QLF: A melding of literature and politics in Quetta

The Quetta Literary Festival entered in to its third season this year despite political uncertainty and disturbances to law and order. The two-day event was inaugurated on 27th June 2022 by GOC 41 Division Major General Salman Moin at BUITEMS University and was attended by well-known intellectuals of Pakistan, including Dr Amjad Islamic Amjad, Arfa Syeda Zehra and Anwar Maqsood, who addressed a large audience at the opening session. The highlights of the first day included syndicate sessions on federal and regional development and the 18th amendment in Pakistan, challenges faced by journalism in the province, writing, liaison with children, Islamic art and architecture, civilization education and life. Lectures in which large numbers of people contributed were also held on various other topics including the historical background of Balochistan, development backwardness, higher education in Pakistan, Balochi handicrafts, political situation and events, music and society, conservation of natural environment, filmmaking, and Pakistani cinema. There was a book fair with Urdu, Brahui, and Balochi poetry readings, as well as a special session with Anwar Maqsood. The second day of the Quetta Literary Festival focused on discussions about the water crisis in Balochistan, urban backwardness, problems of Quetta city, history of colonialism in Balochistan, Urdu literature, Barohi literature, uniform national curriculum, role of educational institutions in promoting regional languages and cultural tourism in Balochistan. Discussions and dialogues were also held about the volunteering for the betterment of society, the economic crisis and its causes, the role of women in society, women's health, and the benefits of vaccination. Dr Qaiser Bengali, Dr Asim Sajjad, Dr Qaratul Ain, Toba Syed, Dr Sami Tareen, Sahiba Samar, Iqbal Nazar, Dr Taj Raisani, Abdul Rehman, Sikandar Bizenjo, Zia Khan, Ayesha Shahid, Hayatullah Durrani and others prominent figures participated in day 2 of the session. Highlights of QLF One of the best sessions in QLF’22 was “Federalism, regional development and the 18th amendment in Pakistan” moderated by Dr Hafeez Jamali with Dr Asma Faiz, Dr Asim Bashir Khan and Rafiullah Kakar as guest speakers. The session was focused on whether promises have been fulfilled on 7th NFC award and 18th amendment in Baluchistan and the intergovernmental relations in the wake of the 18th amendment. “Provinces have always been complaining that federal government does not have funds and on the contrary federal government remarks that provincial governments are lagging in health and education sector due to lack of willingness and lack of capacity or do not simply have the ability to handle the powers,” Dr.Asma Faiz said. “There are two types of rules which divide federal and provincial powers. One is self-rule, other is sharing rule. After 18th Amendment actualisation of self-rule was devolved in to sharing rule i.e. provincial autonomy. But in terms of Balochistan, they did get autonomy in fields of health, education, and social welfare however self-rule in terms of alleviation of ethnic grievance of people was less effective due to the reason that people of Balochistan do not have hold on the natural resources present here. Before [the] 18th Amendment natural resources handling was a provincial matter and after 18th amendment it got more prominence, however before 18th amendment this was not being followed properly and its biggest example is Sandak Project which was handed over to a Chinese company for 10 years in 2002 and the contract mentioned that after 10 years this will be handed over to Government of Balochistan, however the project got extended twice for five years each after 2012,” Mr Rafiullah Kakar, a policy maker for the government of Baluchistan said. Another interesting session was “Political economy analysis of underdevelopment in Baluchistan” moderated by Ms Saira Lehri with guest speakers Dr Qaiser Bengali, Dr Khalid Khan, Mir Saadat and Rafiullah Kakar. The primary focus of the session was the neglect of Balochistan and the factors contributing to its underdevelopment. Dr Qaiser Bengali has had a range of experiences throughout his career and has been an advisor to the Chief Minister of Balochistan in the previous government. “After independence Baluchistan was providing 100% gas to whole Pakistan, however the federation kept the price too low and [as a result that] people misused this natural resource and soon we had to search for new resources which we got in Sindh. Due to this reason, Balochistan only provides 15% of gas now. According to my calculations since 1969 till 2014, Seven Trillion Rupees have been transferred from Balochistan to federal government and Balochistan was never given its royalty properly. On the contrary people in Balochistan were paying market price for all the food items being imported from other provinces; however, the only natural resource they had was given in pennies to other provinces which were the biggest example of negligence and discrimination,” Bengali said. “[The] interesting thing is that barite is produced in Khuzdar District of