Sep 25, 2009
How Panjgur is losing the battle
By Malik Siraj Akbar
original post: http://gmcmissing.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/how-panjgur-is-losing-the-battle/
I have not been blogging for the past few days. I was in
my hometown of Panjgur to celebrate the Eid festivities.
Panjgur is located on Pakistan-Iran border. For a long time,
the place has been popular for its delicious dates. People
no longer flaunt about the dates of Panjgur nowadays after
a virus called Sherago caused severe damage to the date production.
The problem has been there for more than four years with
the provincial agriculture department doing too little about
it despite the ironic fact that the provincial agriculture
minister, Mir Asadullah Baloch, belongs to the same district.
Panjgur is one of the few places in Balochistan where tribal
system was abolished centuries ago. Therefore, one can feel
the presence of a large middle class in the area. It is the
home to a lot of struggling young men (women still have a
longer way to go) to make their mark in the practical life.
Towns like Khudabadan, Gramkan and Sordo have proudly given
birth to a few well-known individuals who came from lower
or middle class families of Panjgur. Yet, they rose to top
positions in the province of Balochistan by virtue of personal
commitment to their goals and undeterred struggle.
These proud sons of Panjgur, who have personally impressed
Waja Faqir Baloch: Born in Gramkan and served as a Chief
Secretary of Balochistan
Waja Abdul Malik Baloch: Born in Gramkan and served as a
Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan.
Hakeem Baloch: Born in Gramkan, served as the Acting Chief
Secretary of Balochistan, authored more than a dozen literary
books in Balochi, Urdu and English languages and is known
among the founding fathers of Baloch Students' Organization
Kachkol Ali Baloch: Born in Gramkan, served as the Leader
of the Opposition in Balochistan Assembly during the gruesome
military regime of Pervez Musharraf.
Ayub Baloch: Born in Sordo and served as the secretary information
in the government of Balochistan.
Haji Abdul Qayyum Baloch: Born in Khudabadan in August 1925,
he laid the foundation of the Balochi Academy, Quetta, the
world's largest academy of Balochi language.
Dr. Naimatullah Gichki: Born in 1942 in Sordo, Dr. Gichki
is a renowned Balochi language writer.
When you walk in Mekran (the region comprising of Panjgur,
Turbat and Gwadar), one of the first things you notice is
the stiff competition between the people of Panjgur and Turbat.
While both the districts have had marvelous collective contributions
for Balochistan, internally they undergo a constant debate
as to who is doing better in the domains of education, civil
service examinations and possession of jobs.
During the 1990s, Panjgur went through tremendous social
transformation with the establishment of some stupendous
private educational institutions. Zahir Hussain, rather Sir
Zahir Hussain, as the locals call the USA-educated pioneer
of The Oasis Academy, undeniably had the greatest contribution
for this social transformation of the society. The Oasis
Academy, which was previously called as the American English
Language Center, inculcated modern and progressive thoughts
in the minds of the students and gave them a modern vision
of life. Today, hundreds of students from this particular
academy in one of the most backward parts of Balochistan
have walked out of their district to attain higher education.
Social change is an evolutionary process. It takes a lot
of time. Sir Zahir had the patience and the courage to dream.
He truly brought a change in his area.
Today, you find many young men from Panjgur straining for
a better future somewhere in someway. This may not appear
to be a big change for someone living in Islamabad, Karachi,
Lahore or even Quetta. I still consider it as a major change
when kids living in huts and wooden cabins of Balochistan
yearn for change. It always takes an age for the smaller
change to become a big change noticed by the whole world.
The people of Panjgur claim without any valid reference
that they hold more bureaucratic offices in the region as
compared to their counterparts hailing from Turbat. According
to the Panjguris, the people from Turbat call them “the other
Punjabis'. This phrase fits in Balochistan's larger political
arena where the Balochs complain that the Punjabis have dominated
every sphere of life.
Despite belonging to Panjgur, I disagree. I have more respect
for the collectively struggle of the people of Turbat. Turbat
is home to more bookshops, libraries, academies, non-governmental
organizations, community-based organizations, and educational
institutions. More boys and girls from that town brave to
travel and opt for higher learning. What I admire very highly
is the liberal mindset of the people of Turbat towards religion
During my recent trip to Panjgur, I was devastated to see
the change in the Panjguri society. Unfortunately, the positive
social change has begun to reverse. There is more radicalization
of the society than ever before. Pessimism encouraged by
the clergy has made the youth absoluate rejectionists. They
reject worldly progress. They abhor entertainment. The erstwhile
change-makers had now begun to succumb before the orthodoxy.
I saw a different Panjgur from the one that I had seen and
lived in during my teenage days in 1990s.
