The world, as much as India, must speak up in support of the Baloch cause. For secularism if for nothing else.
While we Indians seek pride in our long, constant civilisation, certain parts of the subcontinent had developed cultural characteristics of their own, much before the British came here and left, dividing the nation into two. The entire region that the Baloch call Balochistan, with its major portions in Pakistan and smaller parts in Afghanistan and Iran, is one such area. They naturally argue, therefore, that if they were not a part of India, how could they be a part of the part that was taken away from India in 1947?
Naela Quadri Baloch, whom this correspondent received at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on 11 October, when she made her first overt visit to India, says that her father S A M Quadri, along with Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, had approached Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in the early days of India’s independence to pressure Pakistan to free their region. Apparently, Nehru cold-shouldered the Baloch activists, and Azad said, “Balochistan bahut door hai (Balochistan is too far away)”. In all likelihood, India’s first education minister, who is often touted as the mascot of Indian secularism, spoke as figuratively as literally about the distance.
She is not impressed by Indira Gandhi either. Naela Baloch credits the creation of Bangladesh entirely to General Sam Manekshaw. When I ask the reason, she says the Congress dispensation of the time was at best pondering over creating an enclave for refugees from East Pakistan. It was when the Indian Army was given a green signal for assault and the Indian troops began winning that the possibility of a new country carved out from Pakistan occurred to Indira Gandhi.
Naela Baloch’s previous visits were stealthy, with just a few trusted friends knowing her whereabouts in Delhi and a few other places in India. In April, for example, I chased her around Delhi after a chance meeting with her inside a hotel, but she just did not have any time to settle down for an interview. Also, that she would be located was an apprehension that kept her changing her hideouts.
She was here even earlier when the UPA was in power. However, the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh regime was in no way interested in raking up the Balochistan issue in bilateral talks with Pakistan or in the international forums. It is for this reason that the Baloch people burst in applause when Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned them in this year’s Independence Day speech. “This is the boldest Indian government we have ever seen,” Naela Baloch says, also hailing the 29 September surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the LoC inside PoK.
Before she was here, Swarajya had had extensive talks with her son Mazdak Dilshad Baloch who is living at a location that we won’t disclose. The day India woke up to the pleasant news of retaliation for the Uri attack, Mazdak led a rally from Teen Murti Bhavan to the Pakistan High Commission to hand over to the High Commissioner a memorandum detailing and protesting the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan state on the Baloch people.
In the meantime, Brahamdagh Khan Bugti, leader of the Baloch Republican Party, made headlines for his act of seeking political asylum in India. For a few days, newspapers and television news channels made one believe he was the leader of the entire Baloch movement. For the Baloch people, what was worse was the impression that the talks about their freedom were held hostage to his asylum status. They were troubled by the fact that the struggle of a people spread across the world against the virtually military reign of Pakistan had been reduced to the question over one person’s shelter. They are disturbed the most by Bugti’s antecedents.
Nawab Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti was among the rich and influential Pakistanis – and a rare Baloch leader – who had supported the idea of Pakistan before Partition. He hosted Muhammad Ali Jinnah at a special function in 1948. Subsequently, he became the Minister of State for Interior and Governor of the Balochistan province. In other words, he was part of the Pakistani establishment.
Akbar Bugti’s fourth son Rehan Khan Bugti is Brahamdagh’s father. Rehan’s brother Talal Akbar Bugti, though estranged from his father Akbar Bugti, was no rebel either. His Jamhoori Wattan Party is a registered political party in Pakistan that participates in elections and is, thus, a part of the Pakistani establishment.
The Bugtis took the leap in favour of the Baloch freedom fighters only when Pakistan resorted to all-out military means to suppress them as much as their tribe.
Brahamdagh went into exile, surviving a few attempts on his life. He may have been steady in his belief that Balochistan must break free of Pakistan throughout his stay in Switzerland, but the Baloch tribe is characteristically family-oriented. The Bugtis’ flip-flops in the past do not endear them to their tribe.
