The largest province by area, Balochistan just by its geographic placement is a very sensitive and critical area of Pakistan: it shares its south-west border with Iran and its western border with Afghanistan. Adding further instability to the region is the different and diverse mix of ethnic groups inhabiting the province.
Last week I found myself in Quetta after a long time on an official trip. The purpose of the trip was to oversee a film shoot for an upcoming Active Citizens documentary. I visited a number of places where our film crew shot footage of ongoing Social Action Projects, but what I would like to write about today are my observations of a few activities organised for the promotion of peace in the city.
Our local partner organization, the College of Youth Activism and Development (CYAAD) helped organise these activities in Mariabad, an area of the city populated by members of the Hazara community. The Hazara people form a minority in Quetta, and of late targeted killings of Hazaras have shook their entire community to the core. Some people term these killings the work of extremist elements; others term it as systematic ethnic cleansing. When I asked people from different areas of Quetta why they thought the Hazara people were being murdered, and by whom, they could not offer a motive either. The fact remains thought that people are being killed in Quetta – Hazara, and members of other ethnic groups as well.
The first part of the day’s activities was a peace walk to the local graveyard from the city centre. A group of young people from all over the city, comprising of various ethnic groups participated in the walk. It was very encouraging to see young adults and children holding up placards and banners with messages of peaceful coexistence printed on them.
It was a brisk winter day with clear, sunny skies – perfect weather to be outside. Reaching the graveyard, the participants of the walk offered prayers for the dead and hung messages of peace written on coloured paper from a tree in the graveyard. We then made our way back to the city where a workshop on conflict resolution was arranged in a vocational and technical institute.
The workshop was headed by Ms. Najeeba Saeed of CYAAD. Najeeba is a well respected resident of the city because of her long association with the development sector. Her main expertise lies in study of conflict and the resolution of conflict.
Najeeba talked about two major groups in any conflict: one which has something to gain from the conflict, and the other group which wants to resolve the conflict.
She went on to say that people who live in one area of Quetta feel that visiting another area of the city is not advisable; this is the wrong way to think. This city belongs to all the residents of Quetta; staying in one particular area and not venturing out of it only divides the community.
Listening to Najeeba talk about divisions within a community, I could not help but think that this concept could easily be extended from a community’s perspective to a larger one: which encapsulates an entire country. In a way we have adopted a similar mind-set of creating our particular safe zones, and in the process we have isolated other areas of the country and the people living in them. Quetta is one such place.
Balochistan’s provincial minister for quality education, Mr. Jan Ali Changezi was also in attendance. When asked to offer a few words on the occasion, he quoted the following excerpt from the speech that legendary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz delivered in Moscow when he took the stage to receive the Lenin Peace Prize: “I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will after all be successful; at long last, instead of wars, hatred, and cruelty”.
It is true that conflict exists in Quetta, but it won’t be resolved by looking away from it. Nor will it be resolved by rushing into dialogue without a well thought out plan. We have to focus instead on understanding the underlying issues that are causing tension, we have to try and understand the sensibilities of the different ethnic groups that make up the population of Balohistan. We have to work towards a peaceful, and safer Quetta, and consequently a more stable Balochistan. We have to do this by well thought out and sustained engagement; not by adopting a policy of avoidance or escalation.