Silencing LUMS, Resilencing Balochistan


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog. Unedited version below:

“Learn about the history, complications, human rights abuses, and the struggle for justice that has been going on in Balochistan.”

Such was the description of an event that was to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences today.

Highly-anticipated, Unsilencing Balochistan was scheduled to have a panel including Mama Qadeer (Chairman, Voice for Missing Baloch Persons), Farzana Majeed (General Secretary, Voice for Missing Baloch Persons), columnist and activist M. M. Ali Talpur, academic Professor Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, Director HRCP I. A. Rehman and activist Sajjad Changhezi. The session was to be moderated by Chief Editor of the Daily Times, Rashid Rahman.

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However, yesterday students, staff and faculty at LUMS were abruptly emailed a brief, one-liner by Ali Khan, Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department:

“The scheduled talk has been cancelled.”

While the reasons were clear to the wise, it was still difficult to imagine the stomp of boots within a private academic institution’s premises resonating among its decisions and activities.

Yet a ‘direct order’ by a certain ‘institution of the state’ was conveyed to Ali Khan demanding that the talk on Balochistan be cancelled immediately.

To the utmost furore of the students, Unsilencing Balochistan had become re-silenced even before it could be heard.

It says much about that state of affairs in a country when a discussion in a private university located in modern, urban provincial capital poses a threat to the state; when a few whispers from thousands of strangled voices of suffering and struggle raised to shatter the deathly silence shake the towering walls, overshadowing the state and society, of the corridors of power in the country.

Whispers put to immediate hush shriek of a culture of coercion and injustice, of power and subjugation.

The forced cancellation of the talk at LUMS is but merely a slight brush of the all-pervasive hold that has Balochistan gripped for decades; littered its streets and roads with mutilated bodies, left it with craters for graves and vanished many into thin air.

More importantly, the event’s cancellation is a blatant pursuit of the monopolization of discourse and narratives in Pakistan by the all-mighty and powerful. A pursuit, that is not new, which has previously and continues to subordinate education to certain agendas by the perversion of textbooks in Pakistan through distortions, lies, fabrications and obfuscations.

In the case of the Baloch and Balochistan, the monopolization is so complete, and its absorption so widespread, that challenging or contradicting it has now become a ‘threat’ and abhorrent to ‘the state’. It is a narrative of the sardars, the BLA and the naïve Baloch – manipulated by all to resent and dissent against the utopia that is Pakistan which has been ceaselessly kind and generous to the people of the province.

This narrative does all but exclude the greatest violator of Baloch rights – the Pakistani state and its institutions.

Umair Javed, who also teaches at LUMS, was quick to point out that none of the speakers who were to speak at the event were linked to either of the actors upon which the dominant narrative regarding Balochistan is centered; and that the state’s side of the story on the issue has been fed to us for over 60 years.

People on Twitter were prompt in stating that talks and discussions at LUMS don’t and cannot bring change; they are insignificant. Fair enough. However, then what was so significant and alarming about a discussion within the university that called for its cancellation? It was the persisting monopoly of narrative that the talk at LUMS seemed set to challenge – a narrative that is a product of the carefully-constructed dominant discourse which brands any dissent or dispute to be anti-Pakistan, anti-state ‘propaganda’; a narrative that conflates certain institutions with the country itself, to criticise whom is to malign Pakistan; a narrative that strangles the people for it seeks to strangle their voice. This fight of narratives and discourses is not trivial but a crucial battle in the struggle for a genuine democracy in Pakistan.

And the cancellation is yet another alarming reminder of the necessity to reclaim the discourse in Pakistan, to wrench it away from the hands of the powerful to the people.

Balochistan is bleeding.

And silence in its bruised and bloodied face is very much an accomplice.

And it must be remembered that only the aggressor would stifle and silence the cries and wails of its victims; for it exposes him. And the forced cancellation of the talk sputters the same.

As the cancellation is an assault on freedom of expression, freedom of speech, academic freedom and thoughts; it is an indicator of the palpable limits to the widely-hailed freedom of expression in Pakistan which is only allowed to run rampant upon political actors and groups. It stems from the stream of logic that accepts that a democratically-elected prime minister can be sent to the gallows, another can be humiliated and sent into exile but a military dictator cannot be tried. No, never.

Thus, the ‪#‎ShameOnLUMS‬ trend which absurdly holds the university at fault for planning such an ‘anti-Pakistan’ event and justifies the subsequent cancellation. The social media trend is but sharply reflective of the pervasive absorption of the dominant narrative regarding Balochistan, which includes conflation of an institution of the state with the state itself, and the consequent acceptance of limitations to academic freedom and discussion in Pakistan – a stark legacy of decades of dictatorships and authoritarianism that is pulsating strong even during an ostensibly democratic period; indicative of where true power lies even today

In a time such as this, the invaluable and timeless words of the great Eqbal Ahmad draw us back to them.

While famously speaking against the brutal army action in East Pakistan in 1971, and how uncanny to find striking relevance, sewn deep in his words for East Pakistan, to Balochistan, he wrote:

“I do not know if my position would at all contribute to a humane settlement. Given the fact that our government is neither accountable to the public nor sensitive to the opinion of mankind, our protest may have no effect until this regime has exhausted all its assets and taken the country down the road to moral, political, and economic bankruptcy.

 However, lack of success does not justify the crime of silence in the face of criminal, arbitrary power.”