Then, as the Baloch rebels interacted with Indian citizens of Baloch origin from a village named Balochpura in Haryana, they became all the more wary of Brahamdagh Bugti. Indians too, they feel, have a tendency of narrowing an entire movement down to a personality cult. The government of India, they fear, might turn Brahamdagh into a hero while the fact is that he is one of many revolutionaries, with a track record less impressive than those of his peers.
Readers must note that we are not attempting to play a Naela Baloch against a Brahamdagh Bugti. Indeed, there are several other Baloch freedom fighters who must be named. Other than Quadri Sr, Bizenjo and Marri, there were Yousaf Aziz Magsi, Abdul Aziz Kurd and Mir Gul Khan Naseer—the earliest torchbearers of the Baloch freedom struggle. That brings us also to the idea why this freedom is a distant dream.
First, the descendants of about half the personalities mentioned have defected to the Pakistani state, now enjoying all privileges from Islamabad.
Second, Pakistan gradually pushed in so many Punjabis, Sindhis and Pashtuns into the area claimed by Baloch fighters that now a mere 5 per cent of the population of the region is ethnically Baloch. The few among them who believe in an armed struggle are fighting a losing battle while hiding in the hills. Even when most Baloch rebels were located in Pakistani territory, they fought five unsuccessful battles against the establishment: the rebellion led by Princes Agha Abdul Karim Baloch and Muhammad Rahim in 1948-50, Nawab Nauroz Khan’s revolt in 1958-59, the Sher Muhammad Bijrani Marri-led insurgency in 1963-69, Khair Bakhsh Marri’s guerrilla war in 1973-77 and the longest-running armed revolt since 2004 when the Gwadar port was attacked, which intensified after Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in 2006 and Ghulam Mohammed Baloch, Lala Munir and Sher Muhammad were abducted by the ISI and killed in 2009. As of now, even a willing India cannot figure out how to supply these rebels with money, let alone with arms and ammunition – if at all the option is contemplated. Maulana Azad’s statement that “Balochistan bahut door hai” did have a military implication.
Third, Baloch society is now full of what the freedom fighters call traitors; they are actively spying against their own people. There are mainstream “traitors” too: Abdul Malik Baloch, the former Chief Minister of Balochistan, is one of them. His successor Sanaullah Zehri is another. Further, Abdul Malik isn’t a tribal, Zehri is; this is yet another strategy Pakistan uses to keep the Baloch fighting among themselves.
Fourth and the latest in the series is the Naela-Brahamdagh rift playing out on social media platforms. While Brahamdagh Bugti was seeking asylum in India, Naela asked for a Baloch government in exile in India right after her arrival at the Delhi airport. Brahamdagh protested on Twitter, saying that Naela’s demand did not enjoy a Baloch consensus. But then, what is objectionable in it? Should Bugti be given more importance just because he presented himself well on some Indian television channels? At a time when Naela was running from pillar to post in this country, seeking Indian help to free Balochistan, Bugti was still hobnobbing with the powers-that-be in Pakistan, chiefly Abdul Malik Baloch, the former Chief Minister. Many among the Baloch say Bugti had no problem with Balochistan staying a part of Pakistan, provided the latter transferred the control over the province to him. This happened as late as last year, 2015.
Fifth, the vocal lot among the rebels is wholly exiled. How do you win a war with your commanders scattered all over the globe?
Sixth, at the moment, Iran and Afghanistan consider the Baloch people unimportant. As and when their movement gathers momentum, these two countries will be wary of the Baloch demand on territories under the Iranian and Afghan writ. Iran, in particular, will be reminded of the rebellion led by Dost Mohammad Khan Baloch in the country under the Pahlavi Shah regime.
Seventh, it’s a society of tribal values where every chieftain or warlord wants to be credited for the entire rebellion. They are constantly cutting one another short.
