April 29, 2022
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Shari, the Baluch woman who carried out the suicide blast at the Karachi University (KU), rapidly emerged as the Baluch Mumtaz Qadri. Many Baluchs are replacing their social media display pictures with hers. Voices of condemnation are being overpowered by widespread praise for what some view as her heroism. Even her husband lauded her for this massacre. The Maulana in Gwadar, who recently headed massive “peaceful, democratic rallies,” called her “my sister” in a gesture of endorsement of her suicide attack.
This shows an unsettling trend of how violence has become normalized and acceptable in Baluchistan. People no longer fear the consequences of adopting a murderer as their hero. There might be some credibility in the BLA (Baluch Liberation Army) claims that she voluntarily joined their ranks. She had every right to make her own decisions, but she definitely had no right to take away other people’s lives and plunge their families into profound grief.
Equally worrying is the proliferation of articles and talk shows in some sections of the Pakistani media dominated by apologetic opinions that continue to directly or indirectly link this kind of violence to the State’s policies toward Baluchistan. There is ample evidence that suggests that this suicide bomber did not fit the profile of the classic vindictive Baluch whose family members had gone missing or were killed by the Pakistani security forces. On the contrary, she and her family were benefactors of what we continue to recommend as the “perfect solution” to the Baluch problem: free public education, better employment opportunities, increased income, and access to higher education.
Journalist Hamid Mir somehow justified the attack by arguing that hate begets hate. Mushahid’s Hussain Syed called for revisiting the State’s policies toward Baluchistan.
In the midst of all this, we are also witnessing the rise of the guilty Pakistani intellectuals and journalists who maintain that if compensating for Islamabad’s injustices toward the Baluch requires some accommodation with people who endorse violence, it is probably worth it.
For example, Voice of America (VOA) Urdu provided the mic to a speaker with a display picture of the perpetrator of the KU attack during a Twitter Spaces on Wednesday, hoping that it would help reduce the guilt of not doing enough to hear Baluch perspectives. I wonder if the VOA would provide a platform to someone with a display picture of Osama bin Laden or any other terrorist.
Likewise, BBC Urdu published Shari’s profile way on the top of its website while placing a story about the local driver killed in the attack in the lower sections of their site.
The problem with such editorial judgments is when these media outlets prioritize the story of the over-glorified “educated” activist, they unintentionally end up celebrating the murderer. Likewise, by not giving ample space to the victims, they miss an opportunity to connect people and communities on a humane level. If readers/listeners are exposed to stories of those who are the victims instead of the attackers, there will be more public outcry and rejection of violence and calls for peace.
This happens when media outlets or journalists want themselves and their stories to be validated, liked, and shared instead of focusing on the facts.
One fellow Baluch activist explained: “This is soft-glorification of violence.”
While it is crucial to revisit Islamabad’s current policy toward Baluchistan, which might take much longer than we desire, it is critical to urgently save this generation of the Baluch that proudly and willingly embraces violence. There is currently a big vacuum in Baluchistan where the only role models young people see are not doctors, professors, authors, but fighters and commanders of the insurgent movement. The challenge for Baluch intellectuals is to turn the table and the trends.
Additionally, it is difficult to understand what point some people want to make when they emphasize that the suicide bomber was a “highly educated” person. There is this misleading perception that “educated people” cannot hate others, engage in violence, get brainwashed, or get carried away by their emotions.
Consequently, when people state that she was educated, they say so with this naive expectation that the educated person should deserve a waiver/exemption for their crime. According to this school of thought, the perpetrator cannot be wrong. They argue that there must be “something” that provoked that person to resort to violence.
So, blame “that thing” instead of the aggressor who just took some people’s lives. Well, if that’s the justification, then every criminal would have a justification for their actions, and the families of the victims of terrorism would have to remain content with that shallow explanation. Innocent civilians, like the Chinese teachers and the driver killed in the attack, should not be the ones to pay the price for the indoctrination of a passionate political activist.
