Guns or books By Zubeida Mustafa

THE infamous legacy of ‘enforced disappearances’ that the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet left behind has, unfortunately, been picked up by Pakistan. This phenomenon is today a source of great human agony in the country with thousands believed to have been abducted, many for political reasons.

Balochistan has suffered much. One cannot be certain about who is behind this torturous form of suppression of the freedom of expression. One hears of the ‘agencies’, Baloch dissidents, RAW agents, religiously inspired militants and others being involved.

Last week, on a visit to Turbat, I learnt from someone I was talking to that three young men had been called out of their homes by unknown persons and were later found shot dead. No one knew who committed this heinous crime. Of course, the ultimate responsibility rests on the state which as the custodian of the citizens’ security is bound to provide them protection.

Balochistan’s biggest tragedy is the education emergency there.

Whoever is to blame for this tragic situation, the fact is that Balochistan has not received a fair deal from Pakistan right from the start when it made its debut in controversial circumstances on the political stage in this country.

Comprising nearly 44 per cent of the land area of the country and with a population of 12 million (less than 6pc of the total), Balochistan has been a fit candidate for exploitation and repression, given its rich natural resources and historical underdevelopment. Kaiser Bengali, once the head of Balochistan’s Policy Reform Unit, has collected all the facts and figures in his book Cry for Justice. This extremely readable book has become the bible of Baloch activists as a vindication of their cause.

Some of this information should be compulsory reading for all if people really believe in fair play and the even-handed distribution of resources to make equity the underpinning of our system.

Take the case of Sui gas which was discovered in 1952 and was piped to many remote areas of the country in the 1950s and 1960s. It, however, took three decades before a “whiff of gas” was supplied to Balochistan which even now consumes only 2pc of the total production. Here lies the paradox. Despite its mineral wealth the province is impoverished. According to Dr Bengali, the economic growth rate of Balochistan in 2000-2011 was a measly 2.8pc per annum compared to the over 4pc average in the other provinces. This is attributed to Balochistan’s extremely low share of 5.1pc in the Public Sector Development Programme.

As can be expected the province is grossly underrepresented in the federal administration (only 2.1pc officers in BPS 20-22 are Baloch). Similarly, the Baloch are at a disadvantage politically.

In my view, Balochistan’s biggest tragedy — inflicted by Islamabad and some of the province’s own chieftains — is the education emergency that grips it today. According to the National Education Management Information System, 66pc girls of primary school age are out of school while the overall enrolment ratio is only 47pc. There is also the additional factor of Balochistan’s low literacy ratio (43 pc, with only 25 pc for women). The education shortfall, along with the alienation caused by the centre’s discrimination and the use of military force, has created a formula for a grave national crisis that could threaten the territorial integrity of the country.

In this bleak situation, it would be cynical not to acknowledge the ray of hope generated by the brave and concerted efforts of those who are trying to help. One of them is a pioneer of female education, Zobaida Jalal, whose school in Mand has been educating hundreds of children of Kech district since 1988. During my stay in Turbat, I met many women who matriculated from this school, went on to study in college and are now teaching or working in offices. That is a remarkable change that augurs well for the future.

The Children’s Literature Festival, which has Zobaida Jalal on its board of directors, recently organised a session in Turbat for the first time. This event brought cheer to the lives of the children who attended. The CLF has proved to be a successful means of engaging children in healthy educational activities that open the child’s mind. It could only have been Zobaida Jalal’s brainwave given her dedication to the cause of education.

Thanks to her work, Turbat is now ranked sixth among the districts of Balochistan in terms of educational score (Alif Ailaan 2017) and has one of the best ratios in the province for primary:secondary schools.

One hopes these seeds of education will blossom to bring a better future to the children of Balochistan. But the powers that control the province’s destiny should realise that education can be successfully imparted in an atmosphere of freedom. It is not possible to nurture young minds under the shadows of guns. Let the book culture flourish and say no to guns.

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