by Ali Minai
Two recent events – the visit to Pakistan by Chinese President Xi, and the horrific assassination of Pakistani human rights activist and social entrepreneur, Sabeen Mahmud – have once again put Pakistan's restive province of Balochistan “on the map” – at least for those who pay attention to the affairs of this turbulent region. Balochistan – where the ancestors of whales once grazed on land and through which the armies of Alexander and Queen Victoria passed on their way to unforeseen futures – is once again today a land of boundless opportunity and endless tragedy, depending on who one listens to. Let us begin by listening to the ghosts of history.
For millennia, Balochistan – or Gedrosia as the Greeks called it – has been the land between lands: A vast and arid expanse lying between the West and the East that ambitious conquerors or hardy travelers have occasionally chosen to brave at their own risk. Eight millennia ago, one of Earth's oldest civilizations thrived in the north-central part of the province, leaving their traces in the ruins of Mehrgarh. At some ancient and uncertain date, a great pilgrimage site arose at Hinglaj on Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast. Revered as “Nani ka Mandir“, Hindus hold it sacred to the goddess Durga. Others have suggested that its original association was with the Sumerian goddess Inanna – also known as Ishtar, Nannai, Nana, Naina Devi, and possibly the same as the Persian Anahita – Naheed – and the Greek Athene. It is even reported that a Khariji hyper-Islamist state on the lines of today's ISIS once existed in the heart of this land, though time has erased its memory from the land much as it has largely erased the land of Balochistan from the historical memory of great civilizations. But that may be about to change.