It was probably late eighties, and I hadn’t formally joined journalism. I remember one summer evening, when I entered the Press Club (Quetta old building) I saw a clean-shaven person with grey hair was sitting in the hall. I enquired about him and was told he is a senior journalist from Karachi and associated with an esteemed English newspaper daily, Dawn. I was the reader of the daily Dawn. At the time, I was learning English and making news stories. I was impressed by his profile and his skills, which is why I wanted to spend time with him to get some guidelines to improve my skills.
I introduced myself, he received me warmly and we started a conversation. The man was Siddiq Baloch whose name was not new for me as my family members and even Baloch political circles have been mentioning his name.
My next meeting with this gentle man was in his room of hotel Shees on main Jinnah road where I spent few hours—from afternoon till late evening—with him. He was very happy about his story he filed about Iranian helicopters’ shelling on Baloch population on Pak-Iran border. He showed me the long paper of teleprinter as at that time all the reporters would file their stories/reports from telex office in GPO Quetta. I saw the story, but couldn’t understand much as I had no clarity about Iranian Baloch politics. He explained a bit and I got the idea that Baloch population inside Iran is in opposition to Iranian government.
As a habit, I asked several questions about his education, political association, journalistic career, Balochistan’s politics, and national politics, etc. It took him hours to keep answering. Though he was not much talkative, I have always been thankful to him for answering my all questions with great patience. After that, whenever he would come to Quetta, I would meet him and discuss a lot of things and his analyses about national and Balochistan politics. His analyses have always been a source of guidance for me, as well as helped me to bring clarity in my opinion and thoughts besides correctness in my analyses.
It was and is my habit to hold such discussions with my senior colleagues like Rasheed Beg, Asif Durrani, Anwar Sajidi, Habib Ur Rahman Khan and late Aziz Bhatti, late Ghulam Tahir, late Abdul Majid Fauz and with visiting senior Journalists and political leaders. These discussions really benefited me a lot in my journalistic career while writing my news stories and news analyses for newspapers and magazines.
Lala Siddiq Baloch quit Dawn and tried his luck in starting his own newspaper. He entered into joint venture “Sindh Express” in Karachi with his friend Nasir Brohi but within a year or two he dissolved the partnership and shifted to Balochistan. He started his own newspaper in Quetta named Balochistan Express in 1990 and later Daily Azadi in 2000. His presence in Quetta in 1990s, benefited me a lot as he taught me like a teacher that how long a write up/news analyses should be, its structure, choices of words, etc. In the mid 1990s, I was associated with Daily Nation Lahore and started contributing to Monthly Newsline Karachi in 1992. I used to write analyses on type writer and show him. He was very helpful to me for his time particularly in peak hours when he was working for his own newspaper. Since he did not have a staff of skilled journalists, he had done everything by himself like obtaining the news, making it into news form, writing editorials, checking the news, editing, writing special reports, choosing columns and news like local, national and international, checking the layout and remained present till the final copy was sent to printing press.
He was the lone English newspaper owner who would act like a professional editor, writer, journalist, columnist, , and author, etc. Anwar Sajidi, the owner of Daily Intekhab, is another owner who does all these things. Lala had the support of his sons, particularly Arif, Asif and Tariq, and he deputed them in different sections of newspapers. He never refused me to do editing my news draft rather always checked them carefully without any hesitation. He had given me enough confidence that I started editing my pieces on my own by re-writing or getting them composed at his office by his nephews, particularly Jamil Jangian who is now in Marchant Navy.
No doubt, he was an institution for journalists of Balochistan as he had been invited for his papers or lectures , to deliver on journalism, Baloch nationalism, regional peace, national politics, Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran relations in Quetta and in other parts of the country. He has the credit that many youth learned writing English from his newspaper as any individual who wanted to become journalist had been accommodated in his office without any consideration of cast, creed, and ethnicity. There is some difference between him and late Syed Fasieh Iqbal. Lala Siddiq used to give proper time to his newspaper and was available for his reporters/desk staff regarding their learning process. No doubt, there are several senior journalists who have/had been trained from Balochistan Times of Syed Fasieh Iqbal who was also very accommodative and cooperative towards new entrants of field, but due to his other engagements he was not available for his paper.
