Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
States with resisting minorities have found it convenient to label them as sectarian, criminal and terrorist to discredit their struggle and to justify the atrocities and crimes committed against them. The Iranian state has long denied the Baloch their rights and suppressed them but the resistance has continued.
The hanging of 11 jailed (allegedly) Jundullah members in Iran after the Chabahar bombings is reminiscent of the brutal 1988 hangings of Mujahideen-e-Khalq and other imprisoned dissidents in revenge for the Mujahideen-e-Khalq attacks; the estimated number varies from 5,000 to 30,000 killed. Amnesty International puts the recorded figure at around 4,500. Many women dissidents too were executed then. The enormity of the crime of retaliation killing is unparalleled even if a single detained person is executed in reprisal for acts he/she is not responsible for.
In Iran, the repression of the Baloch who are of Sunni faith is twofold: as an ethnic group and as a religious minority. Jundullah has been variously labeled but the one that has stuck is that it is a sectarian organisation. These 11 too were in custody for alleged links to Jundullah and became victims of unpardonable retaliatory killings. Iran had erroneously hoped that Jundullah’s leader Abdolmalek Rigi’s execution would put a damper on the Baloch struggle but the struggle has continued.
States with resisting minorities have found it convenient to label them as sectarian, criminal and terrorist to discredit their struggle and to justify the atrocities and crimes committed against them. The Iranian state has long denied the Baloch their rights and suppressed them but the resistance has continued since the times of Naushirwan (531–579 AD). The Baloch spirit has not been subdued in spite of prolonged repression.
The Baloch struggle jangles both Iran and Pakistan’s nerves; consequently, they have always ganged up to suppress them. Reza Shah was fearful even of the limited rights accorded to the Baloch through the Mengal government in 1972. Fearing these rights would affect the Baloch in Iran as well, he demanded its dismissal. Visceral fear of the Baloch on both sides led to the 1973 illegal dismissal of Mengal’s government and the subsequent military offensive, insurgency and suppression of the Baloch, which Iran enthusiastically supported militarily and financially. Now after the Chabahar incident, Iran has urged and threatened military action against the Baloch. Qolamali Rashid, a senior military official said, “These anti-revolutionary groups which have been given shelter in neighbouring countries like Pakistan and are being supported there should be pursued and suppressed on Pakistani soil,” and arrogantly added that, “The land forces of the Revolutionary Guard have the ability to do this.” Kazem Jalali, member of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said, “If the Pakistan government refuses to take measures to destroy the terrorist centres in that country, then the Islamic Republic would have the right to take steps and make the atmosphere unsafe for the terrorists in defence of its own nationals.”
These statements expose the fear that Iran has of the Baloch struggle for their rights. It would not surprise anyone if they are obliged in every manner, including permission to operate within Baloch areas here. The Iranians would not hesitate to strike on their own but fear stiff resistance from the Baloch. This ganging up is not a novelty and has been the mode since long because of their common interest in stemming the rise of Baloch nationalism because both consider Baloch nationalist sentiments as ‘a clear and present danger’ to their present status.
During the Pahlavi reign also, the preferred option was use of military force against the Baloch, though co-opting some sardars through bribes was also employed and no effort was spared to make Iranian Balochistan an integrated part of Iran. Education in Baloch areas was restricted and where exceptions were made, Balochi was prohibited and Persian was compulsory. The Baloch were even discouraged from wearing traditional attire in schools or public places. Iranian Balochistan and Sistan were merged to reduce the Baloch to a minority. Even the border areas where the Baloch lived were merged with Kerman and Khorasan to neutralise their strength and fervour. Baloch nationalist sentiment has not ebbed despite all this. During the insurgency (1957-1959) led by Dad Shah Baloch against Iranian rule, the people rallied to his side and from sanctuaries in the Ahuran Mountains, he conducted daring raids against the Iranian forces. When in March 1957 he and his guerrillas ambushed and killed American aid official Kevin and his wife Anita Carroll, the Iranians used it to up the repression on the Baloch and fan American fears regarding the Baloch struggle.
The Shah announced $ 10,000 head money on Dad Shah and each of his guerrillas to snuff out the threat posed by Dad Shah’s resistance. The Pakistani Army and police joined the lucrative manhunt. Dad Shah continued his fight for another 10 months with daredevil attacks and even engaged Iranian forces in pitched battles. His exploits made him a legend. When he was eventually cornered he, like Mir Safar Khan Zarakzai, martyred on August 9, 1976 in Pakistani Balochistan, preferred to die rather than surrender.
Ahmad Shah, brother of Dad Shah, was arrested in late 1957 in Pakistan and unjustifiably and illegally extradited to Iran and was executed. The handing over of dissidents and suspects overtly and covertly as acknowledged by Musharraf in his book, is an entrenched, despicable and reprehensible tradition here; remember Aimal Kansi’s case when a US prosecutor said that “Pakistanis would sell their mothers for a few thousand dollars.”
The Baloch view Iran’s pronouncements as a prelude to further intensification of the ongoing repression in the entire Makran and coastal area, where recently people like Abdul Hameed Jamal, who was on way to Panjgur from Quetta, Abdul Qayyum, Yousaf Baloch, Ilyas Baloch, all of the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad), and Siddiq Eido of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan were abducted by the agencies. The people fear their fate because on Ashura, the bodies of Yousaf Ahmed of Tump and Razaq Latif of Mand were dumped in the Pidrak area in Turbat and of Abdul Rahim Bangulzai in Mastung. They were tortured and received bullets in the head and chest. This year alone 60 plus abducted Baloch have been killed and many more are missing. The Baloch protests fall on deaf ears.
The Baloch have always been viewed suspiciously by the elitist establishments here and in Iran and have been meted out the treatment reserved for illegal immigrants elsewhere. Their resource-rich areas’ wealth hardly trickles down to them. They are made to feel undignified and insulted in their own homeland so that they do not get the idea of being a nation worthy of independence. Unfortunately for these states, the more they maltreat and repress the Baloch, the more steeling of determination for throwing off the yoke permanently is created.
This article was first published on 26 December 2010.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org