Repression, resistance, rapprochement


Babu Nowruz Geronimo

One wonders that if the Baloch, for example, had only half the area of their France-sized territory, a fraction of their gas and minerals but double the population, which way the tide of history might have turned

By: Dr Mohammad Taqi            

The 4th of September marks the anniversary of the great Apache warrior, Goyathlay — better known as Geronimo by friend and foe — putting down his weapon in front of the US General Nelson Miles. The 1886 capitulation of Geronimo, who had led a tiny band of the Chiricahua Apaches against the colonisers, is considered the end of armed resistance and American-Indian wars. It took over 5,000 US soldiers and, more importantly, 60 Apache collaborator scouts to finally subdue Geronimo, deemed perhaps the most formidable Indian resistance leader in history. Geronimo was promised release to a reservation in two years, among other things, which was swiftly reneged on. He and hundreds of other Chiricahua, including women and children, were dispatched to Florida to be imprisoned. Geronimo spent most of his time at the penitentiary at Fort Pickens, Pensacola, while his wife was incarcerated at Fort Marion in St Augustine.

The Fort Pickens prison management made a curiosity out of the incarcerated mighty Indian warrior and sold tickets to watch him. Later on, the great Geronimo was made part of a circus exhibit in St Louis, converted to Christianity and even marched with five Indian chiefs in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration day parade to appease the victors in an effort to regain the Indians’ rights at least on the reservations. He even had a meeting with President Roosevelt to plead for his release and Indian rights, which were aborted due to the US president not yielding and Geronimo losing his temper. US policy then was to de-Indianise the native population; the colonial state went to the extent of forced assimilation where hundreds of children were taken away from their families and made wards of the state at boarding schools like the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania. The children, several taken from those prisons in Florida against their parents’ wishes, were given English names and baptised into Christian denominations to ‘Americanise’ them. Some 350 of them marched behind Geronimo and others at Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration. What was done in the name of progress and assimilation had actually started with first the Mexicans and then the US armies fighting over the then newly discovered gold in the Apache country in the US southwest. Geronimo returned to Arizona but was never a free man. He died after falling from a horse and his last words and the only regret reportedly were: “I should never have surrendered; I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

Those two prisons at Pensacola and St Augustine, Florida are still standing and looking at them one is often reminded of the tragic parallels between the Indian nations of North America and the Baloch. The two outnumbered and outgunned tribal confederacies, fought one colonial power after another and perhaps even bickered amongst themselves, betrayed often by their own while trying to hold on to whatever was left of their autonomy and wounded pride. The outside powers, on the other hand, ogled and then hogged native resources and riches on the pretext of modernising a ‘primitive’ people. One wonders that if the Baloch, for example, had only half the area of their France-sized territory, a fraction of their gas and minerals but double the population, which way the tide of history might have turned. The stark reality, however, remains that history has dealt the Baloch an extremely difficult hand and that is not about to get better any time soon. The state repression unleashed on the Baloch since 1948 has invariably been met by stiff armed resistance but neither has one side been trounced decisively nor a meaningful rapprochement reached between the two.

One certainly hopes that the current conflict in Balochistan will have a different outcome than the 1948, 1958, 1963 and the 1973 resistance movements but the signs indicate otherwise. The self-exiled leader of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Mr Brahamdagh Bugti, in an interview with BBC Urdu’s journalist Adil Shahzeb, has expressed not only his conditional willingness to talk to the Pakistani authorities “if the military operation is halted” but to also back off from the demand for an independent Balochistan “if the Baloch people so desire”. The current crisis in Balochistan flared up when Brahamdagh Bugti’s grandfather, the veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was assassinated during the state’s operation on August 26, 2006. Brahamdagh Bugti’s choice of the tragic date for his interview is rather baffling. Sadly, other than the provincial civilian apparatchiks claiming to talk to Brahamdagh Bugti and other resistance leaders there is no evidence that the military operation in Balochistan will be stopped. In fact, the military action, especially in the Awaran region, has become more intense with the obvious intent to physically eliminate the key guerrilla leader Dr Allah Nazar Baloch. The kidnappings and disappearances of the resistance’s fellow travellers and civilians continue unabated. There is absolutely no word about the thousands of disappeared Baloch. On the other hand, money is being doled out by the sackful to those ostensibly ‘surrendering’. Balochistan’s faux nationalist government is working hand-in-glove with the security establishment to decimate the resistance movement without addressing human rights abuses and the issue of Baloch autonomy over their abundant resources. Recognising Pakistan as a multi-ethnic, multinational federation is a prerequisite to addressing Baloch grievances but instead the playbook is all about forced or imposed assimilation and exploitation.

The charter of demands given by Brahamdagh Bugti and its circumstances are not much different than the respected Baloch leader and former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal’s 2012 six points and, regrettably, its fate would not be any different either. The Pakistani state has made various sham peace offers to the Baloch since 1948. The venerable Baloch leader, Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazari, wrote that when the 1958 resistance led by the elderly Baloch leader Nowruz Khan Zarakzai, known by the honourific Babu Nowruz, remained undefeated for almost two years, the state sent his nephew Doda Khan with the holy Quran in hand and the message that all their demands had been met. The moment Babu Nowruz and his comrades accepted the peace offer and surfaced they were arrested by the military, tried summarily and executed by hanging except old Babu Nowruz himself. To torment the elderly Baloch, he was asked to identify his son among the dead bodies. Babu Nowruz replied: “All these brave men are my sons!” Unlike Goyathlay Geronimo, the frail, octogenarian Babu Nowruz never did surrender or parade at an inauguration. That is where the Baloch and American-Indians’ stories diverge. While parleys and rapprochement are not merely desirable but imperative, Brahamdagh Bugti should take with a pinch of salt whatever he has been or will be promised.

dr-mohammad-taqiThe writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com and he tweets @mazdaki

Courtesy: Daily Times

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