Al-Jazeera English, Deutsche Welle, The News on Sunday, South Asia News, Radio Canada International and several other organizations.
Amid so much to celebrate, we also have our share of problems and challenges.
We often hear from our readers about our inability to publish as fast regularly as we should.
Indeed there is no excuse to ignore your complaints. The best way is to share our problems with you in case you are (or somebody you know is) in a position to help The Baloch Hal continue its work.
Like most online publications, we do not make money out of our website (nor was it ever our goal when we launched the paper). The Baloch Hal by now has emerged as a brand and a trendsetter rather as a mere newspaper in Pakistan’s world of online journalism. Thus, there are a lot of hopes and expectations from our readers and admirers. In order to meet those expectations, we need more people to work with us. It is too difficult (as we are not familiar with the “impossible” word) to run a newspaper regularly without having the finances to hire a regular paid staff. Our entire team comprises of volunteers.
Currently, we are looking to hire a regular photographer and some local full-time reporters and copy editors. If we have the resources to pay a team of professional journalists, we will be able to continue our work more consistently. Our goal for the next year is to arrange the resources needed to hire a team of professional journalists to run this newspaper on international standards. The problem with volunteers, as we have learned from our experience in the past three years, is that you cannot force them to work on deadlines simply because they are ‘volunteers’.
Lastly, I would like to thank my two colleagues who helped me launch this newspaper and have remained an endless source of inspiration and support for me in the past three years. They instilled courage and resilience in me during hard times. The Baloch Hal family has grown in the past three years. We have more young people working for us today. Our doors are always open for new people who are willing to offer their expertise in return of gaining experience of covering one of South Asia’s biggest yet least reported human rights crises and prolonged ethnic conflicts.
We deeply thank all our readers and well-wishers for their extraordinary support in the past three years. The quest and determination to improve the quality of our work remains the top-most priority of our everyday work.
Originally published in The Baloch Hal on November 30, 2012