You speak thine, I speak mine

My Facebook News Feed is as varied as the list of my Facebook friends that happen to come from different parts of the world. For the most part, it works as the only source of information for me. But at times, it exasperates me with photos, messages and ideas that I would otherwise not want to be exposed to.

News Feed can represent the overall outlook and mood of a people in a particular region or country. Similarly, when it comes to Pakistan, I find it a gauging tool to measure political leaning, growing religiosity and extremism, antipathy towards religious and ethnic minorities and whatnot.

Statuses, photos and other things shared on Facebook by my friends from Pakistan are not only reflective of the problems in the country but also herald Pakistan’s further descent into the abyss of radicalization along religious lines.

Since I have been very careless about who to friend and who not, there are several such people whom I do not know personally. These are the ones who click ‘share’ on almost anything without giving it a second thought.

A  couple of days ago, this photo showed up in my News Feed. A friend of mine had commented on it after a friend of hers had posted it, so it also appeared in my News Feed. It is one of many such items that appear in my News Feed which showcase the mentality and perceptions of  two generations of Pakistanis. Their view of the world is the unfortunate product of what a dictator had introduced some three decades ago.

In the eighties, Gen. Zia ul Haq, in his effort to reshape the fabric of Pakistani society along Islamic lines–or let’s say make it look like more Middle Eastern–orphaned the society of a culture. In subsequent years, the same society would adopt fathers not worthy of its lineage of great Indian civilization that had existed and flourished much before the rise of Arabs to dominance.

Talking of this photo, it reminded me of Zia’s steps to make Pakistan a ‘pure’ Islamic country, when  strong-worded instructions would be given to hosts of TV and radio shows to use the word  ’Allah’ instead of Khuda’. The later is Persian and hitherto had been in common parlance in different communities in Pakistan, including Christians. According to him, Allah was the proper word to refer to Muslim God.

The language of this photo is as assertive and aggressive as that of Gen. Zia’s.  It forbids use of English words and emphasizes on using Arabic words instead, which doubtless have already in common parlance among poor and middle-class Pakistanis since Zia’s period.

How ridiculous! Why someone else should tell me to use one language and not the other. Had the photo asked Pakistanis to use their mother tongue instead, I would have agreed (Many languages in Pakistan are nearly on the verge of extinction, because Urdu has forcefully been thrust upon people who do not speak it in the first place). In this case, I am being urged to use long, mundane words over ones that are precise and reflective of human expression.

I don’t know why people are so obsessed with a particular language. They need to understand that by speaking a certain language, one does not become a better human being. A language is a mere tool of expression, be it Arabic, English, Urdu or any other language. So why so much obsession with a particular one!

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As inclusive as Seattle

Seattle is a big city and diverse as any other major city in the world. With origins from almost every part of the globe, Seattleites make the city one of its kind, what many call a hyper-diverse city.

For a year and half that I have been living in the Greater Seattle area, I have found the people very welcoming and appreciating of what I am and where I come from.

Every Seattleite, no matter where they originally come from, feel and think alike about how to keep Seattle what it always is, a hyper-diverse city. One that has all tastes and cultures from across the globe.

To show the inclusiveness of the city and provide the connect the people here with their origins, Common Language Project, a non-profit journalistic organization housed in University of Washington’s Department of Communication, has been making efforts in recent years to connect communities here with people and their issues across the globe.

The Seattle Globalist

Today, I had the opportunity to participate in an event of the CLP in which the nonprofit launched one of latest journalistic ventures – Seattle Globalist.

Seattle Globalist is a new initiative from the CLP. It’s a blog that covers “the connections between Seattle and the rest of the globe.” The blog mentions itself as a place “where Seattle meets the world.”

What I learned

Like every other human being, I have my own stereotypes about people I come across every day. But with the passage of time, I have come to understand that what we term as our stereotypes are actually the paradigms that we are born into. We view the world around in a way that we have been repeatedly told to over years, that by our parents, teachers, the society and whatnot. We stereotype and get stereotyped every single day.

At the Seattle Globalist’s launch party, I had the opportunity to meet and network with this amazing, young woman of Iranian descent. Initially, I took Roxana Norouzi, a social worker with a local non-profit, as a Muslim, as anyone who comes from my part of the world would. But the fact is that she is not; she is a Jew of Iranian descent. I unfortunately come from a part of the world where every single individual is trying to make their neighborhood, city or country exclusive. Iran as a country has been no different.

In a write-up on the Seattle Globalist earlier this year, Norouzi wrote how being a Jew of Iranian descent presented her with a complex situation of dueling identities amid recent war-mongering rhetoric from Iranian and Israeli leaders.

If we put our stereotypes aside, we will find that all people of the world are one whole, no matter where they belong to. In societies like here in the US, this wholeness or ‘globalness’ becomes more evident. Whether one is traveling in a public transport, walking on a sidewalk in a crowded city or sitting in coffee shop, the babbles around may sound different but every single of them makes the same sense that in our own language(s), it would make to us. Our differences could be of color, appearance, beliefs, ideas, language, etc., but we all are alike despite all these difference. We are all made of the same fabric.

