An exclusive interview with the leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front
Series: Profiles in courage from BalochistanIn this exclusive interview, Jahanzeb Hussain talks to Allah Nazar, currently the top commander of the Balochistan Liberation Front, which is engaged in an armed struggle for freedom from the Pakistani state. In correspondence with the editor, Nazar asserts that taking part in Pakistani parliamentary politics would be akin to legitimizing Pakistan’s rule over Balochistan. And yet, he says, he would rather choose the book over the gun, though each informs the other.
Can you shed some light on the genesis of Baloch nationalism and its evolution since the creation of Pakistan?
Baloch culture, customs, code of honor and common psychology are the ingredients that sustain Baloch nationalism, which is rooted in hundreds of years of history. As soon as Pakistan invaded Balochistan in 1948, it imposed its cultural hegemony on us in order to erase our identity. The Urdu language was imposed in schools. Our children were taught about the histories of Arab, Afghan and Mongol invaders in a way that is completely different from and contradictory to our own history. Instructors were brought from Punjab and other areas so that the new generation of Baloch students could be moulded into Pakistanis. In a way, a slow cultural genocide was initiated. To shift the demographic balance, population settlements were created in and around the provincial capital of Quetta.
It is the struggle against these elements that gave birth to contemporary Baloch nationalism. After going through many stages of evolution, Baloch nationalism has come to stand on strong ideological foundations. Today we have the vision, political institutions and the blueprint to establish a Baloch state that will be up-to-date with the requirements of modern times.
Balochistan is sandwiched between two powerful countries, Pakistan and Iran. Given its geographic location, is it possible for Balochistan to attain independence?
It is possible, of course. If Cyprus can maintain its existence despite Turkey and Greece, why can we not do the same? If two-state settlement can be a solution for Israel and Palestine, then why can there not be a way out for Balochistan as well? Apart from that, because of the dangers emanating from Iran and Pakistan, these two countries threaten not only the region but the entire world.
To continue existing as they do, Pakistan and Iran use religion as a weapon and have become a worry for everyone globally. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and numerous countries in Africa are caught in deep crisis because of the policies of Iran and Pakistan. On the one hand, Pakistan is doing the bidding of world powers, yet on the other hand, it is supporting religious extremists in order to blackmail the same countries. Iran, for its own geopolitical purposes, has relations with countries that are not aligned with Western interests.
Keeping this situation in mind, it is clear that there is no place for Pakistan and Iran if we are to have a peaceful future. Independence for Balochistan is not just important for the prosperity of the region but of the entire world.
The present movement is more widespread than the previous ones. It is everywhere in Balochistan. Yet it has been unable to develop a strong political front inside or outside Balochistan. Why?
In the past, the Baloch struggle was more of a rebellion than an organized movement, even if it had glimpses of nationalism. There was no long-term political work from the past to rely on. Instead of political institutions, it was the tribes who raised their voices. But the Baloch struggle of today is completely a political movement, based on an ideology. Its leadership is in the hands of visionaries. Our struggle is not limited to a few tribes or tribal areas but is found in all of Balochistan. People from every background – tribals, doctors, lawyers, teachers, labourers – are part of the movement.
As far as the second part of your question is concerned, I admit that we still do not have strong unity among the various nationalist organizations. I think that this is a result of the tribal mentality and backwardness that is present in us somewhere still, preventing the creation of a strong political front. But despite these weakness, there is still an ideological kinship among all the organizations. With time, attitudes will continue to improve. Our organization has made sure to put forth a policy regarding this matter. We hope that, sooner or later, we will be able to establish strong political unity.
What were the reasons for the failure of the 1973-78 uprising?
As I said, those insurgencies were more of a rebellion. The truth is that they somewhat had a nationalistic aspect to them but they were under the leadership of tribal chiefs and not that of political organizations who would have had an advanced political agenda. Personal decision making by the tribal chiefs and by other important personalities was prevalent. For example, during the uprising of 1973, when the sons of Attaullah Mengal – Muniz Mengal and Mehrallah Mengal – retreated from the fight, all the political activities ended with them. When Mir Safar Khan Zarkarzai was martyred, everyone who fought alongside him decided to discontinue the fight.
A few years after the end of the uprising in 1978, we saw that the sons of these same tribal chiefs became part of the Pakistani parliament. Gul Khan Nasir, who was an important player in the uprising of the ’70s, compromised with Zia-Ul-Haq. It would not be wrong to say that the leadership of that time was opportunistic – it initiated a war when it was convenient and left the fight when it was opportune. But today, when leaders like Ghulam Mohammad, Lala Munner, Razak Gul and Rasool Bakhsh Mengal are killed, the movement is strengthened rather than weakened. Take the example of the Baloch Liberation Front: when Dr. Khalid, Dil Jaan, and Sadu Mari were martyred, confrontation with the state increased rather than decreased. The fundamental reason for this is that today’s movements are based on ideology and continue to move forward, taking into account political necessities.
How have the previous uprisings informed the Baloch struggle at present? In your opinion, are the lessons from the previous uprisings being adequately applied today?
We have learned a lot from the weaknesses and failures of our past movements. As I said, the biggest shortcoming of those movements was a lack of organization. Secondly, the tribal influence was too much. Opportunistic leadership was another factor. But today’s movement is different in that regard. It is organized scientifically and based on the revolutionary needs of the Baloch people. However, we admit that even today our movement is not entirely free of tribal influences. We still see glimpses of tribal behaviour in our movement but persistent political organizing and a strong ideological framework have curtailed these influences. The people and the present leadership, after having witnessed these shortcomings, have decided that no longer a prince or a tribal chief with a tribal mentality would be allowed to head the movement. The solidarities of the people are with the political parties and its leadership, not with tribal lords. At the same time, though, members of the tribes are part of the movement, but only if they agree with of the political programs, follow the platform of the parties and its ideology.
One of the main reasons why Bangladesh was able to achieve independence from Pakistan was its demographic advantage. The Baloch, on the other hand, are a minority. Can Balochistan achieve independence or greater autonomy without having a large population?
The size of the population is not a big factor in the success or failure of an independence struggle. East Timor, for example, won independence from one colonizer, after which it was occupied by another colonizer, Indonesia, which had common borders with East Timor. Despite a small population, East Timor fought against Indonesia and finally gained independence. In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from North Sudan, even though they were a landlocked country and their population was smaller compared to the North.
The point is that the struggle for freedom is based on national history, culture, customs, geographical specificities and common psychology, instead of the numerical balance of the population. Today there are 30.5 million Baloch spread around the globe who are unwilling to let go of their national identity. The occupiers cannot hold us down simply because they have a bigger population. Thousands of years of our history attest to the fact that we have fought to defend our lands and national identity against much more powerful forces. If we can fight against so many invaders and occupiers throughout our history, this time too we will be successful. The power imbalance between us and the occupier cannot succeed in discouraging us. We will carry on our struggle, either through political or direct means, until the last occupying soldier does not leaves our lands.