Revisiting the Che Guevara-like Days of Baloch Resistance Movement with Asad Rahman
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Guerilla movements in Balochistan have always been romanticized by young men who aspire to overthrow the domineering elite and bring revolutions. Taking to the hills for the rights of the Baloch fatherland is what has placed many Baloch governors, princes and tribal chiefs at irremovable positions in the annals of the Baloch history.
A similar exceptionally striking chapter of the Baloch movement was written in the early 1970s when a group of five scions of Pakistani non-Baloch elite joined Balochistan’s guerilla war against the Pakistan army’s occupation of the Baloch land. Popularly known as the London Group, the members of this study circle left the comforts of wealthy life, education in London and joined the Balochs in their battle against the Pakistan army in the Marri hills. In their early twenties, these comrades adopted Balochi names, learned the language, explored the terrain, faced hunger and fought on the frontline in their commitment for the Balochs.
A spirited Asad Rahman, the youngest but the fittest in the popular London Group, remembers how he, at the age of 21, used to ambush the Pakistani military convoys and take away ammunition from them to sustain the movement. An eyewitness to what he bills as the ‘genocide” of the Balochs in the 70s, Rahman alias Chakar Khan, still an ardent supporter of an independent Balochistan, reveals how Baloch women were used as ‘comfort women’ in the military custody and male fighters were captured and thrown from the helicopters.
In an exclusive but a candid and revealing interview with this writer, Rahman recalls his Che Guevara -like days of Baloch resistance movement of 1970s and compares it with today’s Baloch movement. Excerpts:
MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR: Tell us something about your family background.
ASAD RAHMAN: I am the son of late Justice S.A. Rahman, who retired as Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 1968. We were three brothers and one sister. My eldest brother, Shahid Rahman, a Supreme Court lawyer, has passed away. My sister is the Dean of Liberal Arts at Beacon House National University, Lahore. My middle brother, Rashid Rahman, is a well-known journalist and political analyst.
I owe my sense of justice and serving poor humanity to my parents because they helped all sorts of people. Until my mother died in 2002, she was running a Convalescent Home with (late) Begum Justice Shahabuddin where they treat women and children free of cost and this was established in 1948.
My father was also the member of the Boundary Commission and, therefore, worked very closely with Quaid-e-Azam and Lord Radcliff. He was in the East Pakistan Boundary Commission. He served as a High Court judge in 1947, became the Chief Justice of the High Court in 1955 and was elevated to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1960. We did not know how he helped poor people until his death in 1979 when lots of people came from his hometown of Wazirabad and told us that he had actually educated hundreds of boys and girls of the area. Even my mother did not know about this aspect of his humility and humanity. He was a totally self made man.
I was born in Murree, district of Rawalpindi on 11 August 1950. We lived all our lives in Lahore and I was educated in Lahore. In 1969, after completing my intermediate, I left for London to study architecture. In 68-69 when the anti-Ayub movement was going on, I was very much a part of it as a student-agitator of Government College Lahore.
I did not finish my studies in London because in 1971, I came back to Pakistan (straight to Balochistan). Why I came to Balochistan is a very interesting story. My father was also the chairman of the tribunal which was trying Sheik Mujeeb-ur-Rehman in 1968-69 in Agartala Conspiracy Case and the Chief Election Commissioner in the 1970 elections, reputed to be the fairest and cleanest elections in Pakistan’s history. There were two Bengali judges and my father was the chairman of the tribunal. When Sheik Mujeeb was finally released by Bhutto, the first person he visited was my father. He said he had come to thank him because, according to Mujeeb, “if you had not been the chairman, they would have hung us.”
When I went to London, there were around 25 Pakistani, boys and girls, from different cities who had formed a study group. There were some Indian students as well in the study group. We used to study all kinds of literature, Marxist, Maoist, Leninist, Stalin etc. In Pakistan in those days, we could not get this kind of literature. In London, we got the opportunity to read Marxist literature. I do not call myself a Communist, Marxist or Socialist simply because I do not think we are true Marxists. When you have an ideology and you do not practice it or are unable to practice it, it does not give you a reason to claim to be a Marxist.
The study of these literatures gave us an understanding of humanity, human rights and understanding of exploitation by the ruling elite of the poor. That is what drove me to Balochistan.
MSA: Who were the prominent members of the London Group?
AR: There was Najam Sethi, Ahmed Rashid, my brother, Rashid Rehman, Dilip Dass. These are the people who originally came to support the Balochistan movement. These are the names I am willing to disclose because they are well-known as having played a part in the Balochistan movement. I would not be discussing the names of the other members of the London Group for two reasons: One, they did not participate in Balochistan movement. Two, I will be compromising on their security if I disclose their names.
In 1970, when the East Pakistan civil war started, we felt that whatever was happening in East Pakistan was wrong. We decided to bring out a monthly magazine, called Pakistan Zindabad (Long Live Pakistan). In that magazine, we used to write about nationality rights, minority rights, fundamental human rights, articles on how the army had taken on Pakistan’s polity, how it was dictating to civil government that was in place. We started to write about the East Pakistan issues and the economic exploitation. We used to distribute that magazine in London, Manchester and Birmingham.
I suppose some friends felt they needed to bring this magazine to Pakistan. They smuggled some copies of it to Pakistan. Some Leftist groups here reproduced the magazine and distributed it among the local Left circles. I can take the name of Ali Baksh Talpur, who has now passed away, who was the one to bring this magazine to the attention of Sher Mohammad Marri (whom we called as “Babu” while the others remember him as General Sheroff) and Nawab Khair Baksh Marri.
MSA: So was it the first time you got in touch with the Baloch leaders or had you already met some Baloch leaders or students back in London who informed you about the situation in Balochistan.
