Which is the last place on earth that we, as Indians, would expect to listen to a fierce public denunciation of Pakistan's policy in Balochistan? In Pakistan, of course. I heard it at the ninth Karachi Literary Festival from Kaiser Bengali, who is no Bengali at all, nor a seditious Baloch revolutionary, but one of Pakistan’s most renowned economists, during the launch of his book, A Cry for Justice: Empirical Insights from Balochistan.
The author, who has served the provincial government of Balochistan as the head of the chief minister’s Policy Reform Unit, would, of course, be expected to defend his thesis. So, I assumed the presence of Pakistan’s former long-serving ambassador to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, on the panel, was aimed at refuting the charges levelled by the author that Balochistan has suffered “exploitation, discrimination and neglect”.
Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when Qazi, describing himself as a native of Balochistan, born and brought up in Pishin, a small town near Quetta, not only endorsed every word the rather dry and professorial author had uttered, but went on to denounce with fierce passion the Pakistan federal government’s policies that had left the province crying out for justice. Did someone just say Pakistan is a vicious military dictatorship that locks up every dissident? No, they sent him as ambassador to (of all places) India!
As if that were not enough, I wandered round to the release of The Faltering State by Tariq Khosa, Pakistan’s most well-known police officer-cum-public intellectual (the equivalent, I would suggest, of our own Ved Marwah). His career in law enforcement spanned 37 years, and included serving as police chief of Balochistan. After an initial play of words with his fellow panelists over whether Pakistan could be described as a “failed state”, a “failing state”, or a “flailing state”, Khosa explained why he had picked the expression “faltering” to describe his own country, concluding that “our state institutions have faltered in developing a comprehensive national security paradigm, resulting in our nation turning against itself.” Had someone in India said the same about our country, the saffronwallahs would have ordered them to “go to Pakistan”!
Everyone else on the panel strongly backed Khosa and elaborated on the thrust of his argument. I could see, however, that the moderator, my old friend Javed Jabbar, was the only one of the hundreds present who felt the speakers were being less than fair to their nation.
Javed got his opportunity to stand up for Pakistan at my session titled “Love Thy Neighbour”, when my fellow (Pakistani) panelists were pretty sharp about their establishment’s needless hostility towards India. Javed thundered that the platform was “demonising Pakistan”. There was some feeble applause, but I would guess some 90 per cent of the audience thought his language was excessive.
The valedictory was overhung with the sudden death of the famed Pakistani peace activist and human rights warrior, Asma Jahangir. As the anchor of Aman ki Aasha, there was perhaps no civil society crusader close to her stature as an impassioned advocate of peace between India and Pakistan. The valedictory session was thus imbued with a deep sense of loss that the cause of democracy, human rights and good sense between our two countries should have suddenly been left orphaned.
That is the message I bring back from Karachi. There is a vast constituency out there for peace and good sense. We obsess with the nut-cases who hate us, while ignoring the Asma Jahangirs who more truly represent today’s average Pakistani. That is the tragedy of our present.
Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.