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From Asaap to Baloch Hal

Abid Mir Baloch

By Abid Mir Baloch

“Yes, he is so talented. That is why I am saying you suggest him to slow down his pace. He is advancing too fast. “They” can do anything with him,” said this German journalist of Lahori origin just two and half years ago while expressing her sincere views about this talented friend of mine. Only two and half years later, the government, which is always averse to truth, has made the first attack by banning Malik Siraj Akbar’s online newspaper.

By Abid Mir

“ Yes, he is so talented. That is why I am saying you suggest him to slow down his pace. He is advancing too fast. “They” can do anything with him,” said this German journalist of Lahori origin just two and half years ago while expressing her sincere views about this talented friend of mine.

Only two and half years later, the government, which is always averse to truth, has made the first attack by banning Malik Siraj Akbar’s online newspaper. I am not sure if it is a matter of tragedy or interest to mention here that we discussed the idea of the Baloch Hal in the office of Baloch national newspaper Daily Asaap, which had been forcefully shut because of excessive official intrusion.

It was the same day when the German journalist had come to meet us regarding the situation in Balochistan. I used to go to the office for the (Asaap) Publication job. Siraj used to live in the neighborhood. Thus, he also fixed the time to meet at the same place. While still busy talking about his future, Siraj got his views (on Balochistan) recorded in descent English with the female journalist. Meanwhile, I continued to harp in my broken Urdu.

Asaap had newly been forced to shut down. Just like me, Siraj had also emerged in Balochistan’s journalism from the same nursery of Asaap. Thus, there was no lack of mental unanimity. He was among the pioneer young and emerging Baloch writers of Asaap. So, he was my ‘senior’. Since both of us belonged to Balochistan’s youth with a lower class background and emerged because of constant hard work, there was barely any controversy of being “senior” or “junior”. We were voluntarily committed with our people. We believed in playing our individual roles without arguing who was senior or junior to the other. It was this spirit that led to our meeting.

“Asaap” had prepared a full batch of young writers imbued with a national thought. They had all been deprived of a big platform after the closure of Asaap. When the newspaper was shut down, I was working as its editor. A lot of young writers would often ask me: “What do we do now? Please start something so that the sequence (of writing) does not discontinue.” We wished to do some publication-related work collectively to present the real stance of Baloch case. We wanted to give the impression that even without being a part of any political party, the young writers and journalists of Balochistan were still attached with their people and the movement related to the masses.

Coincidentally, Siraj had also been fired by his media organization for “partially” presenting the Baloch case. He was jobless. When we discussed the idea in Asaap office, he abruptly endorsed the plan and said, “let’s start it right away. If you guys don’t do it, I will do it.” As expected and as usual, he saw our laziness and decided to proceed. He left us behind. Only two weeks later, he launched the website of Balochistan’s first online newspaper, The Baloch Hal. Obviously, all that we could do was to congratulate him. It was felicitation filled with envy.

He said, “your publication requires a lot of time, resources and team work. I discussed the same idea with another friend who said don’t make excuses. My friends said just tell me what can you do? I said I could write. He said he could promote it throughout the world. So, we thought of a web newspaper and we started working. Now, I need the support of you folks.”

What cooperation would we, who were not as good in English as him, offer? Yet, he did not give up. He went to every Baloch intellectual one by one. Begged the younger ones (to write). If someone wrote in broken English, he would accept it with a thank you note and would publish it with high standard editing (or say re-writing).

This project (of The Baloch Hal) faced opposition from the inception for two reasons. Firstly, well wishers said an English online newspaper did not have a bright future in Balochistan. There are solid reasons for this feeling. First, how many people are there in Balochistan who have access to electricity? Worse still, how many people are there who know how to use a computer? Then, how many are there who can use the internet.( Siraj also had to confront these questions in Noshki District in a launching ceremony of the website).

However, Siraj had made it very clear from day one that his actual focus was the international audience. After all, the people of Balochistan are already aware of the situation prevalent in the province. Actually, there was a need to show the situation in Balochistan to those who are not informed (or at least in the right way) about the real situation. Therefore, viewership was no longer the issue. Siraj could provide an Asaap-like platform to young Baloch writers. That too an international forum which was desperately needed. On the other hand, there were those people who were totally averse to this young man. You can call it professional jealousy but they would raise eyebrows at the very name (Baloch Hal) predicting that it would turn out to be another “Asaap”. The fate of the Baloch Hal, they said, would be similar to that of Asaap.

Without taking into account the opposition, within a one year time this young man made it the practical model of “Baloch Hal”. The recipe of Baloch Hal can simply be translated into “Baloch News”. Only those who are acquainted with Baloch background can rejoice the sense of “hal”. In conversational Balochi, “Hal” is not a mere “What’s up?”. In fact, it requires a full tale to understand the context of “Hal”.

If two Balochs ask each other to share Hal (by saying “halan dhay”, you could assume (endless) commercials on PTV (Pakistan Television) just started. The cycle of Hal (news) will start from the point when the two persons had met for the last time. (This time period can be one day, a week or even one year) and ends at the latest meeting. In the meanwhile, the recipient of Hal would keep encouraging the Hal-giver with a constant interruption, Jee tara (which is kind of a mark of encouragement to share more).

