PAKISTAN: The Baloch Noam Chomsky is dead
Malik Siraj Akbar
There is renewed anger across Balochistan over the dreadful assassination of one of the most popular icons of Balochi literature and civil society, Dr. Saba Dashtiyari. A professor of Islamic studies at the University of Balochistan, the fifty-eight-year old university educator was gunned down when he was taking a walk in Quetta on Wednesday night.
The fresh flow of disillusionment does not solely emanate from political circles. Over two decades, no student passed out of the province’s highest center for learning without noticing Professor Dashtiyari’s ubiquitous presence and acknowledging his commitment to liberalism. He did not have any children but he has left behind tens of thousands of UoB alumni, current students, faculty members and poets and writers across the province to mourn his killing.
Saba Dashtiyari was in fact Balochistn’s Noam Chomsky. He symbolized reawakening of the marginalized and deprived masses. He represented the breed of dissenters, critics and skeptics. He stood for freedom of expression and movement.
No government official in Balochistan ever died such a heroic death while so bravely and differently standing for his people’s legitimate rights. Perhaps he would not have taken such a firm stance if his own students were not extra-judicially whisked away by the personnel of the security forces in illegal raids on the campuses of the University of Balochistan and Balcohistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences. He would not revolt and lead marches if he had not been agonized because of the extra-judicial killings and dumping of his promising teenage students.
Killing someone as influential as Mr. Dashtiyari is like alienating thousands of educated Baloch youth toward Pakistan. It’s a pity that most Pakistani newspapers and television channels did not properly cover the killing of a man who promoted liberalism on the campus for two decades. For instance, the Karachi-based newspaper, Express Tribune, while running a story from AFP, even reported that Saba worked as a professor at the Urdu Department in spite of the fact that the slain intellectual was one of the most respected figures of Balochistan during his lifetime. This depicts both a lack of interest in our national media toward Balochistan and, worse still, sickening ignorant by the so-called liberal elites running these premier newspapers which are meant, or expected, to educate the rest of the world about the region.
Dr. Dashtiyari, who drew more respect for his activism and contributions to progressive Balochi language literature than his position as a university professor did not belong to the tribal elite. He did not even belong to the middle class. He was the child of the lower middle class who was empowered with knowledge and wisdom. People like him stood against every official attempt to put Balochistan in a plate and offer to Islamic extremists and pro-Taliban elements. As long as he lived, he assured that democracy was not dead.
As a democrat he utilized his every right to raise voice against state-sponsored injustices. He spoke at conferences; addressed the media; led peaceful protest rallies’; launched petitions; wrote newspaper articles and joined hunger strike camps to fight inequality and injustice. There were very few people in Balochistan, such as the slain professor, who wore so many hats at the same time and assumed multiple proactive roles.
What does this high-profile murder mean to Balochistan? Similar to Nawab Bugti’s killing, Balochistan will never be the same again after Saba’s murder. The fallout of his murder, however, is going to eventually come in a slow but a different way. Besides political rallies and shutter down strike calls given by the Baloch National Front, this incident is going to give a wake-up call to Balochistan’s lower-middle class. Much has been said about the role of the tribal elites in the past and the rise of the middle class in the current Baloch movement but one has barely heard of the Baloch lower middle class, which Saba represented.
Another area which will immensely impact the future of Balochistan is the influence of Mr. Dashtiyari over Balochi language literary circle. This is indeed going to pave the way for more rebellious and revolutionary poetry and music inside the province. Balochi poetry and music has had an extraordinary role in the Baloch awakening. There is going to be more emphasis in the Balochi literate in the future on the liberation movement and the idea of guarding Balochistan from the outsiders.
Of course, everyone did not agree with Saba’s political ideology. His was a clear stance that advocated Balochistan’s independence but even the pro-parliament Baloch political parties equally acknowledge and admire his intellectual and scholarly contributions. This is a collective colossal loss for Balochistan. Our Chomsky is dead!
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