AR: No. we were never in touch with the Baloch at all. In fact, we had very little knowledge about what was going on in Balochistan. We did not know about the military operations of 1948, 1958 and the ones in 1962 to 1968. Like any other Pakistani outside Balochistan, we had no knowledge of these things. Information in those days was completely suppressed. I mean just look at whatever happened in East Pakistan, for instance, when West Pakistanis were absolutely blank. They knew nothing about East Pakistan.
Similarly, about Balochistan, I can tell you that we did not know what the issue of Balochistan was. We did not know about the forceful annexation or the military operations.
Hence, when Sher Mohammad Marri and Nawab Khair Baksh Marri read our magazine (Pakistan Zindabad), they felt we were talking about identical issues which they were also trying to address at the time such as nationality rights, ethnic rights. So they sent Mohammad Bhaba to London to contact us. Mohammad Bhaba was the son of Hameed Bhaba. His was a family that was settled in South Africa and connected with the African National Congress (ANC). They had come back to Karachi and resettled there. Hameed Bhaba was a very good friend of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. They had socialist ideas and they got in touch with Khair Baksh Marri through Ali Baksh Talpur. Bhaba approached us through a mutual friend. We had lengthy discussions with him. He then gave us the offer from Khair Baksh Marri that if we really wanted to do some revolutionary work and implement the kind of ideas that we had then he could provide us an area conducive for such work (in Balochistan). At that time, it was not decided in which part of Balochistan or Sindh we were going to work.
The London Group sat and finally decided that we could support the Balochistan Movement. Most of the people decided not to join the movement, except for seven of us. Two of them eventually backed out days before we were preparing to come to Balochistan. In March 1971, I was the first and the youngest from the group to come to Karachi. A member of the Marri tribe, who could speak Urdu, was sent to Karachi to receive me. I traveled with him up to Lehri and from there I met up with Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, who took me to the Marri tribal area. We established our first camp in Bhamboor in a mountain called Miandadtot. It was just a normal camp not a training camp or study circle. There was no one I could do study with. I could not speak the local language and the Marrris, except for a few, did not speak Urdu. We remained there for two months until we shifted to Tadri.
MSA: What did it feel like for someone like you who had come from an elite background, proper education, cosmopolitan upbringing to live with the rustic tribesmen in Balochistan.
AR: I would not describe myself as someone from the elite. In the first place, you have to understand when I went to Balochistan; it was my commitment to work with the poorest, marginalized and disfranchised population of Pakistan wherever it was in Balochistan, Sindh, North West Frontier Province, Punjab or Northern areas. Since we were given an opportunity to work in Balochistan, the five of us who had the commitment came to Balochistan. Najam and Rashid were based in Karachi as our liaison which was responsible for collecting funds, ensuring medical treatment and public awareness.
Ahmed Rashid and Dilip Dass came to join us in the mountains and worked with me. About a year later, Mohammad Ali Talpur joined us as a paramedic. He was a contact of Mohammad Bhaba, not a member of the original London Group. We started to learn the language, customs and traditions of the Marris.
MSA: How comfortable were the Marris in accommodating you people in their ranks?
AR: In the first place, many of the Marris were not told that we were non-Balochs. They were told that we were Balochs who had lived all their lives in Sindh and Karachi. They did not know that we were Punjabis until 1978. The government came to know about our identity in 1974.
I was hosted by Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani. I owe a great debt to Mir Hazar’s father, Gula Khan, who died in 1975 at the age of 105. He used to sit with me and tell me about Baloch history, folklore, customs, traditions, the dos and don’ts of the tribal society, the administration of tribal society, the role of the Sardar, mukhadams, waderas.
Everything that I know about the Baloch tribal society, from a social point of view, is because of Mir Hazar’s father, who had fought at a young age against the British when they invaded the Marri area. He was also the richest man in terms of livestock and crops in the Marri area. He financed the whole war for four years.
MSA: How old were you when you came to Balochistan and how easy was it to adjust with the tribal atmosphere?
AR: I celebrated my 21st birthday in the Marri tribal area. I do not know about the others but it was a little easier for me to adjust with the new surroundings. It took me four months to learn Balochi language which I fluently speak till today. Because of Persian poetry taught in our schools of those days (Iqbal) and Balochi being a sister language of Persian, it was easier for me to pick up the language faster.
I was the youngest and the fittest in the group. Ahmed Rashid is flatfooted. So it made moving in the mountains difficult for him. His eyesight was bad. He used to wear spectacles, so did Dilip Dass and Mohammad Ali.
Since I picked up the language quickly, Mohammad Ali trained me in the medical aspect. We started a foot-doctor scheme where, for example, if a woman was ill and could not come to our camp for treatment then, I used to go there and provide them medicines. This helped me to travel around and get to know more Marris. Eventually, when the NAP (National Awami Party) government was dismissed in 1973, by that time we had totally integrated ourselves into the Marri tribe and learnt their language and customs.
MSA: How did your parents react to your decision to join the Balochistan movement?
AR: My parents did not know about my joining of the Balochistan movement until 1974. They thought that I was still in London studying architecture. We did not tell them due to security issues. It came to their knowledge only after the arrest of some members of the London Group from Karachi who also disclosed the names of other comrades.
In 1973, with the dismissal of the NAP government by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, we naturally prepared ourselves for a struggle. We knew that an onslaught was coming. We had very little time to prepare. I bought a Dara-made 303 rifle for Rs. 300. That was the only weapon I had. In the meanwhile, I recall, Balochistan was undergoing a drastic drought in 1971-73. In the wake of the drought, a lot of Marris moved to Sindh for grazing land and water. Hindu and Marri shopkeepers used to go to Sibi and bring ration into the Marri area.
After the NAP government dismissal, we found that the paramilitary forces were surrounding the Marri and Bugti areas as well as the Mengal and Bizenjo areas. When that happened, we started to prepare. The objective of this siege was to stop our food supplies that reached us with the help of the Marri traders. The forces intercepted the camel caravans, capture them, rip open the sacks so that the food would fall in the sand and become unusable for anybody to eat. Things like Gur, atta, sugar were deliberately mixed with the sand. Even the ghee tins were punctured.