It appears someone who was sandwiched in two Balochs’ “Hal wa ewal” coined this joke: An engineer claimed to have invented kind of a computer which could instantly print out the answers to any kind of questions. People experimented it. It was a great success. In the meanwhile a Baloch shepherd also reached there and tried to test the computer. God knows what he asked the computer but the printer stopped working and the computer got hanged. The administration got worried and implored the shepherd uncle to tell them what he asked the computer which left it speechless. After all, it was a computer that had left everyone else speechless!

The Baloch uncle said with innocence and simplicity: “ I had just asked it to share the “Hal” with me”.

In a nutshell, Siraj Akbar made the Baloch Hal the modern version of Baloch Hal. Any news or issue related to Baloch either from Balochistan, Helmand, Iran or overseas reaches the Balochs and friends of Balochistan in seconds. As we read, we don’t forget to encourage him with the complimentary remark, Jee tara.

Wusatullah Khan, a journalist with a style and a friend of Balochistan, had once written a sentence in a sincere critical column: “Change will come when Baloch youths give up the habit of sleeping late at night and rising late in the day.” It was a very meaningful critique on the laxity of Baloch youth. If Wusatullah Khan had met the Malik Siraj Akbar of today, he would hopefully also make a prediction about this change. He is indeed a young man willing to work, remain active and awake. He also proved the impression wrong that people’s creative habits end after getting married or they lose interest in their work. He got married with his cousin a few months after launching the Baloch Hal. This girl from Panjgur proved to be a real life partner by not causing hurdles for her husband in his professional activities even after the attainment of his scholarship to the United States. She remained fully supportive. It is pertinent to assume that a strong girl is behind this successful young man.

Another quality of Siraj is that he does not work only for salary like a traditional journalist. He does not work as a clerk either to put news on the paper. He has the ability to analyze the news with complete honesty and present it with the same level of courage. The Pakistani Establishment, on the other hand, is the eternal enemy of truth. They only recognize the ‘truth’ which is ‘true’ in their views.

Some time back, he wrote in an editorial that if the government failed to control the lawlessness then it should quit and get back to the people (it is worth recalling that Chief Minister Aslam Raisani had said that he would resign if he failed to resolve public issues within two years of assuming office and get back to the people). The editorial irked the spokesman of the provincial government to the extent that he issued a detailed list of government’s accomplishments in two and half years.

The readers of the Baloch Hal will surely know that the editorial was in fact not the real issue. Instead, it was another profile-like article by Siraj about Aslam Raisani in which he mentioned the jokes attributed to the chief minister which are popular among the masses. (For example, he said, “a degree is a degree whether fake or original”, “down with you all”, “we will bamboo them”, etc. ). For the first time, he very bravely explained the meaning and context of the specific term “bamboo” which, if written here, may be subjected to censorship.

By virtue of his abilities, he is the youngest and the first journalist from Balochistan to be awarded a journalism fellowship. Even this award has become a headache for him now. Otherwise, the Baloch Hal did not present which is not being presented elsewhere. Siraj had rightly written in his editorial:

“If criticizing the government is “anti-Pakistan” then all Urdu newspapers, which call Pakistan as “an American colony” should be banned too. It is simply ridiculous to deprive people of their right of expression in the 21st century under such shallow pretexts like being responsible for publishing “anti-state remarks”.

The Baloch Hal has always followed the tradition of presenting the news with full truth and also accommodated news related to the government with as much space as stories from the opposition parties. Regarding his organization, he has called himself liberal and progressive. At this point, the young man has reached at a stage of misunderstanding. For a Baloch, being progressive is understandable but calling one’s self as liberal is perhaps the outcome of a few months’ American training.

He forgot that a liberal is impartial who talks for the oppressor as well as the oppressed. A liberal does not support truth but the ‘circumstnaces’. Siraj belongs to the school of thought which believes that truth cannot be impartial. There is no way to remain “impartial” to narrate the stories and show the pictures of of those who were kidnapped by the secret intelligence agencies and whose mutilated dead bodies were thrown away. This is the partiality of truth. This is the path of Socrates and Mansur Al-Hallaj. Those who follow them must also know their end. Given the path Siraj had chosen, this (the ban on Baloch Hal) was certain to have happened with him.

We have already experienced this through Asaap. When Asaap was banned then nobody came to us. Today, another Baloch media outlet is being strangulated by those who claim to be the champions of press freedom. Those who believe heavans have fallen down if certain news channels are cut off for one hour by the cable operators have observed unadulaterated silence. They pretend as if nothing has happened at all.

They forget that 70 magazines have been silenced and nobody ever knew about them. This is the age of communication, internet, Facebook. If we keep talking about it, a lot can be said on the topic. This is not the newspaper of a Baloch bureaucrat that people would distribute sweets while engaging themselves in a debate as to who is senior and junior. They remain ignorant about the capabilities, wrath and passion of these young Baloch professionals. This is not merely a ban on one man or an institution. This is in fact a ban on the Baloch young generation’s ability to think freely, read, write and speak up. This is not the right but the responsibility of every educated, Baloch writer, orator and thinker to protest against the ban.

Let’s play our duty. Our generation has already observed much negligence in performing our national duty.

Abid Mir is a former editor of banned newspaper Daily Asaap and the author of four books