Amputated spirit


Is there a prosthetic for Balochistan, Mr Prime Minister?

One of my favourite flicks is the 1992 Al Pacino starrer Scent of a Woman in which he plays the role of an irascible, blind, medically-retired army officer.

In a particularly poignant scene, while defending a preparatory school student, who is unfairly threatened with expulsion before a disciplinary committee, he says: “There was a time I could see! And I have seen – boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is… no prosthetic for that.”

That’s how one felt after going over what happened in Quetta on an intensely black Saturday. The amputated spirit of this nation was before the entire world to see. It is difficult to recall a more devastating single-day slide into the depths of misery, anger, hurt, betrayal.

The day began with the literal, if incredulously symbolic, destruction of the famous Ziarat Residency – the last resting place of the founder of this wretched nation. Even Gulzaar, that great master of symbolism, would struggle to come up with a more potent metaphor for Pakistan having lost its soul.

My mind harked back to 2003 when the US forces in Baghdad were alleged to have deliberately allowed the loot and destruction of Iraq’s National Museum housing artifacts dating back centuries, including archaeological riches of Mesopotamia 5,000 years old, and other collections with few parallels in history.

The emotional attachment that an average Pakistani has for Ziarat Residency – one of the four landmarks each of which remind us of the country’s four provinces – is now gone as we knew it. Try reconciling losing a potent 65-year-old memory not to Alzheimer’s or a state of dementia but the abject failure to protect it from insurgents, with misplaced anger.

The Balochistan Liberation Army militants even managed to remove the national flag and replace it with their own after the rocket-propelled grenades hit the national heritage site.

One had yet to recover from the shock of this heart-wrenching loss when news broke of the death of more than a dozen female students aboard a bus, which was bombed in the Sardar Bahadur Khan University parking lot in Quetta through a remote-controlled device.

This was followed by the siege of Bolan Medical Complex by a group of terrorists as victims were being shifted for treatment there. Just then, another blast occurred, leading to the death of the brave deputy commissioner and four Frontier Constabulary personnel.

Even though the security personnel were finally able to end the siege and kill four terrorists, it left behind serious questions surrounding the ability of the newly-elected provincial government to hold fort, in the short-term, and the very solidarity and integrity of Pakistan, in the long-term.

The single-day remains were a grim reminder of how perilous the situation still is in Balochistan. The re-entry of nationalists into the mainstream courtesy the May 11 general elections may have contributed in some way to crossing the Rubicon, but the Saturday blues have reinforced the fragility of the process, which was by no means wholly fair.

Elected members of the Balochistan National Party of Akhtar Mengal have already refused to take oath either in the Provincial or National Assembly under protest against rigging, they alleged, was designed to prevent them from gaining a major stake in power.

The issue has still not been resolved even though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wisely eschewed the desire to have his own chief minister despite having the majority.

Tensions are still simmering in the country’s largest province amid apprehensions that forces inimical to returning the province to its own are still ranged against the administration.

Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party appeared to draw the ire of the powers-that-be when his pledge to redress the issue of missing persons and mutilated corpses was met by the discovery of five such bodies on the day he assumed office!

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long proposed a national debate with a view to solving the Balochistan imbroglio.

However, as his government is just beginning to discover, it is easier said than done. Not only will it have to first find the magic potion that reconciles rival parties and groups in the complex power structure in place right now, but also help Malik re-establish the provincial government’s writ in an area in virtual control of the security forces.

Balochistan is going to be a major challenge for Sharif given its chequered history, made more complex by nearly half a dozen military operations over time.

As if there isn’t enough trouble already, the third-time prime minister is still to find his feet on the sensitive Bugti-Musharraf issue, which is why he has gone silent on how to deal with his nemesis despite the preceding years of vocal avowal to bring the retired general to book.

It is instructive to note that Balochistan hasn’t come to this pass all of a sudden. Years of neglect and isolation from the mainstream have inculcated a strong sense of discrimination; hence, the rebellion in disturbing hues. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be have done precious little to allay the sense of deprivation.

In fact, the poor substitution of power in the form of the last regime headed by Nawab Raisani of the “degree-is-a-degree-whether-genuine-or-fake” fame did much to nearly destroy the last vestiges of hope the province had of genuine representation.

Saturday’s dark developments should serve as a wake-up call – that is, if there is still a desire to lock heads and come up with a holistic solution. The prognosis has to be dilated upon with an open mind.

There is, after all, a reason why the province has become an experiment lab for foreign powers – years of deprivation and discrimination is what has led to the debilitating insurgency and grounds for exploitation by the enemies of the state.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has the kind of mandate to draw a framework for consensus before putting his foot down on what would constitute a national policy based on civilian control. One hopes he will not be found wanting however difficult that choice is, politically.

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached [email protected]


  1. There is no word to say what had happened on last Saturday. This is indeed a total helpless feelings while trying to reminiscence the ever attractive structure of Ziarat Residency which is, of course bound to Quaid's memories. It’s a lost treasure. I hope this will be re-built as it was to repair the amputated spirit of every Pakistanis.

    Secondly, this is not the traits of Islam that one will try to harm women, children and those who are elderly. This is a tragedy like the recent ones on Hazara Community, a Christian Town. Lahore and Abbas Town, Karachi. There is no excuse accepted from the ones responsible for providing the securities to civilian. They should do justice to their work and defend the nation in this tough timing.

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