Sadness, trepidation, and agony will stare at you as if you have landed in a broken nation of Sub-Saharan Africa. Even with a modicum of sensibilities, a venture into the interior of Balochistan will be like a voyage of the colonial era into the heart of Africa. Wounds and bruises inflicted upon the body politics of Balochistan by our extractive economic greed continue to bleed. Balochistan is a living testament to a quasi-colonial rule of peripheries by relegating them to what Joseph Conrad termed as ‘heart of darkness’.
In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad his narrator Charles Marlow shares the story of his voyage into Congo Africa with his friends. The story of the voyage up the Congo River into the heart of Africa is about the colonial instinct of supremacy that civilization and education could not change. This is how Kurtz — the antagonist of the novel — was transformed from being a civilized man with liberal ideals into a savage master and a wanton by exploiting his position.
Postcolonial writers have dubbed the novel as an orientalist narrative for its ‘racial plot’ to locate Africa as the heart of darkness in comparison to ‘enlightened Europe’. Though this critical review of the novel is fair, it does not make Heart of Darkness entirely irrelevant to our times. The so-called civilizing mission did not stop with the end of the colonial period as the institutions of domination erected by colonial powers for political control continue to exist in the post-colonial societies. The novel has many dimensions of relevance to our current state of affairs where political exclusion of the peripheral and lagging regions continue to shape a dualist legal and governance structure of local and outsider. This bifurcation between the local being savage, jingoist and irrational and outsider as messiahs, reformers, and protectors still shapes the political consciousness of our policymakers. The relevance of the novel becomes more pronounced when one happens to travel across Balochistan province. The awe and horror of outsider being exploiter has shaped the political consciousness of the indigenous to undermine any semblance of the state-citizen relationship in Balochistan. Beneficiaries of this political dualism are both the local tribal lords and extractive state.
Tormented by the daily life sufferings the loving and hospitable people of Balochistan are coerced into a life not less pernicious than modern forms of slavery
There are many Kurtzs well-stationed in the heart of Balochistan who exploits its resources to make good fortunes out of poverty and deprivation of this province. The resource-rich Balochistan has become a boon for the wanton and greedy but it has been turned into purgatory for its people who endure all hardships to make both ends meet. Tormented by the daily life sufferings the loving and hospitable people of Balochistan are coerced into a life not less pernicious than modern forms of slavery.
Political leaders of Balochistan lead a lavish life amid wretchedness, poverty, and dispossession
The well-educated and civilized political leaders of Balochistan lead a lavish life amid wretchedness, poverty, and dispossession. You do not need to go into the heartland of Balochistan to find a Kurtz it is just in the outskirts of provincial capital where prosperity and poverty reside side by side in two worlds that are poles apart. These educated savages have devoured the flesh and bones of this resource-rich province yet they complain that Balochistan has been kept poor. They speak foul of disgruntled youth and dissent as centrifugal and anti-state for raising the legitimate concerns about the intergenerational disparity and deprivation. Not only the politicians and bureaucrats but the tribal lords too have played havoc with the lives of the poor people of Balochistan by keeping them subservient to their colonial egos.
If you happen to visit Panjpai in the outskirts of the provincial capital you will feel like entering into medieval ages. Let us not talk about Washuk, Kharaan, Awaraan, and Panjgur where you will feel as if the life has stagnated in the pre-medieval era of Paratarajas dynasty. The only difference is that Parthian kings were more loyal to their land than our princely politicos and the wielders of real power in current Balochistan. If there is anyone to be blamed for the appalling conditions of Balochistan it is not the disgruntled youth it is the political elite, tribal lords and those self-propelling guardians of the faith.
The disturbing scenes of emaciated faces of malnourished, bare-footed and toiling children under the scorching heat continue to haunt even our numb and urbane sensibilities. If you have some sense of human dignity and empathy you will never be the same after observing the enduring hardship of people of Balochistan. Yet there are many of us who make a living out of the poverty of the people of Balochistan. We all have savagery of sorts inside us and we play Kurtz with hapless Balochistan as development professionals, as politicians, as religious leaders and as guardians of its geography. Writing epical stories about dispossession, exclusion, valiance, and bravery of people of Balochistan will not suffice either, it is time for action to stop savagery.
Balochistan is drifting away under political duress because of the injustices and indignation inflicted upon its people for decades. The accumulated anger is more visible today than ever and it is transforming into a politics of vengeance. One may suppress the potential dissent, may defeat the political outbursts of cumulative anger but one cannot win the hearts and minds without reconstructing a politically and economically inclusive Balochistan. The question is how to start the political and economic reconstruction of Balochistan?
The first and foremost thing is to give the people of Balochistan the ownership of their resources and allow them to demonstrate that they are equally good citizens to participate in nation-building. Trust in people and they have enormous potential and wisdom to rake care of their own affairs. Create a conducive political environment to allow the idea of citizenship to flourish beyond the ethnic and sectarian divides to build peaceful, secular and inclusive Balochistan as envisioned by Jinnah.
The only way to win the hearts and minds is to mainstream the marginalized people of Balochistan and to invest in human development
The only way to win the hearts and minds is to mainstream the marginalized people of Balochistan and to invest in human development. Balochistan is endowed with natural resources that must be used to develop the province and to improve the quality of life of its people. Balochistan needs a democratic transition of its colonial institutional structure and reconstruction of the legal and governance system. The vast swathe of its fertile land must be brought under cultivation and if it is done the province can feed the whole nation for indefinite times. Balochistan is the lowest-ranked province on Human Development Index in Pakistan and some of its districts are even worse than the worst regions of impoverished Sub Saharan Africa.
Despite all its agonies Balochistan breathes and continues to live perhaps because of the resilience of its people who have been left to fight their own battles. This is perhaps our last chance to bring Balochistan back on track before another horror hits us all. If we do not learn from our mistakes of chequered political history we are destined to be repeating it. Balochistan is not the heart of darkness it is the beacon of hope for a prosperous Pakistan.
Amir Hussain is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.