Lala Siddiq was such a refined personality that anyone who once met, got impressed and always considered him a tall personality among the intelligentsia. He had always updated knowledge about the political/economic development, international affairs particularly neighboring countries. He was very keen to know about international politics in Iran and Afghanistan and I used to discuss with him to update myself. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to know his observation he had during his last visit to Iran last year and to interview him about my research work regarding Baloch nationalism for my Prague based friend Abu Bakar who is going to write a book on the topic. For being an eye witness and experienced observer, I have been discussing with him the past events regarding Baloch politics, NAP government, inter-party differences, differences between Baloch leaders and its dissolution, insurgencies and obviously his favourite man and ideal late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bezenjo in order to know about them.
As I was asked by his sons Asif and Zafar who are very keen to compile a book, now I mention about some aspects of his personal life. I remember that he was very regular radio listener of BBC English service and always found him listening in his hotel room whenever I accompanied him in tours. Later after TV channels on cable, he used to watch BBC TV or CNN in his room, but he told me that he still listened radio at home.
He was very outspoken which I always witnessed on various forums particularly during the meetings with military officials who often invited us to have our opinion regarding the prevailing Balochistan situation. His views for his land and people cost him much in terms of slash on government advertisement or a very low flow of it towards his papers and the CM’s secretariat bureaucratic mafia was behind it. He was also with me in South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) and I found him straight forward and clear regarding Balochistan, its people particularly Baloch and their resources. In his opinion one thing was very common that is the future of Baloch population and its resources.
He would always predict that if establishment doesn’t change its attitude towards Baloch and Balochistan, the restlessness among Baloch population would increase more and more that may harm the integrity of the country. He used to say that establishment makes cosmetic changes in the province bringing its one ‘pawn’ (tribal Chieftain) and then replaces by another and the process goes on and on, giving the people impression that it makes sincere efforts for the betterment of them. During my last meetings, I found him worried not for his family or newspapers but for future of Baloch and Balochistan.
One thing which he extremely hated was the irresponsible behavior in profession meaning inaccuracy and slanting in news stories or carelessness and insisted for impartial and accurate stories. He also used to get annoyed over the attitude of disregard in making news stories and unnecessary delay in filing. The second thing which he also disliked was the long conversation on telephone whether it be landline or mobile. On this he scolded me and his buddy Saleem Shahid, the Bureau Chief of Daily Dawn, for more than once and to some extent I followed and still doing. He would say that telephone is the means of communication meaning communicating important things instead of making useless conversation. He was also very punctual in time management whenever there was any event in Quetta club or office of Southern Command, so often my duty was to pick him up and give him drop. I was very cautious towards time as fifteen minutes ahead, I would receive his call asking my location. And I always found him first or second among the guests who would reach in the event.
I remember, very long ago he while sharing his experiences as reporter of Daily Dawn told us that never approached high ups or high official for obtaining information regarding news stories rather contact the lower rank personnel. According to him the high officials know the impact of media and are not ready to pass on any information to journalists while lower staff is disregard of this impact speaks candidly with reporters sharing each and every bit of information about any incident or event.
On another occasion, Lala stunned everyone present in the post budget briefing of Governor Balochistan Amir Ul Mulk Mengal probably on June, 20, 2000 when he questioned surplus budget (2000-2001) for the first time in province’s history, saying a province like Balochistan with large size, scattered population and no basic infrastructure badly needs more and more funds for its development. He pointed out that if Balochistan doesn’t show its development needs and ask for more and more funds by showing deficit in its development budget, how Islamabad which is already disregard of Balochistan could know its needs. I still remember, Mr. Mulk cast a suspicious look at finance department officials and admitted that it is basic technical fault on the part of concerned officials. Governor Mengal promised that his observation would be included in the next budget while revising the previous practice of deficit budget.
Now I would like to mention my last meeting with Lala Siddiq accompanied by his son Zafar Baloch who works for Daily Express Tribune at the office of Hamayun Mahmood, the Saindak Copper-Gold Project. He, as usual, was the first person who reached there with Zafar. He looked very fresh and like a healthy person.
Two Chinese officials of Saindak project were also present there while Nawaz Khan, senior official briefed a selected group of journalists about the court case, as BNP’s leader Sana Baloch had filed a case against the Chinese company in Balochistan High Court. During the discussion, I viewed that Lala now completely recovered from his illness.
Lala Siddiq Baloch was very happy and spent a couple of hours while discussing different aspects of project and we had lunch together there. Hamayun Mahmood suggested for a tour of the project site for a group of journalists in the coming days and Lala agreed. The very next or day after tomorrow, there was a shocking news for us that Lala was shifted to Karachi in precarious condition and then in hospital where he breathed his last next morning. I wish Saleem Shahid his buddy having decades long association who must have hundred of stories about his different aspect of life may write about them so that the new generation or entrants could know about their seniors.