A page from the Past

In keeping with the Pakistani tradition of camouflaging history a vital chunk of the country’s past has been shrouded in mystery for over 20 years. This was the period of 1973-1977, when the Baloch rose in revolt against a state that had relentlessly oppressed them for decades and military operations against the Baloch people were at their peak.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

As Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Arbab Jahanzeb, the corps commander of Sindh and Balochistan during the rebellion and subsequently MLA, Sindh during Zia’s martial law himself recently conceded, the army “responded forcefully” to the perceived threat from the Baloch struggle.

While this may be a huge understatement, it is nonetheless demonstrative of the fact that there is at least some acknowledgment by the military brass of what happened in those years. There also other signs of a desire to hearken to that era.

Recently, the respected veteran Baloch leader, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari mentioned the individuals who went missing in those days. Similarly, the redoubtable Ardeshir Cowasjee, in a recent column in Dawn, referred to those involved in the Baloch struggle whose fate remains unknown to this day. Among those mentioned are Asadullah Mengal, Ahmad Shah Kurd and Dulip/Johnny Dass alias Dali.

There were, in fact to many other victims of the dirty war conducted in Balochistan. As an active participant in the struggle for the rights of Baloch people, I consider it my duty to bring to light some aspects of the suffering of the people during that period. Also, I apologise to those affected – the victims and their families for the delay in raising this conveniently forgotten chapter of our history.

The “Baloch insurgency” as it has been termed, was the end product of a history of injustice, excesses and provocations against the Baloch people by the centre, which has ruled without a consensus of consultation, and made decisions about the fate of the people totally arbitrarily. It began in April 1948 when the Khan of Kalat was arrested to force him to sign instrument of accession to Pakistan. This prompted a fierce reaction from the Baloch people, who took up arms. In the ensuing months, the authorities against the local committed many excesses, as people were interned without trial economic injustice reached their Zenith. In 1958 the Khan was rearrested. At this Nawab Nauroz Khan led an agitation against the authorities provocative colonial attitude. In response,solemn promises were made by the government to meet the people’s demands, but instead Nawab Nauroz Khan was imprisoned and seven people were executed in the Hyderabad jail. The Nawab died while incarcerated. The resistance movement (1963-1969) led by Mir Sher Muhammad Marri was the continuing expression of Baloch resentment against central rule, which did not involve the people in decision-making regarding their lives and future.

Bhutto’s ascendancy to power in December 1971 saw an increase in the disregard for the will of the people. Urged by the Shah of Iran who equally feared Baloch militancy, Bhutto began violating Baloch rights on the flimsy pretext of imaging threats to national sovereignty, and every underhand trick in the book was the employed to undermine the legally elected provincial government. 1973 saw an intensification of the effort to quash the will of the Baloch people in a manner similar to that used in Bangladesh a couple of years earlier. Marri agency, Jhalawan and other supposedly sensitive areas were blockaded to deny to the population the basic necessities. This blockade, which continues till the end of 1977, was very effective and resulted in immeasurable, suffering for the people.

The unwarranted excess left the people no other option but to resist, and May 18, 1973 saw an early morning ambush on a Sibi Scouts patrol near Tandoori in which all eight members of patrol party were killed. Within three days the Army landed in Mawand. In this letter to Dawn on July 13, 1997, F.Lodhi says that while standing in for, the director of military operations at time, he advised a political solution of the situations rather than a military one, but Bhutto seemed hell bent on the latter. The Shah of Iran, meanwhile, lent the government his support by providing helicopter gunship to quell the Baloch militancy.

When a policy of physical elimination in pursued without consideration of due processes of law and Justice, one can only term it genocide. When numerous incidents of unexplained and unrecorded disappearances take place and where reprisal killings and deaths of non-combatants are commonplace, it can be safely assumed that these are not isolated lapses but premeditated policy of physical elimination of opposition. This is exactly what happened in Balochistan.

I narrate only a few incidents from a small area of Marri agency. Dulip/ Johnny Dass or Dali as he was known, was a person of sterling qualities, compassionate and dedicated, whose only crime was that he helped the Baloch people resist the oppression unleashed on them. He and Sher Ali Ramkani Marri were picked up near Belpat by the army and never heard of again. Had they changed loyalties, they would have lived. They were not the only ones. Bahar Khan Lalwani, Shafi Muhhammad Badni, dost Muhammad Durkani and Allah Bakhs Pirdadani were picked up at different times and places as a scores of others from all over Balochistan and their fate too is unknown. After all these years all presumed dead, but surely their families and friends have a right to know the circumstances in which the died and wheterthat they were given a trial, leave alone a fair one. Killing captives without the due process of law is a murder under any circumstances and by all codes; such incidents were commonplace all over Balochistan. So all those who are guilty of this crime must be brought to book.

