Mouthpieces of the empire have shifted into top gear to redefine Sabeen Mahmud after her murder. The well-meaning social activist who injected a healthy dose of music, art and literature into Karachi is being recast as a ‘human rights’ activist who died fighting against ‘state repression’ in Balochistan. It’s quite like how, not so long ago, a brave bright girl from Swat who was eager to serve her community, was catapulted to London to serve the empire instead. Sabeen Mahmud is being similarly cannibalized by those posing as her friends and well-wishers. Clearly, her positive legacy is being chewed into shape by borrowed words and distorted to serve as a misleading footnote in the imperial script.

Whether she likes the campaign being built around her murder or not, there’s nothing Sabeen Mahmud can do to save herself from being pigeon-holed to push the imperial agenda on Balochistan. She’s dead and cannot possibly rise from her grave to affirm or reject what is being said in her name. Those aggressively appropriating her memory, the very vocal champions of Sabeen, would like to forget her diverse contributions to the cultural life of her city spanning eight years and project a thinly-attended talk on Balochistan as her claim to fame. They’d like to link her murder to a cancelled talk in the series at LUMS and use it as a prop to target the ISI and the military.

Did Sabeen Mahmud, by inviting Mama Qadeer to speak to a handful of people, threaten the security establishment to a point where it would take the extreme measure of eliminating her like a terrorist? If we accept the assertion that the ISI has decided to kill off those raising the issue of Balochistan’s missing persons, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to start with those committed to the cause and agitating it as a routine in the mass media and more popular forums? Why choose Sabeen Mahmud who can hardly be described as an activist for Baloch rights and who hosted the talk in the spirit of open debate more than any other reason? Why kill her right after that talk?

Those building her up as a crusader for Baloch rights don’t want to address questions that could impede their campaign. They are obviously more interested in demonizing the armed forces of Pakistan rather than helping the poor people of Balochistan; the Baloch, Pathan, Brahvi, Seraiki, Makrani, Urdu-speaking, even Punjabi people who inhabit this vast land bigger than many big countries. Instead of going out there and getting to know the diverse people for whose rights they claim to be fighting, they’d rather parrot simplistic clichés borrowed from imperial bibles. They’d rather gather in front of metropolitan press clubs in small groups to heap abuse upon the entire institution of the military and charge it with murder.

These champions of Sabeen Mahmud as a Baloch rights martyr, of Baloch and ‘human’ rights, of our Constitution and the supremacy of our oh-so-sacred parliamentary democracy, these champions of all the causes approved and funded by the empire, don’t wish to talk about their many blind-spots, though they are of primary importance to the discussion. They’d rather dwell within their elitist bubbles that have no interest in interfacing with the reality on the ground. They don’t want to step out of the vacuum of their theoretical frameworks and see the white man still carrying his burden, on a never-ending mission to civilize us and the whole wide world.

It amazes me sometimes that our so called intellectuals and experts could so completely ignore the global context within which events are unfolding in Pakistan. They go around their pet grooves like a believing Muslim would circumambulate Khana Ka’ba. No new development or information could convince them to revisit their rigid worldview. Within the imperial framework littered with a pantheon of causes, they swing from one cause to the other with equal passion, depending on which cause the empire has the money for. They treat their causes as sacred and self-evident which they obviously are not.

They swear by a Constitution that was written by political parties that lost the elections, a document that is a shoddy patchwork today, botched up by civilian and military governments alike. They are uncritical in their support for our prevalent democratic order although it stands thoroughly exposed today as little more than a gory circus featuring competing mafias of patronage and privilege built around personality cults. They would like the nightmarish show to go on at any cost, and believe that everything would be alright given time. To them, the emperor’s clothes look great and those clad in khaki are the ones roaming around naked.

There are many ways to talk about Balochistan. Unfortunately, those talking the loudest and amplified the most by the media have no authority to speak about the issue. They do so with no real engagement with the diverse population of the province spread over a large area, choosing instead to define the population and its priorities imprisoned within the imperial framework and its list of causes. The narrative projected corresponds to the one peddled by a small number of militant separatists and their patron sardars being cultivated in safe havens of the empire. Wittingly or unwittingly, they act as the political wing of terrorists masquerading as Baloch nationalists, those who murder non-Baloch inhabitants and workers.

There is much about the power structure of Pakistan that needs massive improvement to pave the way for the empowerment of the less-privileged whichever province they inhabit. Rather than fitting people into slots carved out by the empire to play violent games, drawing and redrawing maps to suit its strategic interests, wouldn’t it be better to get to know our people better and to understand their priorities. For those interested in the future of the inhabitants of Balochistan, a trip to the province should be the starting point. It might help them see the empire-driven pro-separatism narrative premised on Baloch nationalism for what it is and appreciate the diversity of its people and their problems.