The Amazing Journey Of Pakistani Students Who Joined The Baluchistan Guerrillas

In the 1970s, five young people studying in London joined the Baluch guerrillas and, along the way, joined another. The revolutionary socialists won the respect and admiration of this forgotten people

Editorial correction: “It was not Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri who contacted Mohammad Bhabha but it was Bhabha who contacted Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Babu Sher Mohammad Marri to work in Marri area”.

Note: English translation of an article written in Basque language by Karlos Zurutuza published on NAIZ on 29 Aug 2020.

Karlos Zurutuza

Ahmed hardly speaks of his time as a guerrilla. He is a journalist best acquainted with the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan today, so it is not surprising that he has sold a million and a half copies of his book “Taliban”, not to mention the signatures of the world’s major newspapers as analysts. In any case, before receiving all this fame, Ahmed spent ten years as a warrior with Baluch. We are talking about Ahmed Rashid.

We’ve mentioned that he rarely talks about that episode. It could be because of his humility, but there seem to be more reasons behind his silence. It is said that the Pakistani government allows him to live in his hometown Lahore with one condition: not to address the Baluch issue in his books or columns.

The borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan divide the territory of the Baluch. Despite being the poorest region in the country, it has huge gas reserves, as well as oil, uranium and gold. Its strategic location is also not insignificant: it is located at a crossroads in Central Asia and has a thousand kilometers of coastline on the side of the Persian Gulf. As usual, the richness under their sandals only brings misery to their owners. Rashid knows this very well because he knew this reality up close and personal.

In the 70s, 25 Pakistani students studying in London formed a communist group. Among others, they published a monthly, “Pakistan Zindabad,” in which they denounced the authoritarian policies of the government and the bad situation in the country. Despite being away from home, they received more information than their countrymen about the situation in Pakistan and its human rights violations. “Pakistan Zindabad” was deeply concerned with the issue of national rights and at the same time was very critical of the repressive policies pursued in Islamabad in East Pakistan (Bangladesh). The group, however, knew nothing about the situation in Baluchistan.

Issues of the magazine were distributed in London, Manchester and Birmingham, but some reached Pakistan clandestinely. One fell into the hands of the chief Khair Bakhsh Marri Baluch. The supreme man of the Marri clan sent a representative named Mohamed Bhaba to London with an offer: if the young men wanted to carry their revolutionary ideas from theory to practice, the Marris would help them.

What a revolution

The young people of London called an assembly to make a decision. Seven of them decided to join the Baluch. At the last minute, however, the two backed away. Soon, members of a group called the “Five of London” set out for Karachi (southern Pakistan); from there they would go to the mountains and meet the Marri rebels. The newcomers did not know Baluchi, nor did the mountaineers know how to speak English. The help of a translator was essential in the early months. It would be difficult for the Marris to understand that the newcomers were socialist and revolutionary Punjabi. They were told that they were Baluch who had lived in the Sindh region for a long time, lost their language. There are many.

Because he was short-sighted and flat-footed, Rashid allegedly suffered more than usual until he adapted to the new situation. On the other hand, after the break-up in Bangladesh, the Pakistani Army launched a violent attack on the Baluch. Avoiding a new division of the country became an obsession for Islamabad and the army held on to the weapon of fear: many women were kidnapped and turned into sex slaves; the men, on the other hand, were thrown from helicopters, either in the middle of the desert or on their villages of origin. One could hardly look for a more effective way to convey a message to the rest of the country. The helicopters were gifts from Iran a neighbor of Pakistan. Tehran also feared that the Pakistani Baluch uprising would spread across the border.

The London quintet was joined by a newcomer. His name was Mohamed Ali Talpur, and he was the son of a famous Baluch family in the Sindh region. Apparently, the Talpurs migrated from Balochistan in the 16th century, and became rulers of the Sindh region for 60 years, until the arrival of the British occupiers.