The Seattle Globalists and The Baloch Hal

I was fascinated by the idea of the Seattle Globalist. It tries to connect the community here with people living elsewhere in different parts of the world who have a common bond with Seattleites. The Globalist for sure will make these bonds stronger.

I also find a lot of similarity between the Globalist and The Baloch Hal. What we do at The Baloch Hal and what the folks at the Globalist do has lots in common. For instance, we try to connect the rest of the world with a region and its issues that hardly get any coverage in local Pakistani media, let alone in any international media outlet. Whereas, the Globalists try to bring stories to the communities here that otherwise would not reach them through other sources. We call ours a ‘hyperlocal news site; the Globalists term theirs a ‘hyperglobal blog’.

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Remembering Huda Bakhsh, the ‘chah khor’

Huda Bakhsh, more commonly known as Tughu among my family members, has remained the apple of every household’s eyes in our neighborhood for as long as I can remember. Sadly, that’s not because who he is but rather so because of what he’s been doing for so many years: Helping clean garbage of houses, doing different chores of each house in the neighborhood and doing everyday purchasing of grocery from nearby shops.

In return, he would have very minimal demands; five rupees that would get him a packet of naswar, or snuff. “Gudan mani nas e zar a bede,” he would request after completing the assigned chores, asking that he be paid the money that would get him some snuff.

He could compromise on not being paid five rupees, which would get him a packet of snuff only. But there’s something that he could hardly compromise on: He definitely wanted to be served a kettle full of black tea, or siah chah, as it is called locally, once he’s done with his work. His chah khori, or tea-drinking habit, is talked of in every household of the neighborhood.

Tughu, as I call him out of sheer respect and reverence for his services for so many families over years, and I have had many things in common: He’s as obstinate as I am, but that’s not the reason that prompted me to write a blog post on him (If Tughu once made up his mind that he would not do something on a given day, for sure he would not do it). But I am referring to him here just because of his tea-drinking habit as his would compliment mine and could hardly outmatch mine.

A habit of mine that would earn me the name of gwanden Tughu, or Tughu the junior, tea-drinking played a significant role in my developing a habit of being an avid reader, which subsequently ended up as my passion for becoming a writer.

During long, frosty winter nights, with blanket slightly tucked over my head, my eyes would remain fixed on pages of children’s books that I would buy from the one and only bookstore in the only big market of the town. Black tea would ensure I would not succumb to sleep.

In the morning, during the first period at school, my eyes would be sore, glaringly as red as the slit throat of an innocent sheep mercilessly ‘sacrificed’ on the occasion of bigger Eid, the day when Muslims around the world kill hundreds of thousands of animal to accomplish the rite of some man that had lived in distant past.

However, for the past one year or so, I have completely quit my habit of drinking black tea. I am living in a city whose residents are celebrated for their habit of drinking coffee. So, I guess it would have been difficult to survive here had I stuck to my old habit. Now, I enjoy a cup of coffee as much I did a kettle-full black tea.

The idea of writing this blog post originated from a Facebook status update of mine in which I had mentioned that I had made some good black tea for myself after a long time. This, obviously, prompted comments from family members and close friends who are familiar with my erstwhile tea-drinking habit. As a matter of fact, it came a surprise to them that I have quit being a chah khor.

I wish I had a picture of Mr. Tughu to supplement this post. Unlike me, I am sure he will never be able to quit his tea-drinking habit despite the soaring prices of sugar in Pakistan.

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Baloch Diaspora To Celebrate Baloch Culture Day In Canada | The Baloch Hal

The Baloch Hal News

ImageSEATTLE, United States: Baloch diaspora of North America will celebrate their first culture day in Surrey, British Columbia, next week on Saturday March 31.

Organized under the auspices of Baloch Community of British Columbia Society, a local organization of the Baloch community in Canada, the event aims to present Baloch culture.

“This will be the first and the biggest event of its kind in North America about Baloch culture and values,” said Dorazahi Baloch, a Seattle-based organizer of the event who has actively been campaigning to mobilize Baloch community in the Pacific Northwest. “It is a part of our greater efforts to mobilize the Baloch community in the U.S. and Canada as well as to create awareness in respective communities in both the countries about Baloch people.”

Themed as “Land of Vibrant Culture, Historically Rich and Beautiful Balochistan,” the event includes a fashion show of traditional Balochi attire followed by a talk in which speakers will shed light on Baloch people, their culture and history. “We have also invited Kurd and Canadian speakers to talk about Balochistan as well,” Dorazahi said.

Click on the image to reach the Facebook page for the event.

According to Baloch, contributions from Baloch diaspora living in greater Seattle area and British Columbia have helped them organize the event.

Each year, Balochs inside Balochistan and across the world mark March 2 as their ‘Culture Day’, organizing musical shows, displaying Balochi attire and cooking traditional Balochi dishes.

Why the event wasn’t held on March 2?

Aysha Baloch, one of the Canada-based organizers of the event, said due to busy schedules of people involved in putting the event together, they couldn’t arrange the event for March 2. “However, we will try our best to celebrate our culture next year on the same day as many Balochs across the world do.”