And as the crime of silence reigns today; and if voices are a threat, then speak, nay, scream we shall.

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14 comments on “Silencing LUMS, Resilencing Balochistan

  1. Why is this matter so much of concern only now? Is it just because it was to be picked up by foreign-embassy funded LUMS?

    Why not ask all Punjabis to get out of giant oil and gas industries in Sindh and Baluchistan; where the indigenous Sindhis and Baluchs are roaming for the jobs. Meanwhile, these Punjabis receive jobs without any job-advertising. Rather than blaming ‘ISI’, people like you (who flaunt their ethnicity as ‘Kashmiri-Punjaban’) need to paint it ‘Punjabi’ dominance on natural resources of the people of these two provinces. Accept it, Punjabis are the problem not ‘ISI’.

  2. Nauman says:

    True that it is pretty frustrating, however is there any way (print media?) of conveying the Baloch-voice to public (or more specifically to students)? Has any of the event organizers thought about it?

    • Oh, the English print media was at the front of engaging this issue after this, with numerous articles and op-eds, but then again, its audience is limited.
      As for LUMS, we organized social media campaigns in collaboration with students from other local universities, issued statements as a student body, and organized small events on campus relating to Balochistan.
      Many of us had several plans in mind but end of semester disrupted some of the activity. Although we have formed a committee of students for action in wake of this, which we hope to utilise.

  3. SK says:

    Hi Hafsa,

    Good post. I was following the same story when it appeared in the newspaper before it went viral on Social Media. After reading almost 18 hours of tweets, I was stunned at people’s ignorance on the issue. People tweeting the Faculty of LUMS phone number so they can be harassed and silenced, pictures of civilians (apparently killed by BLA), noting that the Indian Army Chief has insisted that they support the Baloch seperatist, that Baloch are anti-state that must be dealt with iron hands, and pictures of Mama Qadeer depicting him as anti-state.

    After taking a break from all this, It occurred to me that the posts I was reading slamming MAMA Qadeer Baloch and LUMS had a pattern. They had same verbatim tweets after a certain time from different users. Meaning – they were bot accounts controlled by someone to hijack the topic.

    I took pictures of the tweets. But it’s very easy to figure out the pattern of these tweets. Just thought I’d share with you.

    Regards.

    SK

    • Hi Saqib,

      My profuse apologies for such a delayed response to your comment.
      You were absolutely right in your observation of the pattern of social media attacks that were hurled at LUMS and the people involved in this event. It was a rather curious case, if you know what I mean.

      Once again, thank you for reading and sparing time to express your thoughts here.

      Best,
      Hafsa

  4. M Butt says:

    You’re a very eloquent writer but that doesn’t make you right, LUMs should have also invited the families of the settlers that were massacred.

    • LUMS wholly condemned the massacre of the workers, which by the way, happened after this whole fiasco.
      I do hope you realize that abhorrence towards state subjugation of the Baloch; and oppression carried out on non-Baloch by non-state actors is not mutually exclusive; but very much in the same vein.

  5. M Butt says:

    You speak for Baloch rights, but you’re not even safe to travel to Balochistan because you’re from Punjab.

    • Have you ever wondered why is this the case? Not that I justify violence, I would abhor to do that, but such a situation is rather inviting for an examination of Baloch grievances that are often expressed by militant groups violently.

  6. Irshadullah says:

    This comment is addressed directly to Ms. Hafsa Khawaja in order not to generate any unnecessary discussion. Thank you.

    Some time ago I submitted a balanced analysis of the root cause of the blasphemy law and its resolution. I had mentioned that if the Shariat Court is approached to issue a decree that the income tax paid by non-muslims be called jizya and the income tax being paid by muslims be called obligatory charity (khairat) to be given to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan then three things will happen.

    Firstly the Shariat Court is constrained by the laws of Islam to grant this request since there is no income tax in Islam and non-muslims are required to pay jizya. Also the Shariat Court can not refuse imposing obligatory charity on muslims since it has no authority to destroy the Islamic Republic of Pakistan by depriving it of funds to run it. Also this would have the additional benefit of making muslims feel more willing to pay since they would be giving charity to please Almighty Allah (in addition to any Zakat that they are already giving through their own arrangements or through the Government) .

    Secondly, by accepting jizya from non-muslims, muslims become duty bound before Almighty Allah to make sure that the lives and properties of non-muslims are fully protected. The Shariat Court would never deny the previous statement. In fact any one claiming that the Shariat Court would reject the statement would be committing blasphemy against Almighty Allah.

    Thirdly, the blasphemy law in its present form would have to be modified since it would be making it impossible for muslims to perform their duty before Allah described above.

    So why is it that you are making so much ballyhoo and not following the advice to make a petition to the Shariat Court? Do not be afraid. I would join you in this petition and would come to Pakistan for this purpose.

    Irshadullah

    From:

    Irshadullah Khan
    10400 Ayvalik PTT P.O. Box 78
    Ataturk Boulevard 43-45
    Ayvalik, Balikesir, Turkey

    Telephone No. 90 266 312 4495
    E-mail: irshadk2@gmail.com

  7. RebelQiyas says:

    good to see that some people knows the forgotten intellectual of our country ‘ Eqbal Ahmad …keep it up

  8. […] Only last year, a scheduled talk on the “history, complications, human rights abuses, and the struggle for justice that has been going on in Balochistan” at the Lahore University of Management Sciences was forcibly booted down and cancelled after ‘external’ intervention. […]

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