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Complex Realities

Shanthie Mariet DSouza

By Martin Axmann
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2008, pp. xxiii+336, Rs. 495.00


Close to 300 insurgency-related deaths were reported from Balochistan in 2009, which is a marginal improvement over the previous year’s toll of 350. Such ‘statistics’ notwithstanding, the Baloch insurrection remains a critical problem for the nation building exercise in Pakistan. Pakistan’s attempt to enter into a process of dialogue with the insurgents has met with failure. So have the counter-insurgency operations by the Pakistan Army. The insurgency thrives. And with the attempt of subversion by the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine, the engulfing presence of ‘Quetta shura’, the region’s complexities are only growing by the day. It is ironical that this strategic and resource-rich province in Pakistan continues to remain on the periphery. Baloch, comprising only five percent of Pakistan’s population, neither figure in the nation’s projects nor in its imagination. The Balochistan Economic Report 2009, a study by the World Bank which accounts for statistics from 1972–73 to 2005–06 reaffirms what the Balochis have long argued and demanded. The province’s economy, in the given period, expanded by 2.7 times whereas the rate was 3.6 times in the NWFP and Sindh and four times in Punjab. The impoverishment of Balochistan is clear through its social indicators, the lowest on key variables such as education, literacy, health, water and sanitation for 2006–07. The study notes that illiteracy is as high as 60 percent in Balochistan and primary school enrolment is low. The report confirms the longstanding disparities between Balochistan and the other provinces, especially Punjab, and underlines the deep disconnect between Balochistan and the rest of the country, as also the discontent of the Baloch. In this background, Martin Axmann’s Back to The Future which in the words of the author is an investigation ‘into the genesis of Baloch nationalism during the first half of the 20th century’ assumes significance. Set against the rise of an Indian and Muslim Indian (Pakistan) national movement in British India at that time, Axmann’s study is also an attempt to de-mystify both Baloch and Pakistani national self-perception and throw light on Pakistan’s unsolved national question. What makes Axmann’s work extremely relevant is his attempt to place partisan Pakistani scholarship on Baloch nationalism and contrast it with works by Baloch nationalists, thereby presenting an interesting and comparative analysis of how political developments are viewed by scholars on different sides of the divide. The most interesting chapter in Axmann’s book is chapter five that analyses the emergence of ...

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