In May 1973, another Baloch caravan was coming and the forces killed two men from the caravan. We could see that the paramilitary forces had adopted a specific strategy and were trying to starve the Marri tribesmen out; secondly, there were so many women, children and elderly citizens who were more vulnerable. We had to break the siege somehow. We decided to retaliate and on 17th May, 1973, I led a group of twenty Marri tribesmen and we attacked the same team of the security forces near the Tandori Railway station which had previously attacked and killed two members of the Baloch caravan. In the attack, we killed seven personnel of the Dir Scouts, captured their weapons and went back in the Marri area.
Four days later, Mawand and Kohlu were invaded by the Pakistani army on helicopters provided by the Shah of Iran because at that time Pakistan army did not have helicopters, especially the Chinook which the Iranians possessed. They also gave gunship helicopters to Pakistan and financed the whole war because the Shah of Iran feared that if the NAP government in Balochistan got established and strong then it would support the Iranian Balochistan movement. The Shah wanted the NAP government to be immediately dismissed. Bhutto looked at his personal interests based on relationship with the Shah of Iran rather than considering the national interest of Pakistan. The Bhutto-Reza Shah alliance actually started the whole war. It was the bloodiest war Balochistan has ever seen. Even today, that kind of fighting is not taking place. Nearly 5000 causalities were suffered by the army, out of which 1500 were killed and 3500 injured. On the Baloch guerrilla side, we only lost about 70 guerillas but 15000 Baloch old men, women and children were killed or wounded.
MSA: Was it only the Marris who fought and suffered causalities?
AR: No. Meharullah Khan Mengal, a brother of Sardar Attaullah Mengal, had a group in Mengal area. Aslam Gichki led a group in Lasbela and Mir Safar Khan Zarakzai was operating in Sarawan while we operated in Marri and Bugti areas. I commanded the area right from Pir Samalan down to Marri tribal areas and Dera Gazi Khan. The political command was with Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani. Sher Mohammad Marri had been arrested in January 1973. Even before the dismissal of the NAP government, I had a lot of interactions with “Babu” (Sher Mohamamd Marri). He used to come to Tadri. We also met Khair Baksh Marri four to five times in those two years. We used to discuss issues and strategies for development. Khair Baksh and Attaullah Mengal and all other NAP leaders were arrested in August 1973.
MSA: Was Nawab Khair Baksh Marri ever on the forefront of the armed movement?
MSA: What was his role?
AR: His was a political leader’s role.
MSA: What about General Sheroff?
AR: Sheroff, as I said, was the leader of the 1962 to 1968 movement for the break up of the One Unit regime and led the guerrilla forces in those days. He had been arrested even before the dismissal of the NAP government. So, he could not participate in the resistance movement. It was Mir Hazar who was playing the political as well as the military role. He deputed me as a commander of the Marri tribal units. We had about 1500 guerillas. At no time did I have more than 200 guerilla fighters because we used to rotate them.
MSA: Where did you get your weapons from?
AR: I told you I had purchased a Dara-made 303 rifle in 1972. We had no extraordinary weapons with us when we started the resistance. After our assaults on the Pakistan army, we captured weapons from the army. I have used the M1 Garrant semi-automatic rifle, an LMG, Seminnof, which is a Chinese weapon, G-3, MG3P machine gun and the Kalashnikov AK 47. We captured all these weapons from the Army and Special Services Group, the commando unit of the Pakistan army. We did face a shortage of weapons and ammunition all the time. We continued to replenish our ammunition from the Pashtun traders who used to bring ammunition and sell them to us. In those days, I remember a round of 303 or that of a Kalashnikov cost us one rupee. We also bought some Kalashnikovs from the Pashtoons. We did not know where the Phastuns brought those weapons from. We did not have any support from Afghanistan, India, or Soviet Union. It was a totally indigenously financed war. It was mostly financed by Mir Hazar.
Meherullah and Aslam Gichki’s groups finally gave in one year’s time. They disbanded their groups and went to Afghanistan.
MSA: Why did they give up?
AR: I think due to insufficient commitment. You have several instances in the Baloch movement when the members of the elite gave up the comforts of life and led the Baloch resistance movement. For example, Nawab Nauroz Khan and Prince Abdul Karim Khan belonged to the elite families but still went to the mountains. No doubt, Aslam Gichki and Meherullah were Balochs and I have nothing against them but I think they were not able to adjust with this kind of atmosphere. So, they disbanded and went to Afghanistan in 1974. From May 1973 to 1974, the fighting had intensified. Safar Khan on his side was involved in a number of clashes.
MSA: Was it a full-fledged war or a guerilla war?
AR: It was all guerilla war. What we, the members of the London Group, brought to the Balochistan movement was modern thinking and technique on guerilla war. We had read a lot of books on Che Guevara, General Vo Nguyen Giap, even non-communist generals of Cyprus. We had an idea of guerilla war and conventional wars. We could not fight the Pakistan army in a conventional manner simply because we did not have the weapons, the financial resources and the manpower. It was basically a guerilla war. Some people say it was an insurgency. It was not. It was a resistance movement. I have always called all our Baloch fighters as resistance fighters and not as insurgents.
MSA: Could you further differentiate between “insurgency” and “resistance movement”.
AR: An insurgency is something planned and initiated with a clear objective. Resistance is opposition against the armed force who impose armed conflict. So, there is this crucial difference between the two.
MSA: For how long did the war last?
AR: It lasted till July 1977. In fact, Zia-ul-Haq had not declared a ceasefire at that time. Just after the elections, we ambushed another convoy near Barkhan in Khethran area. That was our last combat against the Pakistan army.
MSA: What was the means of transportation? Did you use camels, horses or vehicles?