The last point above, however, leads us to a welcome departure from what urban societies understand of tribal people. The Baloch lords listen to their womenfolk! On several occasions of acrimony between camps, it was the Baloch women who intervened and settled the disputes. President of the World Baloch Women’s Forum, Naela Quadri is important also because she pioneered in the act of breaking the taboo over women’s participation in political affairs. She writes in Canada-based writer and activist Tarek Fatah’s website:
“I broke this taboo for the first time and started sitting in fateha with tribal men, attended funeral of Babu Abdur Rahman Kurd and Malik Abdul Ali Kakar in graveyards years ago with my extremely supportive father, but I was the only woman there, nobody criticised me out of great respect, but Comrade Khair Bakhsh was the greatest admirer of my taboo-breaking courage, like driving a four-wheel vehicle in hard mountainous ranges for hundreds of kilometres to reach the Baloch living far away, leading public mass rallies as the only woman with thousands of Baloch men. But bringing Baloch women into large scale in revolutionary activities seemed very far away.”
Indians, who sympathise with the Baloch freedom fighters and support them morally as well as in the form of activists, wish that the women of the tribe pitch in to sew together all the disparate Baloch lords fighting for one cause. Can the women ensure that the chief of the Baloch Liberation Front, Allah Nazar Baloch, for example, be on the same page as Bugti, or the latter would treat the revolutionary as a pariah—as India’s Gandhi treated Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose? What equation will the Khan of Kalat, Agha Mir Suleman Dawood Jan Ahmedzai, have with these factions in a united Baloch front that all Baloch people dream of? He got the “Khan” title on a hereditary basis after the death of his father Mir Ahmad Yar Khan. Commoners among the Baloch people say he speaks only for himself.
Can India and the world see more of Hammal Haidar, the international representative and foreign spokesman of the Baloch National Movement (BNM)? This was once an umbrella organisation housing all rebels. It has long disintegrated. Comprising the poor largely, the BNM is also facing an acute shortage of resources. With the media hardly reaching out to him, Haidar has to make do with tweets from his handle @hammalhaidar. His following is small (less than 5,000 when checked on 12 October) but quite effective, with most tweets of his getting re-tweeted by more than 250 users of the medium each.
The tough challenge can be surmounted only if the Baloch calibrate, calculate and consolidate. Here’s the winning algorithm. Get in touch with Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert who proposed in 2012: “Let’s talk about creating a Balochistan in the southern part of Pakistan. They’ll stop the IEDs and all of the weaponry coming into Afghanistan, and we got a shot to win over there.” With the Af-Pak policy of the US still not relegated to the dustbin, chances are high that more Congressmen and other American policy makers can be roped in.
The Baloch may simultaneously pull out all stops to unite various rebel outfits. Next, temper the dream. Do not say, while in Iran or Afghanistan, that you want some parts of their territories as well. Even within a country like India, the Jharkhandi activists finally got just a chunk of Bihar and nothing from Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh that they had originally demanded. In our North East, no regional movement is likely to succeed because Nagas, Manipuris, Bodos, Mizos and Assamese separatists alike—all want territories spread across different provinces of India. To get a new independent country carved out of three existing countries is all the more difficult. Finally, there are Indians of Baloch origin in richer pockets like Gujarat. The freedom fighters must reach out to them to raise money for their movement.
The world, as much as India, must speak up in support of the Baloch cause. For secularism if for nothing else. This “secularism” is the pristine variety, not the adulterated Indian kind. Anybody who has had a considerably long association with the Baloch can tell that this is one big group of Muslims who never talk of Islam! When they speak Urdu, it’s so simple that you can’t tell they have been under Pakistani occupation for 70 years. Not one article, not one blog written by a Baloch freedom fighter has a hint of religion. Their entire existence and their fight for freedom are centred around their ethnicity. As Naela Baloch sees the Partition of India, “How could religion be the basis of this division? Bangladesh proved it does not work that way. If they wanted an Islamic state, why didn’t they—and why don’t all Islamic states—merge with Saudi Arabia?”
A Muslim country that keeps its faith confined to the homes of citizens, where religion is neither an electoral plank nor a diplomatic tool, and where religion does not evoke trans-border loyalties among a section of society, is a need of today’s world. We can hold aloft the Balochistan example, now that the example of Turkey looks shaky, to increase tolerance in the international community and address “Islamophobia”. We can also use the example to calm down elements within our borders that are swayed by the ISIS ideology. Let’s create an antithesis of Pakistan. Come, free Balochistan!