It was March 11, 2018 when she arrived in Quetta for the fifth rally of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement Balochistan.
I was also there to cover the rally. In fact, it was because of my media card that I was able to get close to the stage. I saw women all around – some sitting and some standing, some family members of missing persons, some lawyers and some from Bolan Medical College.
I saw two women sitting in the stands reserved for the rally’s speakers. One was Jalila Haider, a renowned lawyer from Quetta’s Hazara community and a human rights activist.
The other was a young woman I didn’t know clad in traditional Pakhtun clothes. I was told she was a regular speaker in academic debates in Quetta and the sister of Pashto language lecturer, poet and political activist of the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP) Armaan Loni. Her name was Wrunga Loni.
Later, a reporter from BBC Urdu went live on Facebook and spoke to me. The other person in the discussion was Wrunga. The way she thought intrigued me and I longed to know more about her and Armaan.
When I asked about Armaan I was told he was busy checking on the arrangements for the rally. He played a pivotal role in all the PTM rallies, I was told.
When Wrunga was called on stage, each word she uttered reflected her mature political consciousness. I wrote in a Facebook post what I had gathered about her: “Wrunga’s speech was the highlight of the Quetta rally. She is a young student. She hailed the participation of women in the rally. On the other hand, she addressed the male audience and said your women should have attended by your side. Then, she pointed out something very important — the unity of the Pakhtuns will remain a dream until women are an equal part of the process.”
As Wrunga spoke, I was reminded of a line from a poem:
I came to know that this too is in my heart
What she said was coming straight from my heart and inspired within me a brotherly love for her. I began to value her brother even more dearly.
The words of a student leader who shot to fame through the PTM platform rang in my mind: until our men are slaves, our women can’t be free and independent. Therefore discussing equality and our women’s participation is nothing more than lip service.
Much of Wrunga’s thoughts were influenced by writers and poets who gathered under the banner of the ‘Pakhtun Progressive Writers’. The writers’ organisation was founded by Armaan and a few others. He was acting as the central general secretary of the group at the time.
To strike a balance between literary activities and earning a living, Armaan worked as a munshi (record keeper) at a coalmine. But he didn’t bend under the weight of these responsibilities and obtained a Master’s degree in Pashto, passed the competitive examination and ultimately got a position as a Pashto language lecturer. His academic and research endeavours continued with an MPhil degree. He also wrote a thesis on using metaphors in Pashto folklore literature against colonial enemies.
The choice of topic mirrored his political thoughts. It was also reflected in his association with the PkMAP in Balochistan’s Pakhtun belt, which is also known as Southern Pakhtunkhwa. The party is known for its nationalist policies and criticism of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Thanks to his association with the party, Armaan held similar opinions.
Resistance is one of the boldest colours painting Pashto literature. For instance, the word ‘Mughal’ is a metaphor for an aggressor, a despotic power or an enemy. Even in romantic poetry, everyone who poses hurdles to love is referred to as a ‘Mughal’. Each action is likened to resistance.
The PkMAP faced opposition from tribal elders, religious clerics and those supporting centrist forces. Unlike them, the party had nationalist identity and provincial autonomy as its main demands. This is why these elements left an indelible imprint on Armaan’s thoughts and poetry.
Armaan then began his political struggle through the PTM’s platform. Through them, his event management and administrative capabilities were given a chance to shine. After the call was given for a rally, Armaan would grab his bag and hop on a bus to the venue. Distributing handbills, ensuring discipline at the rallies, stitching banners and preparing the stage – Armaan had a hand in it all.
His ideology was also reflected in his sister’s speeches in which she, as an outspoken critic of Pakhtun society, challenges outmoded, archaic and patriarchal traditions. She encourages and persuades her audience to give the women in their households a chance to progress.
Soon, Armaan’s activities invited the ire of the powerful tribal chieftains. Their anger was exacerbated when they found out his sister supporting him. He opted not to take them on directly. He decided to move to Qila Saifullah from his native Sanjawi. This is because he discerned who was speaking to him when the tribal Sardars opened their mouths.
Meanwhile, Wrunga, who wanted to attend a medical college, wasn’t able to pass the entry test for two consecutive years. Armaan was conveyed a message: if he stopped his activities, Wrunga would get into college.
Armaan loved his sister and supported her dream but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his political freedom and activity for her. He would rather lose his life. Perhaps it was because of this that he became the first of his political peers to be struck down.
In her earliest reaction to his death, Wrunga said she may have lost her brother, but vowed to continue his non-violent democratic struggle.
Taking inspiration from her brother, she said she is sticking with her chosen line of study. This is why she is now heading to Peshawar to continue her medical education.