AR: We did not use any transportation whatsoever, except our own feet. We used to move mostly at night. We had the advantage of knowing the terrain; knowing where the water was; where we could hide; where we could ambush; where we could cause maximum damage to the army. At that time, let me tell you, there was no unit as the FC (Frontier Corps). There were paramilitary forces such as the Dir Scouts or Swat Scouts. It was the army that was directly fighting us. After Safar Khan’s killing in 1975, the army deployed four divisions against the Marris. Each division comprised of 20,000 personnel. That said, a total number of 80,000 army-men were deployed against us. Even if you consider that 5000 of them were logistical troops, that means 15000 fighting troops were actually fighting against us per division. We continued to resist until Zia-ul-Haq declared a ceasefire in 1977. Zia instructed his army commanders in Balochistan to stay inside their camps and cantonments. Patrolling of the areas by the army was stopped.
By that that time, of course we were also exhausted. We were running short of ammunition, human resources. We had shifted a lot of our fighters’ families to Afghanistan as refugees. The fighters needed to get back home because those fighters who had their families in Sindh or in Balochistan could easily go for a short holiday to meet their families. But for those whose families had gone to Afghanistan, it was very difficult to go and meet the family members.
MSA: What about yourself? Did you ever go to Lahore to meet your family as you had come to Balochistan as early as March 1971?
AR: No. This is my regret that when my father passed away in February 1979, I was not able to bury him with my own hands. I was in Afghanistan. In December 1978, Zia disbanded the Hyderabad Tribunal case and released all the Baloch leaders. Najam Sethi had been arrested in 1976. He was also in the jail and released with the Baloch and Pashtun leaders.
MSA: How was Najam Sethi captured?
AR: He made a “very stupid” move –I call it a “stupid move”. As the cover we had in Karachi, Rashid was running an automobile workshop while Najam was with some architects and development consultants. Najam persuaded them to bid for some development projects in Marri area under Bhutto’s government. In the meanwhile, some people from the original London Group had been arrested from Karachi. They disclosed the names of all of us. He had at that time gone to Quetta and was flying in a military helicopter to go and see the site of a project that they wanted to build.
MSA: How did he get into a “military helicopter” as you people were already fighting against the military?
AR: Now that is the whole question. We don’t know. Maybe the government gave them the consultancy and asked the army to take him there. I don’t know. The benefit of doubt has to be given over there. In any case, the message was sent to the pilot of the helicopter that Najam was flying in. Hence, the pilot turned back to Quetta where they arrested Najam and took him to the Hyderabad jail. After that, he had no role whatsoever in the Balochistan movement of the 1970s.
MSA: What happened to Dilip Dass, another comrade of yours from the London Group?
AR: Dilip Dass was arrested near Baelpat when he was going to Sindh to see some comrades. After that we never heard from him. He was traveling with a Marri called Sher Ali who was also arrested. We suspect somebody in Quetta actually gave away the information because he was transporting them to Sindh and then he got them arrested in Baelpat. Dilip was held in Mach and in Quilli Camp (in Quetta) for quite some time. We believe he died under torture. It is interesting that when Nawab Akbar Bugti was the chief minister in 1990, I came with a delegation of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) – that was the first time I was meeting Nawab Bugti. I spoke to him in Balochi and asked him for an investigation about Dilip. He got angry and said, “Your friends don’t understand Balochi. Who are you?” When I told him who I was, he actually got up from his seat and hugged me.
MSA: So he did not recognize you as Asad Rehman?
AR: No, because we had never met before. He had heard my name and knew what I was doing but we had never met. He did not know what I looked like physically. He hugged me and asked what I wanted from him.
I requested him that in Balochi traditions even if you kill your worst enemy, you handover the dead body to their family members. Therefore, I requested, Dilip’s dead body be handed over to his family. He said he would try to find out. Nawab Bugti called up his personal secretary and instructed him to contact the corps commander, the ISI [Inter-services intelligence] and whosoever and report back to him where Dilip had been buried. The military never gave that information to Nawab Bugti. Therefore, we were never able to take his body home.
MSA: I am touched by Bugti’s move –standing from his seat and hugging you.
AR: Yes, I am trying to tell you that this is the kind of respect we as outsiders – I won’t say just Punjabis because Dilip was not a Punjabi but a Karachi-based converted Hindu – got from the people of Balochistan. Every single Baloch Nawab or Sardar I have met, they have given me the same respect whether they were in favor of NAP or against it.
MSA: We hear that when you joined the Balochistan movement. You also adopted the Balochi alias name of Chakar Khan. How did this happen?
AR: Well they could not call me Asad Rehman. We were incognito in Balochistan. It was Mir Hazar who gave me this name. Since we were in Lehri and Chakar Khan Domki was the Sardar there, Mir Hazar asked in a light mood, “so what do we name him?” While Mohammad Bhaba was known as Murad Khan, Mir Hazar said, “Okay, why don’t we name him as Chakar Khan?”[Chakar Khan was a great Baloch statesman who lived in 1468-1565]. This is how I got my name. Subsequently, I realized how heavy it was as far as Baloch history was concerned. I was a little scared whether I would live up to that great name – in terms of Chakar Khan’s bravery and wisdom. I don’t know if I have accomplished it or not or whether I have held that name at the same level of respect. This was one of my fears that I would let that great name down, leave alone anything else.
MSA: When General Zia disbanded the Hyderabad Conspiracy case and announced general amnesty for the Baloch leaders, was this amnesty also for the London Group? Did you also benefit from this official decree?
AR: While the general amnesty was given to all, five of us (I, Rashid Rahman, Ahmed Rashid and Mohammad Ali Talpur) and Ajmal Khattak, who was in Afghanistan then, were denied amnesty. In January 1979, I went to Afghanistan after Mir Hazar Khan called me there so that I could help in organizing the refugee camps.
MSA: What was the number of the people who migrated to Afghanistan? Were they all from the Marri tribe?
