He kept his promise he made to the Baloch people. Almost in every speech, he promised he’ll sacrifice his life for an independent Balochistan.
We fought almost every day. On politics. I was a young member of the Baloch Students’ Organization and he was a seasoned Baloch nationalist leader and the founder of the Baloch National Movement. But he never dismissed my bookish ideas as a young man’s utopia. Although he seldom agreed with me, he always listened to what I said and then lit a cigarette which gave him time to prepare for his counter-argument.
Sometimes our quarrels got so high-pitched that my mother, his sister, had to put her scarp between us — a Balochi tradition that when a woman do so men have to stop exchanging swords in the battlefield in her respect.
Our political goals didn’t differ. We were political colleagues. Both of our organizations were struggling for an independent Balochistan and they were in a formal alliance. But we differed on the strategy.
He was a firebrand orator. He supported the separatist Baloch militants in rallies in front of the Karachi Press Club. One time, when the current Baloch insurgency was just gaining momentum, he led a protest against paramilitary check-posts in his native Mand town. They were fired upon with rubber bullets. But they didn’t back off. At last, the FC commander offered him that if he gave them the names of those who were attacking the armed forces the check-posts will be removed. What he said in response?
“You want to know their names? I’m the one, and my name is Ghulam Mohammed son of Mohammed Ayub. Yes, I fire those rockets at your camp. I ambush your convoys. I am the one who fire upon you when you step out of your camp. It’s me. Now do whatever you want to do to me and remove the check-posts.”
The crowd cheered. And the check-posts were removed later the same day.
I was against this open support to the separatist militants. We differed on many things, but this was our main bone of contention. My argument was we were political groups and operated on the surface. Our main purpose was to mobilize the common Baloch people so that we enjoy public support for our cause. Also, openly supporting the armed groups will annoy the military establishment and they would not let us do our work.
But one time, I was present in the crowd when he was speaking to a public gathering jointly organized by the BSO and BNM in Lyari, Karachi. As he spoke, I began to lose the precarious me. His firebrand oratory was so mesmerizing that I slowly became a part of the crowd, who was cheering at every word he said.
But when we came back home, we quarreled. “You have already annoyed the military. Today you spoke against the MQM (a political group which rules Karachi through violence against its opponents). That too in Urdu so that they understand. You’re making more enemies. It’ll take nothing for MQM to kill you in Karachi.”
He took a sip from his milk tea, lit a cigarette, changed his sitting posture and smiled. “They (MQM) are attacking our activists. They know the power of the Baloch in Karachi (the Baloch are a major ethnic group in the 20 million strong port city of Karachi). They don’t want them to get organized politically. I just wanted to send them a message that we know how to defend our people,” he drank the last drop of tea and puffed at his cigarette.
The MQM had fired into air in front of an office of our colleagues just to deter them to hold back from any political activity in Karachi. What Chairman (as he is known among the Baloch) had said in that public gathering while referring to the MQM’s attack was epic. “If you have bullets, we’ve rockets.” First he said those words in Balochi. Then he added: “In case you don’t understand, let me repeat this in Urdu.”
I called him reckless. His followers called him fearless. It’s hard to draw a line between recklessness and fearlessness but I never noticed fear on his face. The military establishment was aware of his capability to motivate the Baloch youth into taking up arms only with the word of his mouth.
He was being chased by spies. Some of them he knew by face. He tried to confuse them by changing his routes and staying at different places. He knew he was going to be picked up soon because the military had already began “disappearing” the Baloch activists a long time back. He was their leader. But he was still giving public speeches and participating in protests in front of the Karachi Press Club.
There was a public gathering that day. On December 3, 2006. He washed himself, changed his clothes, put oil on his hair and asked me while leaving the house: “Aren’t you coming?” Disappointed at the way the Baloch were conducting their political business, I was in no mood. “No,” I replied. And he left.
“Why you and your uncle are always fighting?” his wife told me in a scolding tone.
“Your husband is going to get himself in trouble. And he’s always speaking against me and my friends in front of others,” I complained.
“No. That’s a lie. He never says a word against you. Yes, he doesn’t hide his dislike for some of your friends but when and where has he spoken against you?”
And the discussion continued. We were still talking when she received a call. She sat still like a statue for a while, and then said: “They have taken him away.”
Without saying anything, I ran out of the house. It was raining outside and I had no money to take a bus or a rickshaw to Lyari to inquire about what had happened. I walked two kilometers under rain to a friend’s house – one of those friends whom he disliked – to borrow some money.
And I kept running for nine months. From one court house to another. From one lawyer’s office to another’s. From Karachi to Lahore and to Islamabad. From Amnesty International’s office to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s. We got no clue about his whereabouts.
On September 20, 2007, I was closing in to Islamabad on a passenger bus to be present at a Supreme Court’s hearing the next day about his case. I had borrowed 4,000 rupees for this trip from a friend that I’ve not yet returned. As a few kilometers remained to Islamabad, I received a text message that the military had handed him over to the police in Sibi, a district in central Balochistan.
Such rumours had been making rounds for quite some time. So I was not ready to believe it. Then I received a call from an unknown number. It was from a member of his party. Hearing about the news, his colleagues had gathered at the Sibi police station. He had asked one to call me.
“Do you want to talk to your uncle,” the caller said.
