Baloch, Balochistan and their Struggle


To understand why Baloch people resisted Pakistan’s attempts to subdue them we will have to look at the past. A brief look at Baloch history will help us understand the present and also enable us to face the future.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Nations cannot be manufactured on basis of common religion, ideology or geography as has been the case in Pakistan, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are no more and in Pakistan fault lines appear daily; you cannot simply lump people together and tell them they are a nation now. Certainly you cannot manufacture a Nation on religious grounds by suppressing diversity in name of religion; it is this suppression of diversity here has resulted in the extreme intolerance that you witness in everyday life in Pakistan and how it is affecting the entire region nay the world. Nations evolve in a historical process they cannot be created on whims of those who would benefit from a custom made nation.

When the power assuming elite of a colonized land imposes the blatant untruth that the religion is the bedrock of nationhood, as they did in Pakistan, on the people inhabiting the land they are set to rule in having different history, culture and ethos in then we get dreadful traumas and tragedies, including Bangladesh’s independence, which we see here today. The ruling elite tried to obliterate and over-ride the existing millenniums’ old historical and cultural ethos of people inhabiting lands that became Pakistan with a specious and spurious one based on religion alone which they thought would unite all by doing away with the old ethos. Blind to history they did not see that there were many Muslim countries but were separate nations or people and not united on religious basis.

For the Pakistani rulers the Universe was created on 14th August and they still live under that bizarre illusion. They have tried to impose their world view on all without exception and used the methods that all colonists and oppressors use to subdue people and obliterate their culture and history by imposing the worldview the rulers subscribe to. The elite here has used religion to suppress diversity to establish their rule and the consequences of that are for all to see as Pakistan has become the breeding and training ground for religious extremism which has promoted terror as its choicest weapon.

Nations are a people defined by their history and culture and all nations have their own unique qualities. History is what we have held dear and defended and what we have achieved or failed to achieve; who we resisted and who we made our friends. Culture is what we are; it is a reflection of our actions because culture isn’t something external; it doesn’t exist independently of us. What we stand for, what we oppose and resist, what we believe in and how we conduct ourselves when facing the enemy, in our daily lives and in adversity represent not only our character but our culture as well because the character of a people defines their culture. We cannot be judged apart from our culture and neither can our culture be judged apart from us. What we do and how we live represents our culture; Baloch culture is what a Baloch does. We represent our culture with our deeds and actions and not with our words and empty platitudes.

The Baloch national identity is millenniums old and with passage of time it has been reinforced by their resistance to foreign aggressors be they Persian, Afghan, British or Pakistani. It has now crystallized into its most potent and all encompassing form. The Baloch history of resisting aggressors forms the crux of its culture and the Baloch are brought up in an ethos that equates freedom with dignity.

Balochistan takes its name from Baloch and like the Kurds Baloch people are a nation. For the Baloch; Balochistan is everything as it is their history, their culture, their life and their identity. Land is what gives identity to people and those who forsake their land are forsaken by history. Frantz Fanon rightly says, “For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity”.

To understand why Baloch people resisted Pakistan’s attempts to subdue them we will have to look at the past. A brief look at Baloch history will help us understand the present and also enable us to face the future.

Theories about where, when and how the Baloch came to Balochistan abound but nothing is conclusively established; however the fact that Baloch tribes have been living here and the land has been known as Balochistan since centuries is beyond dispute and is a reality. It is established that various influential tribes which wielded authority were spread over Balochistan.

Mir Chakar Rind who lived from (1468–1565) wielded influence in and around Sibi and later in Multan, Okara and parts of Punjab where Baloch still live. The sons of Sohrab khan Dodai; Ghazi Khan, Ismail Khan and Fateh Khan established the Derajats around 1474 and held ascendency there for nearly two centuries. They established these after fighting off others. Then and around mid 1600 a Baloch Confederacy took shape under the Khan’s of Kalat. This Baloch confederation prospered and strengthened under Naseer Khan Noori (1749-1794). The chiefs of Marri, Bugti, Mazarani, Mengal and other major tribes were influential and their tribes lived autonomously in large tracts of land.

The chiefs of Talpur tribe, sons of Mir Sulaiman Kako, migrated to Sindh from Dera Ghazi khan circa 1690 and because of their influence became part of power structure and after assassinations of Talpur elders by the Kalhora rulers they eventually ousted Kalhoras and became rulers of Sindh for sixty years (1783-1843) till British defeated them at Miani battlefield where 6000 of their army were killed. This historical evidence proves that Baloch wielded influence in this region since the 14th century and have been a relevant and a substantial force for a long time.

