When you want to make yourself heard, the whole world is out there to listen to you. What you need is the right medium. In this case, it’s Twitter.
Rights activists and relatives of disappeared political activists in conflict-stricken Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area with considerable reserves of natural resources, have long been engaged in raising their voice against injustices and human rights violations — committed against the ethnic Baloch population by the military — through peaceful protests and token hunger-strike camps. Desperate faces of family members of missing Baloch activists, carrying placards in front of press clubs in Quetta, Karachi and Islamabad, have garnered very little media attention in and outside the country.
However, now it seems that these activists and family members have the right tools to amplify their voices — thus reaching to a global audience, including international rights groups and Western governments.
Following in footsteps of their counterparts of the Arab Spring, Baloch activists have been using social networking sites to mobilize Baloch masses and as well as let the word out from Balochistan as Pakistan’s mainstream media evade reporting issues concerning Balochistan and international media personnel are barred from traveling to the conflict-hit province.
The social networking site Twitter is a blessing in disguise for the Baloch youth. Tweeple from Balochistan and in other parts of the county, Baloch diaspora living in Persian Gulf countries and those living in the West, including in the US and Canada, have constantly been tweeting updates about the worsening situation in the region.
Baloch Tweeple have fully grappled an opportunity offered by US Department of State that allows Twitter users all over the world to submit questions about issues that matter to them.
As part of their 21st Century Statecraft Month, Department of State has set up ten officials accounts in various languages which Tweeters can use to pose questions to the Department by using the hashtag #AskState to let the US government know about global issues. A spokesperson for the Department of State, Victoria Nuland, in turn responds to selected questions each Friday afternoon in the month of January during the Department’s Daily Press Briefings. Subsequently, a small video clip for each accepted question and its response from Nuland is posted on the Department of State’s Youtube channel.
For the past two weeks, Baloch Tweeple have been asking the Department of State on many of its official Twitter feeds about the latter’s stance over continued enforced disappearances, targeted killings and surfacing of mutilated, bullet-riddled corpses of political dissidents in Balochistan, what many analysts term as a ‘slow-motion genocide’ of Baloch people by Pakistan.
Ali Gohar Jamali, who tweets @cadet1081 from Islamabad, Pakistan, has regularly been submitting questions to the US Department of State’s Urdu feed @USAUrdu. In a tweet posted on January 7, Jamali asked the Department: “Pakistan is committing a genocide of Baloch Nation.Why US does not intervene in Balochistan and make us get our freedom?”
In an earlier tweet, Jamali had asked, “Whats US policy about Balochistan and Pakistani atrocities on Baloch People?”
Jamali’s tweet about ‘Baloch genocide’ had been accepted and answered by the spokesperson. According to Nuland, Jamali’s question was one the most popular questions on their feed. (See the video)
In a very carefully well-crafted and calculated response to Jamali’s question, given the strained relations between Islamabad and Washington and the former’s sensitivities towards Balochistan, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that the United States was concerned about the situation in Balochistan.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Balochistan, especially targeted killings, disappearances and other human rights abuses,” Nuland said, adding that Balochistan was a complex issue and the best way forward for all parties was to have a peaceful dialogue to resolve their differences.
Severely tortured and bullet-ridden corpses of more than 370 political activists, journalists, doctors and teachers have surfaced in deserted areas across the province since July 2010.
Without mentioning that Pakistan military is alleged for all these rights violations, Nuland said they had discussed these issues with Pakistani officials and have also urged them to initiate a dialogue to solve the issue.
Acceptance of Jamali’s question and the subsequent response from the Department’s spokesperson is heartening. It should encourage educated Baloch youth to engage more in online activism and advocacy rather than mere futile political sloganeering or mud-slinging.