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Obituary: F For Faisal

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Faisal always called himself Faisal Baloch. People called him Faisal Mengal. We will value the personal wish of the departed soul and address him with the name of his choice. There were three impressions Faisal always left behind for people who met him for the first time. He was extremely handsome. He was very well dressed. And, he was well-read. Anyone who met him would surely acknowledge these three of his qualities.

Faisal had a reasonable sense of humor. His language was punctuated with sarcasm. The irony is he was killed in Karachi on the international human rights day. A perfectionist like Faisal would surely say ‘shabash’ [well done] to his murderers over the selection of an appropriate day to kill an iconic Baloch intellectual and social worker.

I have had almost a decade of intimate friendship with Faisal. On a normal work day, I would surely not make this obituary public without firstly sharing the draft with him. Not necessarily that this article is about him so I think he needed to take a look at it. But because I had developed a habit of mailing him the first drafts of my research proposals, manuscripts, articles and interviews. If there was one person on the green earth who could make me wait for several days and weeks to get his opinion on a piece of writing then it was Faisal. His opinion and feedback on important issues mattered. He was insightful and capable of understanding Balochistan’s society and politics like the back of his hand.

In 2002-03 when I was a college student in my native Panjgur, I started my email communication with Faisal, who lived in Quetta. For him, Quetta was always and only Shal, the original name of the city. He never called the provincial capital as Quetta. Faisal used to write a regular weekly column in Daily Asaap which was called Tasht-e-Azbam while my column used to appear with the title of ‘Hirath Kada”. Faisal wrote back and encouraged me to stick to writing.

Faisal was a very progressive and liberal writer. He was very well read. In his arguments, he was concise as well as cogent. He was soft-spoken. He had completed his M.Phil from the University of Balochistan and was planning to do a PhD when we met and spoke for the last time.

I learned about Faisal’s influence after I moved to Quetta in 2005. He had a remarkable influence on young Balochs who used to come to Quetta to attend university. Faisal had started from a humble background of Noshki but had gotten his work recognized in different fields of life by constant personal struggle. He worked in Quetta for a non-profit organization called Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) but his circle of friends did not remain restricted to people of development sector. Two other areas which earned him a vast network of friends were his scholarly writings and his deep interest in politics. I envied him for his rich network of friends. He knew people in every government institution, NGO and political party.

My first face-to-face meeting with Faisal took place at Quetta’s MPAs’ Hostel in 2006 through a Karachi-based mutual researcher friend who had come to work on a paper on Balochistan. For many researchers and writers, Faisal was kind of a go-to person whenever they wanted to research Balochistan.

As I said earlier, he masterly knew the people and the places of Balochistan. He was such a wonderful organizer of events and meetings that it would take him only a few minutes to ring politicians, writers, scholars, activists from different parts of the city and get them together on one table.

My interactions and discussions with Faisal increased when both of us lived in Quetta. He regularly visited my Daily Times bureau office at the Universal Complex or I would visit him at S.P.O. He often used to tell me it was easier for him to come to me so I did not have to travel an extra mile to visit his office.

Faisal was a big supporter of Baloch unity. He wanted all Baloch political parties to unite to protect people’s rights. I never asked and he never told me what his political views were. But I sensed that he had an earlier liking for the policies of the National Party. With the changing of the political situation in Balochistan, he became weary of NP’s politics.

“You know what,” he once said, “I sometimes see National Party as an NGO.”

I laughed and asked why he thought so. He said National Party was not consistent in its policies. Just like NGOs which work on project-by-project basis, the National Party, he said, became active during the senate election seasons and then disappeared. He had profound respect for one man whom he called the pir mard [the old man]. The old man he referred to was Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, the elderly Baloch nationalist leader who supports the idea of an independent Balochistan.

When I interviewed Nawab Marri at his Karachi residence, Faisal rang and suggested that I should immediately arrange the Urdu translation of the interview. I excused owing to great workload. He asked, “do you have five minutes if I visit your office?”