“I’ve always been associated with the London team, but I didn’t know a single one of them except Mohammad Bhaba. Plus, I’ve never been to London,” Talpur says by phone from his home in Hyderabad (Sindh). Before joining the Marris, the young man, who had just graduated in Journalism, spent a season in a hospital. A relative worked there, and he received a basic knowledge of medicine from him. Talpur Baluch would be the “doctor” of the guerrillas, so great was the shortage of the group. We asked him about Rashid and the man remembered, “He was ordered to write a diary of our camp, but it had a horribly bad letter. Due to another Pakistani offensive, we hid our notebooks in a cave and celebrated. We always joked with Rashid; we told him that the soldiers were looking for him, because he was the only person in the world who could decipher what was written in his notebook! The last violent attack in Chamalang split the team. Talpur and Rashid went to the Sindh to live incognito

Afghanistan shelter

The war lasted until 1977. In that year, General Muhammed Zia ul Haq seized power and later enacted a martial law: Baluch leaders and their followers had the opportunity and permission to return home. Very few returned. There were thousands and thousands of refugees in Afghanistan, most of them from the Marri tribe, and the London quintet was reunited there. The Baluch had the backing of the communist government at the time, as Pakistan was completely aligned with the United States. Numerous Baluch were also exiled from Iran to Afghanistan after Khomeini seized power in Tehran. Talpur, Rashid and all the rest acted as teachers, doctors, warriors, and in all the required fields.

Nobat Marri was one of the children of the exiles. He was born in the Helmand region of Afghanistan in 1982 and was one of Talpur’s students for almost ten years. “He taught us almost everything, including English. I still remember the sadness of his departure,” says Baluch, who now lives in London. Marri still vividly remembers the scarcity of those years – “the lack of almost everything” – as well as the pressure of the Taliban when they prevailed in Afghanistan. “The Baluch who lived between Helmand and Kandahar suffered the same suffering in Pakistan,” Nobat Marri stressed. His nightmare, however, was not over. As soon as he arrived in London in 2011, the body of his brother Faiz Mohamed was found mutilated in Baluchistan. He had been missing for five months, and was believed to have been abducted by Pakistani secret services. His other brother Khudadad was also killed as his other brother in June 2013, along with his cousin Bijjar. The list is endless. The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons  (VBMP) has compiled a census of more than 20,000 missing people.

The life of the youth was very hard in the refugee camps in Afghanistan. After spending ten years in hiding, suffering from malaria, hepatitis and, above all, fatigue, Rashid decided to return to his home in Lahore. It was then that he began writing. It was hard to imagine how successful his work would be in the future: The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major newspapers around the world are demanding his signature, even today, to expose journalists to the intricate realities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rashid has received awards and recognition, but remains humble and close. It’s been about ten years since I first contacted him, and he’s always been willing to answer my questions. His prudent analyzes have also appeared in this newspaper on several occasions.

The same could be said of Talpur; he spent twenty years here and there, until he returned home in 1991. In addition to writing articles and opinion columns, the now 75-year-old man remains closely linked to the Baluch movement. We asked him if he would share the photos with us and he sent us a beautiful bouquet. We easily distinguish the man because he is always the tallest in the group.

Some of the portraits look very old. Rather than the sepia colors, we are distracted by the attire and appearance of those who appear in it: 11-meter- long Marri turbans, wide trousers and shirts that are hegemonic in Central Asia… If it weren’t for the rifles, one might think of them as portraits of the century; as well as the earlier ones, but of course there could be no was no photography then.

Other photos sent by Talpur are closer in time. This time too we have easily identified the man who walked Quetta and Islamabad on foot between 2013 and 2014. It was 2,000 kilometers to report the missing person’s case (the march also passed through Karachi) and it took 106 days for the walkers to complete the route. Talpur walked for 26 days.

Talpur does not give up. At the end of the interview, he summed up his career in a single sentence: “One way or another, I’ve always been connected to the movement.”

Karlos Zurutuza is a freelance correspondent covering conflict along parallel 33, from Western Sahara to Eastern Baluchistan.



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Filed under Interviews and Articles, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

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