History proves that the claim that Baloch fight for foreign powers is patently untrue and bogus. They fought and they fight because they resent invaders and occupiers dictating what the Baloch could or couldn’t do and how they should conduct themselves. It was because of their independent spirit that the Marris refused to give recruits to the British as fodder for World War I and fought two battles one at Harrab and one at Gumbaz in 1917. The resentment of the yoke motivates the Baloch to struggle for their liberty why else despite unparalleled repression and brutality by Pakistan and Iran would they still be struggling for their rights.

The British eyed Balochistan for use as stepping stone to Afghanistan so the British army returning from the first Anglo-Afghan war attacked Kalat on November 13th 1839 under the excuse that Baloch tribes had harassed their forces. Mehrab Khan was the Khan then and was martyred while resisting bravely; November 13th is observed as ‘Martyrs Day’ in Balochistan. The Talpurs were defeated by the British on February 17th 1843 ending their sixty year rule and Sindh too came under British yoke. The Baloch resistance to British though unorganized was persistent. In 1840 British detachments were wiped out by the Marris in Battles of Sartaaf and Nafusk. One is forced to ask the apologists of Pakistani state were they too funded by RAW?

Time and again because of the power that the Khans wielded the British entered into treaties with them. The Treaties of 1841, 1854 and 1876 and the subsequent alterations and the over-riding interests of Britain not withstanding all accepted Khanate’s independent status. Treaty of 1876 accepted the right of Kalat to be independent. In 1932 Mir Muhammad Azam became the Khan he was offered a seat in the ‘Indian chamber of princes’ but he refused. In 1933 Ahmad Yar Khan became the Khan and demanded independent status. In 1940 he demanded his right to send his representative to Delhi.

Colonialism has been the bane of Baloch nation; they were colonized because of their internal differences. Their political divisions led to geographical divisions. The Goldsmid Line (the southern part of the Perso-Baluch Frontier) was imposed on the Khan by the British Government in 1871. In 1896, when the rest of the Perso-Baluch Frontier was demarcated, the Khanate, an independent state, was not consulted regarding this partition of Balochistan. Additionally some areas of Balochistan were ceded to Iran by Ayub Khan in 1960s. The Dera Ghazi Khan is separated from Balochistan by Sulaiman range and it was incorporated with Punjab in 1950. There are Baloch majority areas in Afghanistan like Nimroz as well. The Baloch have been weakened by their physical and political divisions and to top it all Pakistan and Iran have tried to create divisions on tribal, political and religious grounds too.

The political awakening in Balochistan like all other places in the sub-continent was gradual and gained momentum after WW I due to the influence of Soviet Union and anti-colonial movements. Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd initiated “Young Baloch” a clandestine political movement in 1920 and in 1929 he joined Anjuman-e-Itahad-e-Balochistan formed after Yusuf Ali Khan Magsi who was jailed for his demand of constitutional reforms in an article “Faryad-e-Balochistan” in which he had criticized the British and British appointed Kalat State Prime Minister, Sir Shams Shah a Punjabi from Gujarat. The Anjuman had Balochistan independence as its aim and demanded constitutional reforms and was opposed to the British appointed PM who was eventually dismissed due to their opposition.

In March 1946 Cabinet Mission came to India and Jinnah presented a memorandum on behalf of Khan in which the treaty of 1876 was invoked to reaffirm the independent status of Kalat. It was because of this treaty that on 4th August 1947 agreement between Khan, Britain and Pakistan ‘The Stand Still’ agreement was announced on 11th August 1947 in which Pakistan recognized Kalat’s status as independent and sovereign.

After independence of Kalat on the 12 August 1947which was then formally announced on the 15th August by Ahmad Yar Khan. A written constitution was promulgated; the two houses Darul Umra and Darul Awam favoured alliance with Pakistan but rejected accession. On December 14th 1947 Darul Awaam passed a Resolution rejecting accession under any circumstances but Pakistan did not respect Baloch wishes and illegally annexed Balochistan on 27th March 1948. The Pakistani establishment however totally misread the resolve that Baloch would show in face of this blatant injustice and the inhuman repression and torture that followed.