AR: In total, there were 10,000 families. They were not just Marris. They were from Sarawan, Badani and Jamaldini areas as well.
MSA: Tell us something about the state of the media and the level of public awareness in those days. While the Pakistan army launched a major military operation in Balochistan, did rest of the country actually know what was happening in Balochistan?
AR: Just like the period of the East Pakistan debacle, no news used to go outside from Balochistan. We had no access to the media. We were not able to give our point of view. There were some Baloch leaders, like Sherbaz Mazari, who used to visit Balochistan and then go back to Punjab or Karachi and talk to the national media about the situation in Balochistan. Yet, he did not have the real information on the ground. It was in fact a very negative media for the Balochs. The government was very good at its own propaganda and disinformation which it used to spread through the media to mislead the civil society and the public opinion. For instance, when I went back to Lahore, the so-called leftist friends of ours came and met me. They asked why I was fighting a “sardars’ war”. That was the concept given to the people of Pakistan due to official disinformation. It was only those people who knew us and our ideology that understood what we were trying to do.
MSA: Your description of Dilip Dass’s disappearance and subsequent murder takes us back to the future. Even today, a lot of Baloch activists are believed to be held inside the torture cells maintained by the state-controlled intelligence agencies. What was the level of enforced disappearances in those days? Sherbaz Mazari has also disclosed in his autobiography A journey to Disillusionment that Baloch women were also picked by the army and used as sex-slaves. This coincides with the recent uproar in Balochistan about Zarina Marri case as well.
AR: As far as the issue of missing persons is concerned, it was as much in those days. Anybody who was arrested actually “disappeared”. According to our estimates, over 2000 people went missing in a period of four years. Even the fighters who were captured, they were never brought to the court.
Brigadier T (ariq) M (ahmmod) Shah was the commander of the Special Services Group. He allegedly used to throw Marris out of helicopters at great heights. As fate would have it, he himself died in the same way. He was doing para-jumping from a helicopter for August 14 celebrations. He jumped and his parachute did not open and he was killed. Some very influential people told us that throwing the Marris out of helicopter did happen. I cannot tell you the exact number of people who were subjected to such brutal treatment. In Mach Jail and Quili Camp, very, very atrocious and torturous treatment was given to the Marris.
MSA: Does it mean that there were no pressure groups or human rights organizations that could take notice of the human rights’ violation in Balochistan.
AR: No, nothing of that sort (ever existed) at all. In fact the international media did not know the whole thing till 1975 when I met Lawrence Lifchultz in Karachi. He is the one who broke the story of Balochistan story in Far East Economic Review in September 1975. After that Time magazine also picked it up. But they picked it up from an anti-communist point of view.
There was no media that was giving our point of view. There were no reports of the atrocities that were taking place in Balochistan. Women did disappear and were used as “comfort women” in the military camps as is being done at present. The involvement of women as victims is such a sordid story that the Balochs as well as we feel that even recalling those things is actually an attack on the dignity of the Baloch people. We normally do not talk about these things. We, however, remember the level of human rights violation of the level of picking up the women, rape, extrajudicial killings. The issue of women is a very, very emotional thing that one does not want talk about. It is very disturbing to talk about it, let alone the families and the individuals who went through it.
MSA: Tell us about the circumstances that led to your departure to Afghanistan.
AR: In the winter of 1974, Baloch tribes started to go to Afghanistan and take refuge there when the army started huge operations in Marri areas. When we realized that the kind of operation they were doing included arresting and killing non-combatant women, children and decimating livestock (the economic mainstay of the people), we decided to shift the families to Afghanistan. I would literally term it as a “genocide” that was taking place in Balochistan at that time. Today, Balochistan is encountering genocide once again.
Hence, we as a policy decided to shift our noncombatants –women, children and older citizens – to Sindh.
Some of our leaders who were outside the jail, they negotiated with the Afghan government of Dawood Khan to allow some of our families to go to Afghanistan. Ajmal Khattak, who was already in Afghanistan, is the one through whom we approached the Afghan government. Dawood Khan responded positively and allowed our families to go there. It was not an influx of refugees for just one year or a few months. It was a continued process. Wherever operations were taking place, we were pulling our people from there.
Eventually, there were about ten thousand families in Afghanistan. An equal number had migrated to Sindh, settled in Tandoadam, Nawabshah, Dadu, Hyderabad, Larkana and even some of them went to Karachi. If you count each family with six to seven members, the total number of refugees would become something like 120,000 people.
MSA: Did you use Afghanistan as a base for political activities or to launch offensive against the army deployed inside Balochistan?
AR: As far as fighting is concerned, it was only being waged by the people inside Balochistan. From Afghanistan, we tired to involve the international media about what was happening in Balochistan. From Sindh, we also tried to approach the national media but they had strict instructions of censorship. There was no report about us in the national media.
As I mentioned earlier, when Lawrence Lifchultz broke the story internationally, that was when the international media started to take a little bit of interest in what was going on in Balochistan. Again, papers like the Guardian and some Asian newspapers also took up the story. I think there was a lot of coverage in the Soviet Union and the Middle East.
MSA: How big was the support given by the Afghan government to the Balochs?
AR: The Afghan government only gave our people refuge. There was no military or financial support. The only financial support was just what is often offered to the refugees, such as food, medicine and some educational facility. We were not allowed to do any kind of business or trade in Afghanistan. We had limited movement. When I went in 1978, the schools in Khandahar and Zabul had already been established. We did not live in the cities but inside refugee camps very far away from the major Afghan cities.
Zabul was not a developed place while its capital Kalat was just like a village in Pakistan. It had a small hospital but we even did not live in the proper town of Kalat. Our main camp was based 20 kilometers away from Kalat in the mountains. The other camp, called the Khandhar Camp, was close to Khandhar city. But it was also located about six to seven kilometers away from the city center. We were not allowed to do any kind of trade.
