“If my actions have angered some Pakistani Canadians, may I suggest they examine their own consciences. They are defending a flag that symbolizes the 1971 genocide in East Pakistan and in part, the creation of the Taliban, terrorist attacks on India, the hosting of Osama Bin Laden and the subjugation of their land’s indigenous cultures and language.”
Sunday, February 7, 2016
The Toronto Sun
Last Saturday, I woke up to a phone call from a refugee who recently escaped death in Pakistan and now lives in Toronto.
Skipping the usual pleasantries, his voice quivering with anger, Lateef Johar told me:
“They’ve killed Dr. Manan and his son.”
“They”, being the Pakistan army that has occupied Balochistan since it invaded the independent state of Kalat in March, 1948.
Dr. Manan Baloch was a physician politician who was the secretary general of the outlawed Baloch National Movement (BNM), a political party that calls for a free homeland for the Baloch people and the end of the Pakistani occupation. He was widely known for his work in helping war refugees in Balochistan.
Pakistan’s government, however, described Baloch and his associates as terrorists, called their deaths a “major breakthrough” in its war against terrorism in Balochistan and said all five men were killed in a gunfight with security forces.
But this is nothing new. Extra-judicial killings are common in Balochistan.
So are “enforced disappearances”, as the human rights organization Human Rights Watch has reported, where people are scooped up by security forces, held and often tortured in secret, charged with crimes after the fact, and sometimes found dead months later.
Journalists like Declan Walsh of the Guardian, who have tried to report the truth of what is happening in Balochistan, have been expelled, Walsh after writing his definitive account of human rights abuses by the army titled “Pakistan’s dirty, secret war” in 2011.
I am not claiming there have never been unjustified killings and human rights abuse by the rebels. This is a civil war, with all its horrors.
Further, in all of my 45 years as a left-wing political activist and writer, I have followed the non-violent path of Gandhi and the Pashtun nationalist Bacha Khan, never retaliating with force, even when I was beaten by Islamist goons on campus in Karachi or occasionally on the streets of Toronto.
I continue to believe in non-violent protest.
But to me, this latest tragedy in Balochistan called for more than spoken words or chanting slogans.
How about burning the Pakistan flag, I thought?
After all in 1948, when the Pakistan army invaded and captured the capital of Kalat state, their first act was to install the Pakistan flag over the parliament house of Balochistan.
I recalled the words of George Carlin: “A flag is supposed to represent everything that a country does. It doesn’t only represent the good things. If you burn the flag, you’re burning the flag for what you perceive to be the bad things the country has done. It’s only a symbol. It’s only a piece of cloth.”
Since many Baloch newcomers to Canada were unsure whether burning a flag might jeopardize their legal status in Canada, I volunteered to hold the flag as they set it on fire at a demonstration last Sunday in Toronto.
If my actions have angered some Pakistani Canadians, may I suggest they examine their own consciences.
They are defending a flag that symbolizes the 1971 genocide in East Pakistan and in part, the creation of the Taliban, terrorist attacks on India, the hosting of Osama Bin Laden and the subjugation of their land’s indigenous cultures and language.