Because Baloch people tried to defend their independence and resisted the annexation which was aimed at enslaving them they have been targeted since 27th March 1948 and continue to suffer atrocities through the ever intensifying military operations and the ‘dirty war’ unleashed against them by state sponsored death squads. The present policy of military operations and enforced disappearances isn’t random; it has a method and purpose. Any whiff of suspicion about a person’s association with a party or group the state thinks is working towards Balochistan’s independence is a sure death warrant. He is abducted, tortured, often mutilated beyond recognition, and dumped with a note identifying him; the purpose is to intimidate people who demand rights and independence. Despite the repression Baloch continue to resist injustices and persist in their struggle.

Though the Baloch are the victims of violence the establishment with its control of education and media the establishment’s narrative tries to negate and nullify the human element in Balochistan by cleverly giving artificial connotations to it by presenting Balochistan as an incidental 44 per cent of land mass which has Sui gas, ports and gold reserves without a mention of people who have lives and aspirations.

This deceptive narrative strips away the human element from the essentially human issue of nationhood and rights of people by convincing the Pakistani population in general that this isn’t a political or humanitarian problem or issue and that it is all about development and prosperity for the Pakistanis.

The state also tries to denigrate and trivialize the victims of their abuses by presenting them as statistics and not as real life persons. By turning the human victims of their atrocities into statistics and disputed statistics they deflect the sympathy that would result because statistics do not evoke sympathy which humans can. The media connives with the establishment and presents the atrocities as statistics and by blaming the victims for the violence and by labeling them as anti-state and anti-development and agents of foreign powers to blunt the feelings of sympathy for the oppressed in a majority of people.

The public in general and even the civil society is more often than not taken in by this and they slowly and tacitly come to support the atrocities that Pakistan keeps committing in name of national interest and development in Balochistan. In exactly the same way they got away with it Bangladesh in 1971 and are largely getting away with it in Balochistan because people are taken in by the ‘foreign hands’ propaganda and consider the atrocities in Balochistan as inevitable for the ‘reasons of the state’ and moreover are caught up in controversy of statistics and overlook the human suffering behind these statistics.

This narrative is useful to the state even when worst atrocities are committed to keep the dissenters in line as happened during the genocide of Bengalis in 1971 and is now being used in Balochistan to justify the atrocities. There has been no apology or regret for the atrocities in Bangladesh. They still only regret losing the real estate that they considered Bangladesh to be and have never shown remorse for the devastation and misery that they wrought there to keep it as a colony. In Balochistan too, like in Bengal, the Pakistani state continues to blame the victims of their repression and exploitation.

Gustav Husak, himself a controversial figure’ talking about the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe told writer Milan Kundera that “The first step to liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.” The history taught here is the one which Pakistani establishment promotes and prefers; a history that Aslam Raisani and Dr. Malik, Sanaullah Zehri subscribe to as it benefits them.

The war and violence was imposed on the Baloch by Pakistan. The Baloch have struggled peacefully for their rights and have resorted to state violence with violence only when all avenues of achieving their rights have been obstructed by the Pakistani rulers. Agha Abdul Karim fought because Balochistan was forcibly annexed on 27th March 1948. Nawab Nauroz khan fought because Kalat was again invaded in October 1958 and injustices were committed there. Two of his sons and five others were hanged on July 15th 1960.

Sher Mohammad Marri and Ali Mohammad Mengal fought in the sixties because Baloch rights were usurped by force and different political ploys like One-Unit. The 1973 insurgency broke out because the elected government of Sardar Ataullah Mengal was arbitrarily dismissed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The present political insurgency began when Musharraf not only threatened but used force to suppress Baloch struggle for their rights and eventually killed Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006.

The latest wave of repression that began in 2000 has taken a huge toll of Baloch lives and there are few families that remain unaffected by the indiscriminate use of force and extra-judicial methods to curb the growing desire of Baloch people to be masters of their fate. The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) says over 20000 persons have gone missing this apparently sounds incredible but on 8 December 2005, Interior Minister Sherpao admitted that some 4,000 people had been arrested in Balochistan since early that year when the conflict began. Home Secretary Balochistan, Akbar Hussain Durrani in December 2015 said that around 8000 persons were arrested under national action plan (NAP). None of these were brought to court and their fate is unknown; the abductors enjoy impunity and immunity for a hundred plus hearings of Supreme Court were unable to punish a single perpetrator or recover the missing. The relatives of the missing and killed persons have sought legal recourse but got no justice.

