No journalist influenced Balochistan’s public policy debates as much as the veteran journalist Siddiq Baluch. When the 78-year old legendary journalist passed away in Karachi on February 5, 2018, after a prolonged battle with cancer, he left behind a rich legacy that will continue to inspire Balochistan’s coming generations of reporters and editors.
Throughout his fifty-year career as an intrepid reporter and editor, Baluch devoted his life to local journalism, highlighting Balochistan’s underreported issues in the media. He was a credible subject matter expert on the country’s largest province whose work was cited for decades in leading newspapers, academic, policy and research papers.
Baluch, a native of Karachi, spent 28 years working as a reporter at the Dawn. Before working there, he had already accumulated deep political awareness by remaining affiliated with the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) and the defunct National Awami Party (NAP). He served as the Press Secretary of Balochistan’s first governor Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. When Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto removed the Balochistan government in 1973 and implicated key NAP leaders in infamous Hyderabad Conspiracy Case, he spent several years in jail. On his release, Baluch permanently pursued journalism as a career.
“He was an authority on Balochistan,” said Majeed Asghar, a former resident editor of the Quetta edition of Daily Jang. Asghar served with Mr. Baluch on the Balochistan Newspaper Editors Council of which the latter served as the president.
“He highlighted Balochistan’s burning issues in his writings and always provided policy recommendations and suggestions for the solution of these problems. He was a serious journalist and an undisputed thought leader,” said Asghar.
With a master’s degree in economics from the Karachi University, Baluch made the most significant decisions of his life when he decided in the 1990s to move to Quetta to launch the Daily Balochistan Express. Although he had extensive networks of friends, great familiarity with the Baloch history, politics and culture, the province still surprised him with its unique tribal, political and security dynamics. He was a Baloch from Karachi, which had provided him more intellectual space and the freedom of the press. He was going to embark on a career in a harsh terrain that was strictly dominated either by the army or the federal government or controlled by haughty tribal chiefs.
He was a self-made man coming out from a middle-class family of Lyari in Karachi.
Surprisingly, Baluch not only tactfully survived in Balochistan but he also instantly thrived and established his mark as indisputably the most trusted and informed journalist in Balochistan. He found Balochistan as fertile land for untold news stories and issues that had not been reported anywhere.
Soon, his Daily Balochistan Express changed the face of English journalism in Balochistan. Siddiq Baluch was the first journalist who explained Balochistan (and the Baloch people) to the English readers in detail through unique insights. He wrote two highly credible books on the politico-economy of Balochistan.
Anwar Sajidi, editor of the Daily Intekhab and a longstanding friend of Baluch, described him as an icon of resistance journalism.
Baluch was a disciplined writer, who loyally believed in the power of local news. He meticulously translated or chased critical regional stories and then editorialised them until they became such big stories that drew the government’s attention or intervention. He hardly skipped writing his widely read editorials in two decades.
According to his family accounts, even a few hours before his death, he asked the hospital management if they could provide him a laptop so that he could write his regular editorial and mail it to the newspaper in Quetta. That confirms the deep relationship and commitment he had with his readers.
As an economist-journalist, Baluch had a clear understanding of Balochistan’s economic potentials. He educated policymakers, politicians and even military regimes telling them what development projects would or wouldn’t work there. Provincial ministers and secretaries of finance and planning and development would often look at him for validation in their budget speeches or public events. They knew Baluch was silently fact-checking them and he would rebuke them in the next day’s editorial if they got their facts wrong.
Baluch was a brave and a competent editor who used to loudly agitate against bad public policies in his editorials for as long as the government and policymakers acknowledged that they had heard his policy recommendations. It was his persistent reporting and editorials that influenced decisions on critical projects such as the Gwadar Port, the National Finance Commission (NFC) award or Balochistan’s gold reservoirs at Reko Diq and Saindak.
Besides giving Balochistan a political and economic narrative, Baluch’s other significant contribution was producing and training a new generation of Balochistani journalists. He hired and mentored journalism students and young reporters from the most backward parts of Balochistan (including this writer) to prepare them to pursue a career in journalism.
Abbas Nasir, a former editor of the Dawn, described this as Baluch’s “foremost achievement” as the inspiration he provided to young Baloch journalists.
Baluch spent all his life fighting for a democratic, progressive, pluralistic and a tolerant Balochistan. There were always elements within the establishment that wanted to financially and professionally destroy him.
According to Sajidi of daily Intekhab, when Baluch broached this concern in a meeting with the former Balochistan Chief Minister Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, officials from the information department told the provincial chief executive that they had received orders “from the top” to cut down on his newspapers’ advertisements.
He was not new to official threats and pressure.
In 2009, the Frontier Corps had besieged the offices of the Daily Balochistan Express, and its Urdu sister publication, Daily Azadi. The siege that lasted for several days was intended to intimidate the newspaper and its staff due to their coverage of Baloch nationalists and human rights violations attributed to the security agencies.
During his last days, Baluch lived under tremendous pressure as the government planned to financially strangulate both of his outspoken newspapers. He had worked for years to establish these significant news organisations he had created, and he was not prepared to see them collapse because of financial difficulties. Most newspapers in Balochistan predominantly depend on official advertisements for their survival. Mr. Baluchs newspapers obviously never made it to the government’s priority list because of his scathing criticism of flawed government policies. In spite of these challenges, he remained undeterred and unapologetic for the courageous and informative journalism he produced.
Baluch’s death comes at a critical time for journalism in Balochistan.
Today Balochistan undoubtedly needs more informed and honest journalists like Baluch who are adequately trained to understand and analyse the dynamics of the province’s politics and economics, especially with regards to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).