MSA: How did the Afghan people receive the Baloch refugees? Were they forthcoming or hostile towards you?
AR: There was no discrimination from the Afghan people. They helped us many times. They accepted us as brothers confronted with a hard situation. They supported us, so did the Afghan government of the day. The animosity started much later. We did not support either the Khalq, Percham, the Soviets or Dawood for that matter. When the Mujahideen started fighting in Afghanistan, we were attacked by them in 1981-82. There were quite serious attacks but fortunately we were all from Balochistan and had weapons to defend ourselves. In 1981-82, the Mujahideen groups were not as powerful as they grew later on. They also attacked us in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, when the Balochs were coming to Balochistan, the families were ambushed by the Mujahideen which killed a lot of Balochs, including some women. They even threatened to kill Nawab Khair Baksh Marri. Now who was telling them do all this? Obviously, the government of Pakistan and the military were egging the Mujahideen to target the Balochs.
MSA: In the first place you said that General Zia-ul-Haq granted amnesty to the Baloch leaders soon after coming into power. Now, you are telling us that he was prompting the Mujahideen to attack the Balochs. Does it not contradict what you said previously? Why would General Zia do that?
AR: You see General Zia did not give amnesty. Initially, Zia’s reaction to the Baloch resistance was that it was a war initiated by Bhutto. There is this saying that your enemy is my enemy. He needed the support in Pakistan for the actions that he was going to take against Mr. Bhutto. The Mujahideen suspected that we were there maybe to support the Soviets. So they carried a number of small attacks on the Balochs. We lost one or two people only in all those attacks. In 1992, Taj Mohammad Jamali’s government came into power in Balochistan. It put a lot of pressure on the federal government that the Balochs should be brought back. Taj Jamali felt that Nawab Khair Baksh was a very respected leader of Balochistan. They did not want to leave him and his tribesmen in lurch. Therefore, they brought all of them back.
Taj Jamali even pressed Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan, to give two C-130s to bring back the families of Nawab Marri and some other leaders.
MSA: Some see Nawab Marri’s willingness to sit in a military C-130 and come back to Balochistan as a “political compromise”.
AR: I don’t think it was a compromise on the part of Khair Baksh Marri. I think it was a compromise as far as the province and its people were concerned. You see if you set such a precedence of attacking or killing a refugee leader then it has a lot of international repercussions. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif had no quarrel with Khair Baksh Marri. Even Akbar Khan Bugti went to Nawaz Sharif and told him to bring Khair Baksh back and also invite Sardar Attaullah Mengal from London to come back. If you remember, Nawaz Sharif invited them to Islamabad and they –Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti – held a press conference together.
You have to look at the political situation of the day when these things happened. Balochistan’s population is very small and if this population that had migrated to Afghanistan was also left over there, the Balochs would lose that population. Therefore, Taj Jamali wanted to bring Nawab Marri and that population back to Balochistan. I know this that initially in 1990 Nawab Marri was approached and asked to return but he refused. It took the Baloch leadership a lot of efforts to go there and convince him to come again to Balochistan.
In 1992, the situation for the Baloch refugees in Afghanistan had become so grave that there was a threat to Nawab Marri’s and his family’s life and to all Balochs who were there as refugees. That was the reason they were brought back. It was not because of any political compromise or anything like that. It was just that Nawaz Sharif felt that Balochistan had been done badly with and they needed to repair whatever could be repaired. I mean it was political diplomacy basically that led to Khair Baksh’s return to Balochistan.
MSA: What about you? For how long did you stay in Afghanistan?
AR: I went to Afghanistan in January 1979 and flew from Kabul to London in May 1980. I came back to Pakistan in June of 1980. I was in Afghanistan for a year and half but it was a very turbulent period in Afghanistan. First, Dawood was overthrown by Khalq Party. Within Khalq Party, there was a coup. Tarakai was killed. Hafizullah Amin (1929-1979) came into power. Later on, the Parcham Party came into power with Babrak Karmal (1929-1996), who was later on replaced by Najeebullah (1947-1996). In this period, after the killing of Hafizullah Amin, the Soviet forces came inside Afghanistan. I was a witness of all that eventful epoch of the Afghan history.
At the same time, what I would like to say is there are many issues that need to be addressed. There has not been any research or analysis done of that period. Therefore, the political history of that period is very vague and I would request my friends, especially the Baloch friends, who can write, research and analyze as to what actually happened at that time.
MSA: What caused the current deadly differences between Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and Mir Hazar Khan?
AR: In answer to your question I do not have all the details as I had already left Afghanistan but what I have heard is that Mir Hazar asked for a political and operational analysis of the war period. He also asked for declaration of how much was contributed by Khair Baksh in the war financially as it was being alleged that NAP had received some funds. At the same time Khair Baksh was asked to clarify his position on his ideology and practice.
Apparently the issue of financing the war effort was what they fell out on. In the beginning Babu tried to mediate between the two but when KB brought in the issue of Bijarani versus Gazaini (KB belongs to Gazaini section) then Babu also sided with Mir Hazar (both Bijaranis).
I believe there is some truth in all the issues raised. Khair Baksh ordered Mir Hazar’s weapons taken away when they were returning to Balochistan and it is also alleged that he had Mir Hazar’s women searched. This is of course is against all Baloch customs and honor.
MSA: Let’s get back to the London Group? What happened to the individual players of the Group who came to Balochistan?
AR: It was only end of 1974 that the government came to know who was involved in the Balochistan movement. My brother Rashed Rahman, went underground when Najam Sethi was arrested. Rashed had already married when he joined the Balochistan movement. His eldest son was only about four months old. He sent his wife back to my father’s house in Lahore. Throughout that period until 1978 he was underground in Karachi. He established the liaison cell along with some friends.