“Sure,” I said. At lunch time, he came to my office and discussed the significance of translating the interview for Urdu for Daily Tawar. He suggested me to talk to Khadim Lehri, the newspaper’s editor. I got back to the primary question, “But who will translate the interview?”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I will take care of it.” I printed him out Nawab Marri’s full interview. And Faisal while tightly holding the manuscript of the interview, left.

The next morning, he sent me a text message asking to check my inbox. I was surprised that the entire long interview had been translated in Urdu and mailed back to me. It was skillfully by a friend from Turbat, who worked at SPO, on Faisal’s insistence. Unfortunately, this friend remained annoyed forever because we forgot to give him credit for the translation.

Faisal, on the other hand, was one such Baloch who never asked for credit for what he did for his people. He was instrumental in finding jobs and scholarships for many young poor Balochs. Yet, he preferred to remain out of spotlight. He was a practical man. It is this reason why I will not be surprised if many young Balochs do not know who Faisal Baloch was.

I always try to tell the young Balochs that Balochistan and the Baloch movement is not run by ten usual names we read in the newspapers everyday. There are hundreds of silent soldiers like Faisal who spend sleepless nights thinking how to provide a water supply to a remote town in Balochistan or how to find a scholarship to a talented young student from Balochistan’s unknown corners. These are the real heroes and minds behind the Baloch survival. Not many people know about people like Faisal who do not flaunt over their contributions but this is why we should know these people and remember them with respect.

Faisal and I spent one lengthy evening at the residence of former senator Sanaullah Baloch of the Baloch National Party where he pleaded the Baloch senator to bring Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Nawab Marri closer to each other. He insisted that young Balochs should not repeat the mistakes committed by their elders in the past which meant Balochs should work on national unity, mutual respect and cooperation.

When Faisal informed me about his new job at the US Consulate in Karachi, I jokingly congratulated him over becoming a C.I.A agent. After he left for Karachi, our physical communications reduced and we used Internet and phone as the best way to stay in touch.

Before he left for Karachi, Faisal called me at S.P.O to deliver a talk about political communication to the participants of a three-day long workshop. Faisal moderated the session. At the end of the workshop, he drove me home. On our way, I asked Faisal about the status of his book on Balochistan. He was planning, after succumbing to strong pressure from friends, to compile all his published articles and researchers. He said the book was in the final shape. After that, I impatiently used to mention the book every time we communicated the phone or via email.

Faisal was the first among my friends who rang me on the same day when I lost my job at the Daily Times. By that time, he had started his job at the US consulate.

“Stop beating about the bush,” he told me, “just tell me clearly what I can do for you” He offered to put me in touch with some of his contacts for some immediate jobs for me. I thanked him over his kind offer and care but gave him the good news about my selection for an American fellowship which would start in the summer of 2010.

“Excellent,” he exclaimed, “maan zanth tho na hech nabaey” [I knew you will not be devoid of everything].

A few months before Faisal’s tragic killing, I had met his last boss Martin Axmann, the Pakistan head of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, in Berlin, Germany, during a conference. Martin said he was interested to have Faisal work for his foundation. Interestingly, Faisal is the one who firstly introduced me with Martin during the latter’s visit to Quetta although I had read his excellent book on Baloch nationalism, Back to Future, much earlier.

Faisal quit as his job at the US Consulate in Karachi and joined Martin’s HSF.

Faisal played his role for the development of Balochistan through his writings and social work. He was an extraordinary traveler. He had traveled to every part of the province. Whenever I met him, he was either coming back or going to a ‘field trip’. He made valuable contributions to Balochistan for which he will be missed in the times to come.

The assassination of a Baloch intellectual, social worker in Sindh gives us a very alarming reminder about the seriousness of the threat educated Balochs face inside Pakistan. Those who have already fled Balochistan to ‘relatively safer places’, are now chased by a violent death elsewhere in the country.

Rest in peace Waja!

Malik Siraj Akbar is a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the Center for Public Integrity and is based in Washington, D.C. He founded and edits the online newspaper, The Baloch Hal.

Faiz Baluch