I was not sure what to say. The caller could be an ISI guy. But then I heard his voice. “Yes buddy. Come back.” Someone, most probably his wife, had told him I was on my way to Islamabad.
He was transferred to the prison in Turbat, his native district, the next day. And then released a few days later. Everyone went to greet him – from every city of Balochistan. I didn’t. He was, once again my political opponent.
Immediately after his release, he started giving fiery speeches, daring Pakistan to kill him if they wanted to silence him. When he came to Karachi some days later for treatment as he had been tortured badly during custody, our quarrels resumed. He was the same person except for his shorter hairs trimmed by his torturers. Also, his face had lost any sign of flesh. His already large ears seemed larger. He now couldn’t hear his cellphone ringing in his shirt’s front pocket.
“They used to wrap something around my head and pass, I guess, electric current,” he said smilingly, when I asked him about his ordeal in the torture cells. Unlike others who had seen the darkness of military torture cells and would tell their unending, hair-raising stories of mental and physical sufferings, he didn’t say much about the torments inflicted upon him. “Sometimes, they would beat me up. Abuse me. Interrogate me about the armed groups. That’s it,” he would say whenever I asked. That wasn’t it for him though.
His piercing words in public gatherings were still bothering the military establishment. One day in 2008, I was sitting in a library trying to write something, someone called me that he had been arrested by police in front of the Karachi Press Club where he was giving a speech.
I left the library, took a bus and called a friend to search for him at the police stations around the press club. I feared he will be “disappeared” once again. It took me one hour, due to traffic, to reach that area. My friend called me that he guessed he was being kept at the Saddar Police Station because the in-charge was not giving him a straight answer. I told him to stay there till I came. When I reached there, we were asked to wait as the in-charge was supposedly busy. After almost an hour, when I got tired of sitting on a steel stool, I began strolling forth and back. The sun had just sat in. But while strolling, when I tried to steal a look into the in-charge’s office to confirm whether he was really busy or just using delay tactics, I saw his shoes. What a relief it was! He was here. Not taken away by the military.
By that time, I was no longer a helpless student. I was now working with the largest English daily of Pakistan as a journalist. I sent my business card to the in-charge’s office and he called me in.
“What’s your relation to him,” the in-charge asked.
“He is my uncle.”
The in-charge sighed and then pointed towards a black board hanging on his office wall. Some names were written in white colour in vertical sequence over it. “These are the names of the former SHOs (in-charge of a police station). Their transfer date is also mentioned. You’re a journalist, you say? You can see the SHOs at this station are transferred almost every month. You know why?” I said nothing. “Because the Karachi Press Club comes under our jurisdiction, and your uncle comes there every week to abuse Pakistan,” he paused. “Then the army guys shout dirty words into our ears about our mothers and sisters that why don’t we stop him.”
I was trying to read between the lines. I now knew they were not going to hold him for long. The arrest was just a warning.
“I’m sorry, sir, for your problems caused by my uncle. But I promise, you won’t see him in front of the press club again,” I knew I was making an empty promise.
“Yes please. I’ll not register an FIR (First Information Report), and you can get him released from the magistrate’s office tomorrow paying a small fine. But try to put some sense into him.”
“Sure, I’ll,” I made another empty promise, as if I was assuring a school teacher that my child will not misbehave in future.
Early next morning, we were at the magistrate’s office. It was a congested office. There were more files than it could accommodate. We kept standing for over 20 minutes and the magistrate kept looking at his files as if he was unaware of our presence. When he looked up, I saw a tired man in his late fifties.
“Who’s is the accused,” he asked.
“He,” I sheepishly pointed towards my uncle.
The magistrate looked at him for a while. Due to the night he spent at the police station, he had grown a short grey stubble.
“Look at your age. Is it good to do such stuff at this age? You should be playing with your grandchildren, not creating law and order problem.”
I was praying he wouldn’t say anything nasty in response. He was at least 25 years younger than the magistrate. But he was smart. He kept quiet. He wanted another day out to go to the press club or give a fiery speech in front of a mesmerized public.
He was released. My and his business was finished, for now at least. A crowd was waiting for him outside the magistrate’s office. “I’ll see you at home,” he told me, and left with the crowd.
When he came home late evening that day, we had one of our worst quarrels. My mother was interrupting, this time not to calm us down but to complain about her dishes, bed, bedcover and the pillow I had taken to the police station the other night and forgot to bring them back. “They are now gone. You don’t know the Karachi police,” I tried to dismiss her off. But she was as stubborn as her brother. “I want them in any condition. And I’m not going to send you food next time you go to jail,” she turned to her brother. Our political quarrel had now turned into a domestic problem. We promised we’ll buy her new dishes but we never did.
He was bad at fulfilling the promises he made to his wife, mother and sisters. He promised to buy his wife an air conditioner. He didn’t. But he kept his promise he made to the Baloch people. Almost in every speech, he promised he’ll sacrifice his life for an independent Balochistan.
On April 3, 2009, he was picked up from his lawyer’s office in Turbat. On 9th, his bullet-riddled body was recovered.
I still think his political strategy was wrong. But with his “wrong” strategy, he mobilized hundreds of thousands of Baloch for his dream of an independent Balochistan. I still think my suggested strategy was the right one, but what impact did I make? I was one among thousands of the angry Baloch gathered at his Mand home promising to avenge his death.
I didn’t keep that promise either. But many did or at least are trying.
Courtesy: The Balochistan Times