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The National: Balochistan: Pakistan's Broken Mirror

March 25, 2010

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Islamabad's brutal attempts to crush ethnic Baloch nationalism have met with fierce, escalating resistance - and have laid bare the strains that threaten the founding idea of Pakistan. Madiha R Tahir reports from the rallies, homes and hospital rooms of the fifth Baloch rebellion.

A child is fiddling with a poster of a mustachioed man, a missing political worker who may be his father or his uncle, and who is in all likelihood, dead. He draws my immediate attention, this child, because out of the thousands seated around him in row upon neat row inside the open-air tent, he is the only one not focused on the stage, the blazing lights, the young man holding forth in angry punctuated bellows.

"I am not a friend of Pakistan!" Zahid Baloch bangs the podium to emphasise his point, his countenance flushed, severe. "I am not a friend of the People's Party!" He bangs the podium again, and the evening air swells with the ferocious stillness of his audience, tense and alert like a taut muscle.

Two days earlier, on January 15, the Pakistan army's Frontier Corps had opened fire on a student protest in south-eastern Balochistan, killing two students and injuring four more - the latest casualties in an escalating war between the state of Pakistan and nationalists in Balochistan, the country's largest and most sparsely populated province, where the fifth sustained rebellion against Islamabad since 1948 is seething.

Zahid is the secretary-general of the largest student movement in Balochistan, a fierce opponent of the central government and the more mainstream Baloch parties. At this twilight gathering in Lyari, home to a sizeable Baloch community, he delivers a verbal blow to the waffling nationalist parties. "The Baloch are the enemy of the National Party! The Baloch are the enemy of the BNP-Mengal!" The crowd has heard itself affirmed. Wild applause erupts, a release.

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