They used to take out a magazine called Jabal (Mountain) and we used to feed them information from the mountains. Jabal was a very informative monthly magazine published and widely circulated in Balochistan and the leftist circles of Karachi, Lahore and other places. If you get hold of some old copies of Jabal, you must read it. I am sure you will find it very informative. In 1978, when amnesty was granted to the Baloch leaders, I asked Rashed to come to Afghanistan from where I would send him to London for a family reunion.
MSA: What about Ahmed Rashid?
AR: Ahmed Rashid is maybe a good intellectual but physically he was not suited for guerrilla activity or living in mountains. He was never able to pick up the language very well and he stood out that he was not a Baloch. He was very fair; a scanty beard although he was much older than me. He was not able to keep up with our Marri comrades when we were moving in camps. He wore spectacles at that time which transformed into a disadvantage for him. Plus, he was flatfooted. He was falling all over especially at nights when we were moving around. He never developed good friendships the way I was able to do. Maybe I had learned the language, the traditions and customs much better than anyone.
At the same time, because I was involved in fighting, when your life depends on somebody else’s actions then there develops an affiliation of comradeship which is much deeper than anything else.
Unfortunately, Ahmed was not a good rifleman. He could not shoot very well. In the Baloch culture, they expect you to do all these things but when you are unable then you stand out as somebody who is alien to the culture and life style.
There was a similar case as far as Dilip Dass was concerned. I must say something here which I have never revealed before. Since you are doing a very candid interview, I must mention it here that Dilip resented my position as the commander. They also resented my relationship with Mir Hazar with whom I was, and still am, very close.
As I mentioned before that I was taught a great deal of things from Mir Hazar’s father, Gulla Khan, I remember he was a very simple man. He liked me so much that he offered one of his daughters in marriage to me. Subsequently, I had to explain to Mir Hazar why I could not accept the offer.
MSA: Why could you not accept the offer? Were you already engaged or married?
AR: No. I was not married. I was only 20 years old when I came to Balochistan. Firstly, we were not-Baloch –But that would not be a big thing. The real reason for my refusal to the offer was that we had gone to Balochistan for a purpose and I did not want to get bogged down. If I had married and settled down in the Marri area, that would have defeated the whole purpose that I had come for. I discussed this with Mir Hazar Khan and told him why I could not accept the offer. Then, he explained it to his father that I was in the movement and did not want to get bogged down with the family issues. That could become my weakness.
MSA: How was Dilip Dass captured?
AR: Dilip was also unable to pick up the language too well. He wore spectacles. He was slightly a misfit for guerilla war. It was his resentment to my position that eventually threw him into the position he went into when he was captured and killed. Let me tell you what actually happened.
When we established our first camp in Khandhar, some issues popped up between our camp and the Khandhar government. I was asked by late Abdul Wahid Kurd to go to Afghanistan and settle that issue. When I came back to our camp, Dilip was there and asked why I had been nominated to go to Afghanistan to settle the issue and why not he (Dilip) to go for negotiations. I told him that I had no objections if he wanted to go. I wondered if he could handle the situation.
I told him there were some Marris who were also Bijranis and in fact from Mir Hazar’s section, like Yaqoob Ramkani, Dil Shahd and some others who were a little difficult to handle. I also reminded him that he should realize that he would be talking to the Afghan government. In order to do that, one needed to have a mandate. I mean Abdul Wahid Kurd had already sent my name to the Afghan authorities for negotiations. Dilip did not like that too much. As I told you, I was the youngest in the group. All of these people had been in the London study group much longer than me. They knew Marxism better than me. Possibly, they were much more exposed and conversant with the ideology. I don’t deny that.
That resentment against me grew out of ego and anger. So, Dilip left the camp with a Marri and contacted somebody, who was probably a Kurd, whom we suspect of being an infiltrator in the Baloch movement. He is the same man whom we suspect in Asadullah Mengal and Ahmed Shah Kurd’s murders.
MSA: Who was that Kurd?
AR: I don’t want to disclose his name. In this kind of a situation you have a lot of repercussions. I just met him once and I became suspicious of him in that one meeting. I never met him again. Dali, as we used to call Dilip, contacted this very man to take him to Sindh. The circumstances of his arrest are very dubious. This man took Dilip in his own jeep along with Sher Ali Marri; drove him from Quetta to Baelpat. He passed peacefully through Bolan and the whole area. In Baelpat, we had never seen a check post before. Yet, they were stopped at a relatively new check-point. The security forces asked for identification. The Kurd driver said, while referring to Dilip and Sher Ali Marri, they were Marris whom he had picked up on the way. They told Dilip and Sher Ali to get down and allowed the driver to drive off. The circumstances of his arrest also put a lot of suspicion on the driver. After that, we never heard of Dali because we think he was tortured to death within three months of his arrest.
MSA: How significant was the role of the London group in the entire movement?
AR: I was the right hand man of Mir Hazar Khan. I was his guerilla commander. He was the political and the tribal leader. All his politics were derived from our discussions and dialogue. We discussed socio-economic relations, governance, human rights and other issues with him. The London Group played a very vital role in awareness raising and empowering Mir Hazar and his commanders. I converted the traditional guerilla war tactics into modern tactics.
MSA: Balochistan’s politics is filled with so much suspicion. People often bill their rivals as agents of the intelligence agencies. There is one question which must be hitting the minds of my readers. If Dilip could be captured and killed and Najam Sethi arrested, why were you never caught? What was your role?
AR: I was arrested. In 1975, I had fallen seriously ill. I went to Karachi for treatment. My brother, Rashed, took me to a doctor who operated on me. Of course, we had alias names. This was exactly the same time when our names had been revealed. Rashed left Karachi and went underground.
A week after my operation, I was driving a friend’s car who had been looking after me throughout my recovery. He was also sitting in the car. As we approached his office, he asked me to stop near his office.
