As we neared the second anniversary of one of the most brutal suicide attack on civilians in Pakistan, I kept on thinking about how best to commemorate the slain generation of lawyers in the southwestern province of Balochistan who were killed en masse on August 8, 2016 in the provincial capital Quetta.
Memories of the activist lawyers we lost in that atrocity came flooding back. I recalled Baz Mohammad Kakar, a youthful leader of Balochistan’s lawyers. He was dedicated to upholding the rule of law and strived for ensuring that all Pakistanis can enjoy their fundamental human rights. One episode of his kindness stood out. I recalled receiving sweets from Kakar in Quetta’s Bacha Khan square as lawyers celebrated their role in bringing down Pakistan’s last military dictator Pervez Musharraf in August 2008.
A decade later the portrait of Kakar and more than 50 more colleagues who celebrated the return of democracy now adorn the walls of Balochistan Bar Council. Yet another generation of lawyers, students and activists are out on the streets to demand that the state ensure their security and must be held accountable for the suffering of citizens in Pakistan.
As part of this activism, I addressed a mass gathering of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a civil rights movement demanding protection for the country Pashtun minority, which is hard done by more than 15 years of violence after the onset of the war on terrorism. The highlight of my April speech in Qila Saifullah, a town near Quetta, was some straight talking about the attack on Quetta lawyers. Later that day I received a Facebook message from Kakar’s nephew Nosherwan Khan. “The family of Baz Mohammad Kakar salutes you. Your speech refreshed our memories of the martyr who continued fighting for people’s rights till the end,’’ he wrote.
These few words from one of Kakar’s relatives left me with teary eyes. Feelings of loss and helplessness reminded me of the days when Quetta’s lawyers valiantly struggled for people’s fundamental rights. Through tireless public interest litigation, advocacy and campaigning they reminded the state of its fundamental responsivity of protecting its citizens and ensuring their rights. They were not only utilizing the available spaces, they were leading efforts to create new spaces for activism and resistance.
Kakar played a significant role. He was a fearless democrat who kept sharing the ‘sweets’ of progressive activism among his people and refusing to buy the state’s narratives on security, justice and development throughout his professional career. As president of the Balochistan Bar Council he lead the region’s legal fraternity into a meaningful contact with a larger legal environment of the country. One the other hand, he played an important part in bringing the lawyers of the remote areas and legal issues of the marginalized sections of the society into the legal mainstream.
But the activism Kakar nurtured suffered a debilitating blow when the 45-year-old and dozens of his colleagues were killed in a suicide bombing in Quetta’s civil hospital on August 8, 2016. They had gathered to receive the dead body of a colleague Bilal Anwar Kasi who had been shot dead earlier that day.
Today, Quetta without it bright and brilliant lawyers feels like an orphaned city. A deep silence rules the streets of the city, which shows that the August 8 attack has successfully achieved its target. Violence began speaking with a horribly louder voice in the city. It got more organized in acting against specific ideological, professional and political groups of Baloch, Pashtun and Hazara communities, which make the bulk of Quetta residents.
Forms of structural violence and injustice such as Islamabad’s control over the resources of the province, uneven distribution of power, poverty and illiteracy have placed Balochistan at the extreme margin of Pakistan during the past 70 years. The emergence of the new techniques of dominance such as religious terrorism and sectarian violence has horribly shrunken space for the secular and progressive politics of the natives.
The presence of an enlightened, progressive and politically active legal fraternity was a strong evidence of a vibrant secular environment in Balochistan. The absence of such a professional group can inform us of an environment occupied by the forces, which have historically been communal, security-specific and warmongering in our region. This is why Quetta now looks like a complex of security distributing fear and alienation rather than a city – a network of dynamic productive and cultural relations and aesthetics.
This complex web-like mechanism of security has terribly failed Quetta. It has extended its control over the productive and infrastructural development, jobs and business opportunities, restricting the growth and mobility of the middle class in Balochistan. The ‘successes’ are only reserved for those who can contribute to the established order. This is the question of politics and ideology. In this regard, the biggest ‘misfortune’ of the martyred lawyers was their unwillingness towards such a subscription of ‘successes’. They never compromised over their sense of belonging, aspirations of locality and their struggle for the constitutional rights of their people. This was the ‘crime’ they were punished for.
An entire generation of a city’s lawyers was massacred in broad daylight. But two years later, Pakistani judiciary remained completely occupied by deciding the future of ‘corrupt’ politicians by sending them to jails or placing their names in publicly displayed lists of ‘thieves’. What can justify, morally and legally, that the corruption cases of politicians are more important than the case of Quetta’s slain lawyers. Perhaps its only rationale can be found in the centre-periphery relationship in Pakistan, where interests of the minority provinces such as Balochistan are sacrificed for the power politics in Islamabad.
Be clear, there is no short-term healing for the wounds of Balochistan. The 70-year long suffering of the province can only be addressed through a comprehensive political resolution. This will require fundamental changes in the state’s framework regarding the policy towards different ethnic groups and their politics of recognition and redistribution.
Without such a policy shift, no rhetoric, be that claim to be creating a ‘New Pakistan’ or counting the promised benefits or Chinese investments collectively called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would be able to represent the aspirations of the people.
After two years of the Quetta carnage people whose minds refuse to be guided by the state nationalism believe that setting such a heavy price for a development project is not only unaffordable and extremely irrational. It also shows that how development goes as an essential part of the security politics and a technique of control and repression in Balochistan.
In the final analysis, it would be a blunder on part of the rulers if they continue undermining the power of people. The people will definitely come out one day for telling their version of the story. Let them tell it democratically and peacefully. Please carefully listen to the families of the martyred lawyers. Their narrative is completely different from yours.
Khan Zaman Kakar (@khanzamankakar), an anthropologist, is an activist, columnist and poet in his native Pashto language. These views are the author's alone and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.