Balochistan from which Barium is produced. Barium is used during X-rays in hospital, and we export Barite in huge quantity and then again import Barium. Unfortunately, no one even tried to utilise these natural resources for revenue generation,” he added. The crowd applauded Mir Saadat when he compared the relationship between Balochistan and the federal government as being like a plate of salad, comparing it to mooli, or radish in a salad plate. “People do not eat it until they have digestion problem,” Saadat said. “Whenever they feel some kind of indigestion, they approach us for help and support.” Other interesting sessions included “Celebrating the sports heroes of Balochistan” and “Higher Education of Pakistan”. The session on sports heroes included Boxer Muhammad Waseem, Kaleemullah Khan, Shahida Raza, Agha Mengal, Nahida Khan Achackzai, Muhammad Azhar and Awais Khan as guests speakers who shared their long lasting struggles to achieve milestones for Pakistan. One common theme in their stories was that, like other fields, they have not been supported at the government level until they get some recognition for their self-financed trips. While discussing the general issues on higher education Dr Abdul Samad, who is himself a graduate from BUITEMS, shared his experience of going abroad for his PhD when he lagged behind in application and objectives. “I recognised that if we train a undergraduate student honestly he will not face such issues which I did,” he said. The other panelists included Mr Saboor Kakar, Dr A.H Nayyar, Mr Zahoor Buledi and Dr Fozia Ahmed and was moderated by Dr Faisal Khan. Former Provincial Minister Zahoor Buledi spoke about the areas in which the education system of Balochistan is lagging behind other provinces. “The issue is that wherever we try to build a new university in Balochistan, the political pressures starts rising from other districts. Obviously, we cannot build 10 universities in 10 different areas of Balochistan at the same time. Secondly, now things have changed, mindset has changed, and people of Balochistan have to accept gender equality. We cannot make separate institutions for girls and boys. There are many primary schools of boys and girls separate could not be upgraded due to lack of resources. If it was one co-education school, we could have upgraded many schools to college level,” he said. Book launches during QLF Students and other participants attended sessions on book launches, especially those for books written in the local languages of Balochistan. On the first day of the festival, five different books were launched in different sessions, including “Pashtuns Image in the Orientalist Discourse” by Barkat Shah Kakar, “Conceptual Metaphors of Melancholy in Barahui Language” by Rabia Baloch, “Maati Zubanani Arzesht” by Yar Jan Badini, “Kuch Ishq Kiya” by Mohsin Shakeel and “Daryab pe Koza Ki” by Dr Abdul Rauf Rafiqi. Nilofar Afridi Qazi also launched her book “Culinary Tales from Baluchistan” in a syndicate session which was moderated by Aqsa Gharshin. Day 2 of the festival included the book launch of “Sadai Nafas-e-Bagheecha-Sohraab Sepehri aur Muneer Niyazi ka Taqabuli Jaiza” written by Mustafa Shahid and Akbar Anjum. Dr Arif Azad launched his book “Thinkers, Dreamers and Doers,” which was moderated by Mr Rafiullah Kakar. Poetry was also part of QLF 2022; Brahui Mushaira, Balochi Maushaira took place on the first day and Hazargi Mushaira and Pashto Mushaira were held on the second day. Special sessions were kept for discussing volunteerism, cultural changes in Balochistan, gender equality, the water crisis, and emerging filmmakers in contemporary cinema of Pakistan. There was also a special session for political memoirs with Senator Javaid Jabbar. Other than intellectual sessions and books launches, QLF 2022 also featured an exhibition of theses by students of the fine arts department of BUITEMS and a photo exhibition on wildlife by Ashraf Khan and Mayan Khan. There was also an exhibition of photographs and art organized by BRSP. The first day also featured comedy by Rozi Khan Shoq's Pashto and the festival ended with another comedy session by Mustafa Chaudhry and Faisal Chaudhry, "Hansay tou Phansay". The special guest at the closing ceremony of the festival was Ahmad Farooq Bazai, Vice Chancellor of BUITEMS Ahmad Farooq Bazai, who played the best role in the festival and distributed shields to the sponsors who supported the organization. In his address to the function, he said that BUITEMS has always played its role in promoting education and positive activities in the province while highlighting the positive identity of Balochistan. He said the Quetta Literary Festival is a ray of hope which will light the candle of peace and harmony in the society. He said he hopes similar events will also be held in the future. QLF is helping reinforce the importance of literature in public life. Although the festival is in its teething stage, it is on the road to overcoming obstacles to become an even bigger success next year.   Mujtaba Javaid is a freelance writer. All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the writer.  

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