Event is open to public. For more details, contact balochcultureshow@gmail.com.

via Baloch Diaspora To Celebrate Baloch Culture Day In Canada | The Baloch Hal.

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BBC News: Waking up to the war in Balochistan

The nationalist insurgency in the Pakistani province of Balochistan does not often command international attention. But recent comments by US politicians suggest there could be a new appetite for addressing the conflict. BBC Urdu’s Amber Shamsi reports on how Baloch bloggers are leading the charge.

Balochistan’s long-running insurgency is all about greater political autonomy and the conflict has been brutal, with human rights groups accusing security forces of regularly detaining and torturing political activists.

Although the government has denied such accusations, activists insist their movements are closely watched and curtailed.

Click here to read the full article on BBC News.

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Congressional committee hearing — A victory for Balochs

Apparently, a tweet has started it all.

Last month, when a young Baloch activist had asked the US  Department of State a question on its official Twitter page about the plight of Baloch people and the ‘genocide’ perpetrated by Pakistan, people in Balochistan had barely thought they would see this momentous day when their plight would be heard in the world’s most powerful capital — Washington D.C.

The young activist’s endeavor, along with that of many other Balochs’ who have been advocating for their cause and letting the word out of Balochistan, paid off.

First, when Victoria Nuland, spokesperson of the department answered a Baloch tweeter’s question, acknowledging the fact that there are human rights violations in Balochistan.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Balochistan, especially targeted killings, disappearances and other human rights abuses,” Nuland had said.

And today, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs had a hearing on Balochistan situation. Chaired by Dana Rohrabacher — a Republican congressman from California — the committee’s hour-long hearing was nothing short of  a victory for a people who had this feeling, up until today, that the world had observed a mum over their miseries. They had got disappeared, tortured, maimed and killed, but there was no one whom they could turn to.

Today’s congressional hearing at least has given hope to the families of all those Balochs who were killed, brutally, by Pakistan’s military that the sacrifices of their loved ones have not gone unnoticed. It also gives some optimism to families of hundreds of Balochs wh are still languishing in illegal detention.

But these are not the only feelings they have; fear and trepidation are quite rife. They fear that given Islamabad’s sensitivities towards Balochistan, talk of their plight at such a forum could lead to more miseries for them and their loved ones. It could possibly jeopardize the lives of all those activists who have actively been campaigning for their cause on Facebook, Twitter and on different other blogs.

Let’s hope occasions such as this will create more awareness among Pakistanis to stand with the Baloch for their rights and help them understand why atrocities committed next door, i.e. Balochistan, have largely gone unnoticed by them while there’s a large hue and cry over the plight for the Balochs internationally. Ultimately, they will have to understand that the Balochs deserve the right to self-determination, as it echoed in today’s hearing throughout, that they have been demanding  for the Kashmiries.

Click here to watch the video of the hearing.

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Pakistan: Shahzad Commission Results Marred by Free Ride for ISI | Human Rights Watch

The ISI has a long and well-documented history of abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings of critics of the military and others. Those abducted are routinely beaten and threatened, their relatives told not to worry or complain as release was imminent, and then released with the threat of further abuse if the ordeal is made public. Pakistani and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have extensively documented the ISI’s intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings, including of many journalists.

via Pakistan: Shahzad Commission Results Marred by Free Ride for ISI | Human Rights Watch.

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Huffington Post: Baloch Could Divide Administration and Congress on Pakistan Policy

Eddie Walsh, a senior foreign correspondent who covers Africa and Asia-Pacific, quotes me on the Huffington Post in his piece on Balochistan:

Baloch journalist Muatasim Qazi argues that the diaspora's success may also hinge on the Baloch leadership in Pakistan, Europe, and the Gulf recognizing that their cause ultimately depends on Western support: 'The Baloch leadership should concentrate their efforts in lobbying for their cause in Washington if they want to succeed in their movement. They need to convince US lawmakers how an independent Balochistan would defend U.S. interests in the region.

Click here to read the piece on the Huffington Post.

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US State Department answers Baloch Tweeter’s question on Balochistan situation

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.

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Balochistan — point of no return?

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Balochistan’s first chief minister, recently said after a meeting with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif that the situation in Balochistan had reached a “point of no return”, adding that he had “no control” over the disillusioned Baloch youths who had taken to the hills to wage a war of liberation. The Baloch are angry with Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The above three, they complain, organise marches against US foreign policy or in support of Palestine but they do not stage similar long marches in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to condemn the military’s violation of human rights in Balochistan.

The Baloch feel betrayed by the judiciary’s silence over the ‘kill and dump’ operations going on in the province. Although the Chief Justice of Pakistan is a native of Balochistan, the apex court seems to have abstained from playing a proactive role in halting the killing and dumping of those who disappear in the province. Perhaps, the army chief should sanction an independent inquiry into the cases of the missing persons.

Click here to continue reading this editorial piece by Malik Siraj Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Baloch Hal,  in Express Tribune, one of Pakistan’s premier English dailies.

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