It was probably an evening in the winter of 2009 when I listened to Siddiq Baloch for the first time in a gathering of journalists – old and young – sitting around a table at the garden of the Karachi Press Club. I vaguely remember him informing us about the incidents of intimidation against some journalists in Khuzdar and said that practising journalism had become difficult day by day mainly because of a restraining atmosphere for freedom of expression and a worsening security situation.
Since then, it had been an honour for me to attend dozens of such gatherings with him at the Karachi Press Club till his death, especially during the winters when he used to come to Karachi to reside at his house in Lyari. All those who were regular attendees of such informative gatherings with Siddiq, still frequently recall his knowledge, resilience, and courage. Today they all feel his absence acutely.
Siddiq was not merely a journalist and editor of two newspapers, but also remained a key character in politics of Balochsitan, who politicized the youth in Lyari and co-founded the Baloch Students Organisation, a student outfit that had reshaped and still reshaping Balochsitan’s political landscape greatly.
In late 1950, he was an active member of the Leningrad Circle, in Karachi’s Lyari nieghourhbood. In the late 1950s, prominent nationalist and leftwing activists, including Lala Lal Bukhsh Rind, Akbar Barakzai, Mohammad Baig, and Yosuf Naskandi, founded Leningrad Circle in front of Rind’s residence at Asht (Aath) Chowk in Lyari. “Inspired by the Bolshevik revolution, the group’s main purpose to politicize the youth and initiate campaigns against social and political injustices with the downtrodden people, especially the Baloch and Siddiq was one of its active members,” writes Ramazan Baloch, in his recent book titled ‘Baloch Roshan Chehray. “Because of his philosophical style of discussion, and command of Balochi, Urdu, and English languages, Siddiq was known as ‘professor’ among the political circle.”
Siddiq was one of the founding members of the BSO that was formed in 1967 after the merging of several student bodies, including Quetta-based Warna Waninda Gal (Youth Educational Forum). Before the BSO, Siddiq was associated with the National Students Federation, a left-leaning student outfit, and took an active part in the campaign against military dictator Ayub Khan.
At that time, Karachi’s Baloch community was heavily involved in left-oriented nationalist politics and had elected nationalist figure Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo in Lyari. “Lal Bakhsh Rind and Siddiq used to arrange rallies and visits of prominent nationalist leaders, including Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Sardar Attaullah Mengal,” said Ramazan. He said that Siddiq had also spearheaded the movement against the government’s plan to shift Lyari by organising rallies, forcing the government to withdraw its plans.
After the formation of National Awami Party’s government in Balochistan, Siddiq worked as press secretary for the then-governor Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo. Ultimately, he was also imprisoned along with Bizenjo, Mengal, Marri and other NAP leaders in the infamous Hyderabad Conspiracy Case in the 1970s. “He served as press secretary of Governor Balochistan Bizenjo for four-month, and because of that, spent four years in prison,” Siddiq used to tell us.
After completing his education, he joined Daily Dawn and remained associated with the newspaper for around 29 years, except the few years of working with Balochistan governor and spending time in jail.
According to Dawn’s colleagues, Siddiq mainly had worked as a crime reporter. “Because of his connections across the city and understanding the city’s complicated political and security landscape, he was considered one of the best reporters in the city at that time,” said Imtiaz Ali, a journalist who works at Dawn. Siddiq had extensively covered sectarian violence of the 1980s by spot reporting. “He used to tell us that when you have time, go and meet SHOs at police stations. They have news,” he said.
In 1988, he started Sindh Express, an English daily from Karachi, but in 1990, he shut it down and started Balochistan Express instead with the aim to highlight the province’s issues to the English reading audience. A decade later, he also launched an Urdu daily named after Azadi – an organ of the NAP.
Siddiq was considered an authority on Balochistan’s issues. His newspapers faced many hardships and pushback from various governments due to his impartial editorial policies. When I started meeting with Siddiq, I have realized that because of being an editor of Balochsitan-based newspapers, and his regular visits to every town in the province, he was always able to share the tales from his experiences of being there. Even, his newspapers would have reports of every incident, even in the remotest towns of the province.
Siddiq was the author of two books ‘Balochistan: Its Politics and Economics’ (2013) and ‘A Critical Commentary on the Political Economy of Balochistan,’ (2002). He was working on a memoir ‘My Years in Journalism’. His elder son Arif Baloch said that work on the Siddiq’s last book has been expedited and will be released soon.
The writer is a Karachi-based journalist and researcher.