Pakistani liberals, who often insist on looking at the “other side of the picture” as they try to provide an apology for this madness, can feel these incidents solely through social media. But for us as Baluch, every young person who loses their life in this violence is instantly relatable. They are either a next-door neighbour, a childhood classmate, or the younger brother/(and now sister) of a high school buddy. These are young people who deserve to live a dignified life instead of being exploited by various actors in the Baluchistan conflict. The more the supposed Pakistani friends of Baluchistan glorify such attacks with ifs, buts, and howevers, the more a disservice they will be doing to the Baluch people.
In a nutshell, the Pakistani State is pushing the Baluch youth to extreme levels, and so are the Baluch insurgents. There is an immediate need to defeat these two extreme positions to save the young Baluch.
The mindset that justifies violence needs revision as it can lead to horrific consequences for the Baluch society. Shari must not be the poster child for the Baluch struggle for justice, as violence against unarmed civilians is unacceptable and counterproductive because the very primary reason the Baluchs are upset with Pakistan is the State’s unreasonable use of force, intimidation and torture against them. Hence if the State’s violence is wrong and condemnable, how can counter-violence, which also targets innocent civilians, be justified?
It is unethical for the BLA to use women for its political agenda. Women and children must be spared in this dirty war between the Pakistani State and the Baluch separatists.
Baluch intellectuals, writers, and journalists need to join this conversation. This is not going to be an easy, comfortable or non-confrontational dialogue. When you have one side with guns and the other side with a pen/ keyboard, this will not be a debate of equals, but we need to define who we are as a people. Are we a people that use women for political purposes? Are we a people that will kill innocent civilians (or defend doing so) in the name of political rights? Are we a people who believe the killing of teachers is justified if it helps achieve specific political goals?
The BLA is undoubtedly an essential stakeholder in the conversation on Baluchistan. Still, it cannot solely hold the license to interpret what it means to be Baluch or what our core values and interests are. Hence, it’s the time for moderate and sensible voices among the Baluch who genuinely believe in justice for the Baluch to openly say that this violence in our name is unacceptable.
The BLA is currently engaged in collective identity theft of the Baluch. Due to its actions, a student in Punjab has to go missing because someone somewhere misused the Baluch identity to carry out a suicide attack. It is wrong for the Pakistani authorities to harass or arrest Baluch students on campuses in different parts of the country, what has happened in the aftermath of the Karachi attack is a perfect example of what happens in cases of identity theft: one person uses the Baluch name to carry out an attack, others with no connection to politics and the conflict end up going missing, investigated at domestic and international airports and bullied on campuses.
The KU attack will have far-reaching consequences. If Baluch men continue to glorify the killing of the Chinese teachers, they will only be encouraging more women to engage in similar violence in the future.
Also, these ardent nationalists must stop posting pictures of Shari’s children on social media. As activist Maryam Khanzehi rightly pointed out: “Please don’t share photos of her children. They have their whole life ahead of them, and they are too young to give consent. They deserve to be protected.”
This is another example of foolhardy and senseless nationalism. The little kids are too young to understand their mother’s motivations and actions. They cannot process the whole thing. At this age, even parents shouldn’t have the right to expose these children to the world of politics, hatred, and violence. Aren’t there laws or mechanisms that can help thwart such exploitation of these children? The BLA can at least appeal to its followers to respect the privacy of Shari’s children by refraining from distributing their pictures online. This shouldn’t be a big ask from the commanders.
The reactions to the BLA’s use of a female suicide bomber has received mixed reactions. Not everyone has been impressed with it. The more the BLA resorts to these extreme measures, the more it will come under criticism and pressure from the Baluch masses who do not deny the Baluch right to justice and equal treatment but vehemently oppose the use of women in this fight with Islamabad. The battle is only getting nastier by the day.
This article first appeared on April 28, in The Baluch Hal.