The relatives of the victims see no hope but yet they persist and continue to protest peacefully while Pakistan not only continues to ignore their peaceful protests and human rights groups’ calls for recovery of missing persons but also continues with its policy of ‘enforced disappearances’. Baloch have protested peacefully through the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) and Baloch Human Rights Organization (BHRO) but have gone unheard. Mama Qadeer has now been observing token hunger strike outside press clubs in Quetta, Karachi and Islamabad since July 28th 2009. Mama Qadeer, Banuk Farzana Majeed, other young ladies and young boys of affected families; they are a symbol of Baloch resilience, undertook a historical nearly 3000 kms and 106 days long protest march from Quetta to Islamabad to highlight the issue of missing persons but not a soul was released instead the Marchers were regularly threatened. The perpetrators remained unmoved by the 46 day long hunger strike in 2014, for release of Zahid Baloch and other abducted persons, by Lateef Johar of BSO.

The future of Balochistan is viewed very differently by Pakistan and Pakistanis on one hand and by the Baloch on the other. Pakistan sees it as the land where its burgeoning population can be accommodated; it is seen in terms of naval bases, ports and harbours, they see it as the testing ground for A-bombs and assorted missile tests, they also see it as the energy corridor for their friend China because that corridor will surely spike the real estate prices which the elite will benefit from as they attempted to do in Gwadar. Balochistan is seen as a vast stretch of land with plenty of resources as ‘terra nullius’ a land belonging to no one waiting to be exploited for benefits of others instead of Baloch.

In Balochistan the human rights abuses increase in proportion to state insecurity and its urge to exploit Balochistan’s resources. Since the launch of CPEC plan the repression of Baloch people has intensified and is indiscriminate. The CPEC has prompted them to form new security army division to protect the Chinese and the installations. There are plans for residential passes on the lines of South African apartheid regime for people of Gwadar and there are plans for a physical barrier around Gwadar to protect the Chinese there. If port of Gwadar and the CPEC were an economic development venture and had the support of Baloch people why would there be the need for a new division of army along with auxiliary forces and maritime forces?

The CPEC is a colonial development project which has nothing to do with progress in Balochistan. It is aimed at benefiting its elite and regions it wants to develop with investment from China. Unfortunately some political parties which though presently not actively conniving with the establishment in exploitation and repression in Balochistan still keep asking for job opportunities and cannot formulate a stand to oppose the CPEC which is in essence exploitative. They do not seem to learn from history that no colonial power has ever been benevolent to its colonies and all its so called development of colonies is solely aimed at enhancing its capability to exploit and to occupy it physically.

It should be mentioned that the Baloch people eye China’s intentions in Balochistan with suspicion and resent its help to Pakistan in exploiting the resources. They have a bitter experience of what China is doing in Saindak according to Syed Fazl-e-Haider a respected analyst, by the time China leaves in 2017 there be nothing left. In Saindak China is the extractor, seller and buyer; Balochistan gets mere 2% while most goes to China a little to Islamabad. Baloch resent the government’s attempts to sell off Reko Diq, whoever the buyer, because they know its fate won’t be different from Saindak.

The Baloch resentment is not only against economic plunder they resent the various political, social and military means used to disempower them politically, culturally and economically; they resent the crude attempts by Pakistan to change the historical secular social ethos with help of Madressahs and fundamentalist organizations under guise of charity outfits as have been used in Awaran after the September 2013 devastating earthquake.

Naturally the Baloch resent all this for they see Balochistan as their motherland which they gave an identity to and which in turn did the same. They see it as the repository of their culture, history and way of life; they know that without land they lose all meaning; they resent the illegal annexation on 27th March 1948 which deprived them of their independence. The Baloch have lost faith in elections because of the way elected representatives were treated. In February 1973 Ataullah Mengal’s government was arbitrarily dismissed. The repression that began in 2000 led to further disillusionment and so much so the turnout of 2013 elections was the lowest; Qudoos Bizenjo, deputy speaker of Balochistan Assembly was elected with 544 votes and Dr. Abdul Malik who was made the Chief Minister was elected with 4000 vote. The disillusionment is now complete and Baloch see salvation only in the path they have tread so long and given so many sacrifices for; an independent, sovereign Balochistan as it was before 27th March 1948.

The Baloch nation fully understands the overwhelming odds they are up against but have continued to struggle for nearly seven decades. Their love for their motherland goads them on and they haven’t given up on it yet. Baloch people have sacrificed a lot and continue to do so and the only thing that can convey their sentiments of love for their land the grim determination they have shown is William Ernest Henley’s poem ‘Invictus’.

 

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Out Of The Night That Covers Me (Invictus)

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

This article was first published in Balochistan Times on 20th July 2017

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