The world we are living in has changed and is transforming at a phenomenal pace. If technology has revolutionized one thing over the years that for sure is communication. Gone are the days when voice of masses, a populist movement or uprising could be hushed or silenced by authority and censorship. Liberation of media, advent of internet and social media in particular has changed the rules of the game altogether. If someone has any doubts, please revisit the events of recent upsurge in Tunisia, Egyptand Middle East. What was the dynamic behind the abrupt change in the region that brought an autocratic rule to its knees within days of the suicide of a young university graduate despite all authority and censorship?
Yes. As much as the followers of strong leadership theories (I being one of them) hate to believe, it was the popular campaign and well co-ordinated effort through social media such as Facebook, twitter, youtube and blogsphere that moblized the educated and impassioned youth to the point that rattled the forces of status quo and shook the foundations of the monarchs and military backed regimes in the entire region. In the event of such a deluge, if leadership gets arbitrary and widespread temporarily, is beyond the discussion but more importantly what we have witnessed lately is the real power and potential of a virtual medium and social marketing in achieving objectives of an uprising or an upheaval when it has the potential to connect and resonate with the aspiration of the masses. Grasp over English language or not, a thin or narrowing tip of pyramid constituting a stream of spearheads has shown to represent and influence an exponential base and human resource at the bottom.
What brings me to resort to such an introduction is an excellent article published in the daily ‘The News’ today (June 18th, 2011; Taking social media by storm by Malik Siraj Akbar). It discusses at length about the similar phenomenon that is brewing in the much neglected but largest province of the country i.e Baluchistan. Arguably one of the least developed areas having low population and even lower literacy rate, the most critical and lethal element remains the relevance. There is no denial that Baluchis today find themselves in utter state of deprivation and negligence. Though this galvanization and resentment against the state is not a nascent development, the recent socio economic events and catastrophes have definitely alienated and disenchanted the Baluchs further.
The gruesome reality and mystery regarding the fate of missing persons remains shrouded. How ruthlessly we dealt with a 79 year old Sardar and Baluch icon, Sardar Nawab Akbar Bugti in particular and other political and national figures sharpened the wedge a great deal and intensified the feeling of unflinching hatred against the state. Baluch nationalistic sentiment is gaining momentum and only gets stronger following each clash with the security forces. It has got to the point where they are resorting to target killings and living in the province for a Punjabi or a non native is a potential life threatening risk. The lukewarm and listless response to the earthquake in Baluchistan a couple of years ago further aggravated the economic woes of the people. So much so, the blogsphere and press talked about deliberate flooding of portions of Baluchistan with allegiance of military and police to safeguard the interests of some Sindhi influential landlords during the devastating floods last year.
Poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, unemployment and deprivation remain the chief concerns of the tribal and gallant Baluchs. Mineral rich Balochistan is brimming with resources like natural gas, copper, coal and recently discovered huge reserves of gold. A long stretch of coastal belt runs along the shores of Makran and Gawadar but unfortunately any plans to develop potential goldmine of port of Gawadar have been jeopardized mainly because of the insecurity and partly owing to the cold war and conflicting interests of giants like America and China in the strategically located province.
Isn’t it ironic that a democratic government cant even associate itself with marginalized population ( a mere 5% of the total population) of the largest ( that constitutes 44% of total area of Pakistan) but most backward and sparsely populated province of the country?
Although the history of nationalistic unrest and military intervention and use of force to curb such elements dates as far back as independence, the widening chasm and technological revolution demands a grossly varied approach to the issue. There was much propaganda of an impending economic package for Baluchistan by the prime minister but nothing has materialized so far.
Coming back to the point, there are a number of blogs and forums that represent Baluch nationalists and promote their extreme agenda and hype on the web. Talking of most popular ‘Baluchistan’ page on Facebook alone, considering the low literacy rate, there is a following of close to 6000 individuals which by any standard or stretch of imagination is substantial. The worsening law and order and security situation doesn’t help. Thanks to social media, well organized, energetic and flambuoyant youth are quick to grab bits of news and information and share and disperse them within the community and cyber space within no time.
If the infested and bleeding wounds of Baluch pride and marginalization are not daubed with serious dialogue, concerted and well organized effort and if what the article reveals about the extent of co-ordination and the activity and commitment of Baluchs to use social media as an alternate platform to counter all censorship, we have a mammoth, ominous and worsening political challenge to tackle at our hands.