The Panjgurian society has stopped reading and intellectually
debating on the issues. While we thought the small change
brought by the English language centers would one day culminate
into a major educational revolution, the change in itself
has stopped all in a sudden. Today, you can not get a single
English language newspaper in the town. I can recall how
easy it was some years ago to get a copy of Pakistan's premier
English language newspapers like Dawn, the News and The Nation
or at least the Balochistan Times. Now, you do not get any
of these newspapers.
I spoke to a few “liberals” of the town as to why the society
was deliberately pushing itself towards backwardness. They
made a number of excuses. They said the national English
newspapers had stopped coming to Panjgur because there was
no proper transportation system. The next moment, I asked
if I could get a copy of Zarb-e-Momen , the pro-Jihadi Karachi-based
weekly newspaper, I was cheered with a Subhanallah [words
of praise], “Oh sure! Why not? Do you want some older issues
along with the fresh edition?” It is easy to find Jihadi
literature in Panjgur as compared to progressive literature.
On the contrary, the liberals in Turbat have not allowed
this to happen. You can still get a copy of Newsweek,Time
, the Economist or the Readers' Digest in the defunct headquarters
of the Mekran division. I was very surprised to see dozens
of copies of each Urdu novel in a local bookstore there.
You can effortlessly grab your copy of works by Asmat Chugthahi,
Saadat Hassan Manto, Qurat-ul-Ainn Haider or progressive
stuff by Syed Sabat-e-Hassan, Iqbal Ahmed, Tariq Ali and
Mubrak Ali. In the local genre, you will not miss Syed Zahoor
Shah Hashimi, Murad Saher or Atta Shad.
On the other hand, in Panjgur, home to around three hundred
thousand, one cannot get a single English newspaper to read.
In terms of Urdu literature, no shop in any corner of this
town has a single Urdu novel written by anyone to sell.
I was told that a lot of money was coming from Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait and many other Arab countries these days to radicalize
the Baloch society. Religious schools are mushrooming. Outsiders
are nipping to the town to get education from the religious
schools lavishly funded by Arab countries. Interestingly,
the language centers that once played a magnificent role
in the development of the society have now began to teach
the kids the translation of short Quranic verses, the six
Kalimas and the religious prayers prescribed for eating,
sleeping etc. “Perverted images” from the New American Streamline
textbook have been removed and “filthy words” such as “love”, “kiss”, “sexist” have
been “carefully rephrased” in order to “ensure” the “sanctity
of the classrooms”
The Pakistani Establishment, fully cognizant of these developments,
is delightedly viewing this process of Islamization of the
Baloch society. Foreign money has made the local clerics
of the most influential political and economic stakeholders
of the society. More and more foreigners are entering the
town without legal documents. In my childhood, I had not
heard of Turks and Uzbaks coming to Panjgur. Today's Jang,
Pakistan's most circulated Urdu newspaper, reports the arrest
of three Turks and one Macedonian national from Panjgur.
Where do they come from? Who is sponsoring these trips? What
is actually happening in my town?
Baloch nationalists in Panjgur have lost to the Mullah and
pro-establishment nationalists. The level of nationalistic
awareness has embarrassingly declined. A town once known
for its liberal writers, intellectuals and committed nationalists
is gradually derailing. Not many people truly realize in
the area how much you lose when you shut a library. It is
the society that becomes the biggest loser when cricket/football
tournaments and Balochi musical programs stop taking place.
The only “good news” I heard about Panjgur was about the
allotment of a huge area in Khudabadan town by the government
to the Tabligee Jammat (the group of Islamic preachers) to
conduct a huge congregation of the Islamic preachers in the
“You see we have become very lucky by now,” boastfully mentioned
the young boy sitting beside me on the bus on my way back
to Quetta, “Allah has chosen by His blessings the town of
Panjgur for this august annual gathering. Every year, around
two hundred thousand Muslims come from Iran, Afghanistan
and all over Pakistan to cogitate about the fate of the Muslim
“Has the government allotted land for any libraries in the area,” I inquired.
“What are they?” he asked back.
“Oh sorry. You don't kno them. Are there any universities in the area for the
students?” I tried to find out.
“No. There are no transportation facilities. Who will come and go to a university?” he
“Has the government provided the town with a railway track by now?” I asked again.
“No. No one takes interest in the development of the area,” he added.
“Any industrial units?” I went on.
“No. They are an agent of distraction. If you have a lot of money around you
then you will never think about your life hereafter. We are glad we don't' have
them,” he explained.
“So who makes arrangements for a mammoth religious gathering in this tiny town,” I
“Allah!” he retorted.