Reprisal killings were also frequently resorted to, indicating an organised policy in the matter, Sher Muhammad Aliani, an elder of the Aliani clan (a Marri subclan) a septuagenarian living in the vicinity of Kahan, was picked up after an ambush on an army patrol in that area. When his corpse was subsequently recovered, it bore marks of severe torture. Murad Khan Ramkani of Tadri area suffered a similar fate. His only crime: belonging to the clan of the leader of the insurgency, Mir Hazar Khan Ramkani.

Seven men, five of the Shaija clan, including Baazi and Quiser Khan and two Kalwanis, were summarily executed by a firing squad after a skirmish with army partisans in the area of Dungan. All those killed had made peace, and vowed to quit the are when the army moved in.

In December ’73, an army patrol attacked Tadri, a Marri house holding. When Tangav and his nephews, Karam and Jalamb Ramkani tried to stop the army and their collaborators from taking away their flocks, they were killed. Their women, who attempted to flee, were also shot at, one was killed and two wounded. A young boy, Mangla, also sustained injuries. Our friend Dali treated the wounded. In another instance, and old man, Vashad Ramkani was killed when he struck an army man who had abused him. In the Kalgary area, when an army contingent, all the able-bodied people fled, but a blind man, Jan Baig Ramkani who was left behind, attacked a household died in the volley off fire unleashed upon the house. Pir Baksh Ramkani, a big flock owner, died defending his flock. I personally knew most of the victims.

Killing unarmed civilians and publicising the murders, as “encounters “with” hostiles were too frequent to be labelled as lapses. So many incidents cannot be dismissed as random actions.

The army against the Baloch also used torture as an instrument for extracting information and forcing a change of loyalties methodically and extensively. Without exception, all and sundry were subjected to it in its gruesome variety: beating, electric shocks, deprivation of sleep and food, hanging by the hair, being forced to sleep on ice slabs, burning with cigarettes etc. Many who survived the ordeal narrated their harrowing experiences, for example MNA Mir Ali Baksh Talpur, who was severely tortured merely on account of being a Baloch sympathiser.

Another tactic employed to break the resolve of the people was to deprive them of their main source of livelihood – their flocks. The nomadic Marri particularly, depend on their livestock. Their flocks were taken and sold for a pittance to traders from the Punjab. Furthermore, whenever stocks of wheat were discovered, they were destroyed. Even water bags, ice mashks, in which water is carried and stored, were cut up. The army and its partisans too commandeered the locals’ donkeys And used to transport goods for them. As a result of these excesses, thousands of Baloch migrated to Afghanistan.

The pain of repressed people is never erased from their psyche. Those who suffered due to the brutality by the army in the four-year-long war still deeply resent and mistrust the centre and all that it represents. The cost that such oppression exacts from the population is incomprehensible to people who have never experienced this kind of terror. And there is hardly a home in the Marri agency, which did not suffer such excesses. But for them, the suffering still continues.

One corrupt coalition after another has ruled Balochistan since 1973. They have been more concerned with and strived for their own welfare rather than that of the people. At times the number of ministers has nearly equalled the strength of the house. The centre, true to tradition, has not been helpful. All slogans of ” provincial autonomy” are belied by the ground reality. The arbitrary dissolution of assemblies, horse trading, non-local governors and rank corruption has increased the sense of alienation of the population at large. This is a dangerous tendency with ominous portents for the future.

Historically Balochistan has remained a sensitive region. Because of its strategic location, untapped natural reserves and the influx of migrants from neighbouring regions which constantly changes its demography. Its proximity to Afghanistan and Iran, and a long combine to make it a target for intrigues by larger powers. The very potent threat to national boundaries of a unification of Baloch residing in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, has left many rulers sleepless. With the Taliban in power in Afghanistan and their dreams of a greater Afghanistan – which interestingly includes parts of Sindh – Balochistan has become a potential powder keg with a very short fuse. Erroneous moves could lead to ethnic war between Balochs and Pashtuns in both countries.

A region as sensitive and potentially dangerous as this needs to be dealt with a sane and equitable manner. The first of such steps is confidence building. The pain may not be erased, but it can at least be eased. A positive beginning could be made with an admission of past mistakes by the centre, and an apology to the Baloch people for past injustices. The affected people should be compensated – though no self-respecting Baloch would ask compensation for those who were killed in the fighting. The province should get its due share of water and development funds, and the income generated from within the province should be utilised in the province.

The welfare of the people and the environment should be made a primary objective. Unless such measures are initiated soon, an adverse political situation could develop with dangerous consequences. People cannot be expected to remain quiet forever.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

This article was first published on 1 March 1998 in Newsline

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