He wanted to pick up something from the office. While I waited in the car, I had my bandages and all. Suddenly, two people attired in plainclothes came close to me and pointed a pistol at me. I could not detect them because they were in plain clothes. They asked me to go with them. I asked the reasons for my arrest. They said they would tell me at the CID (Crimes Investigation Department) office. They drove my friend and me in separate cars to the CID office. On our arrival, I saw this friend of mine with the local DSP (deputy superintended of police). I silently showed my friend my fist, meaning that he should not reveal anything about my origin and activities. We had already made up a story about me with the police saying that I was a friend of his from school days who had come to Karachi to find a job. Because of not getting a job, he added, I was temporarily serving as his driver.
The DSP sat in front of me and asked who I was. I gave him my alias name and narrated an unreal story. He said I looked educated and decent just like the other detained friend of mine. He said he was surprised why we indulged in such “negative activities”.
The office from where this friend of mine was arrested was the same consultancy firm where Najam Sethi used to work as a cover. My friend already knew what we were actually doing.
The DSP introduced himself as Ashiq Hussain and said he had arrested us for our anti-state activities. I declined my links with “anti-state activities’. They questioned me for about half an hour. My friend and I stuck to the same story which we had made up. They kept us at the police station the whole night. In the morning, my friend called another friend of his to bail us out. The newcomer, on his arrival at the police station, said he identified the mutual friend but not me. My friend turned around and said he vouched for me because I was his driver. So, that is how we were released and immediately within an hour, I left Karachi with my bandage. I came to a Marri comrade’s house in Sindh where I stayed for two weeks until I could get rid of my bandages. Then I went to the mountains. Thus, this is incorrect to say that I was not arrested. It was just that they could not identify me and I guess I was lucky.
MSA: You said some of your friends back in Lahore ridicule you over fighting some “sardars’ war”. I would put the same question before you. When you look back at your activities of 1970s, do you think you were actually fighting a “sardars’ war”?
AR: No. The London Group’s long-term objective was to bring about a revolution in the whole of Pakistan. We wanted to bring the army back to its position of a public servant and defender of our borders under a civilian government that was in place. We wanted to make a democratic front that could bring about a change in the country’s political structure and institutions. We wanted a democratic system that upheld the rights of the people and which served the interest of the people on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.
MSA: Was it not adventurism on the part of a group of five young men to abandon everything and start a struggle for a revolution?
AR: We did not want to initiate a war. We expected that once we started, more people would join us. We were developing our links with the National Awami Party (NAP) and building contacts. We were trying to develop our links with the other leftist groups in Sindh, Punjab and Frontier because NAP was common to Balochistan and the NWFP. When the offer came to us from Khair Baksh Marri and Sher Mohammad Marri, that was, we felt, the ideal opportunity for us to go and work with the people of this country, not at the elite, middle class level or with the sardars of Balochistan.
In my whole interaction in that period with Khair Baksh Marri from 1971 to 1980, I only met him four or five times. So why would I be fighting his war?
Secondly, it was not a ‘sardars’ war’. Look, there are around 70 to 80 sardars and nawabs in Balochistan. At one time, when we were here, there were about 104 sardars and Nawabs in Balochistan. Now, there number has declined. Out of those 104 tribal chiefs, how many do you think were with us? Besides Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and Sardar Attaullah Mengal, can you count me any other Sardars who were with us? Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo was never a Sardar, nor was Mir Hazar Khan. So what are you talking about? If it was a “sardars’ war” then all the sardars and nawabs of Balochistan should have been on our side. In fact, Nawab Akbar Bugti was anti-NAP. That is why he became the governor of Balochistan. People who describe the Baloch struggle as a few sardars’ war in fact do not know the ground realities.
MSA: As an observer, what do you think is wrong with Balochistan? Why have the Balochs, unlike the Sindhis, Pashtoons and Punjabis, been able to integrate themselves in the federation of Pakistan? Why the need for a military operation always is felt after every ten years or why is it that the Balochs feel the need to pick up guns after short periods?
AR: To find an answer to this question, you will have to look at history. If you understand the history properly then you can answer these questions. In the first place, the State of Kalat (today’s Balochistan) was never a part of the British India or the Mughal Empire. It was a separate state which was self-ruled. This state was established in 1666 when democracy had no roots or influence in this area. The Ahmedzais actually established a confederacy of the Baloch tribes which was known as the Kalat State.
The British never ruled Kalat. They only ruled by proxy and through agreements that were made between the Kalat State and the British Crown in Delhi. When the Partition was taking place, Kalat made its case to the Partition Commission which came with Lord Cripps. The Kalat State made this plea that it had never been a part of the British India. It had remained a sovereign state. Therefore, it should be treated differently. When the Partition plan came about, the British offered the Kalat State three options.
Firstly, to remain independent and become a dominan of the British crown. Secondly, to merge with India and, thirdly, to merge with Pakistan. The Kalat State outrightly rejected two of these options. It said it would never merge with India or become a part of the British crown. They said they would remain independent and negotiate with Pakistan our merger because of disparity in political, economic and social development of the Kalat State as compared to the other areas of Pakistan.
Plus, the population of the Kalat state was much smaller than any of the other provinces. From that point of view, this was the status of 1947 when Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, and the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, signed a stand still agreement on 11 August 1947. On 14 August 1947, Pakistan became independent while on 15 August 1947, Balochistan declared its independence.
I am sorry to say that but it was Mr. Jinnah himself who tried to force the annexation of Balochistan with Pakistan. He was forcing the Khan of Kalat to sign the Instrument of Accession. The Khan said he could not decide on his own and had to consult both the houses of the Baloch parliament –Dar-ul-Umra (the House of Lords) and Dar-ul-Awam
( the House of Commons). Consequently, both the houses of the Baloch parliament rejected unconditional accession to Pakistan and said they needed to have dialogue. If you read the Instrument of Accession of Kalat with Pakistan, which was finally signed by the Khan of Kalat without the mandate of the people of Balochistan or the members of the parliament, it is written that whatever constitutional structures are made by Pakistan will not be implemented in Balochistan without his and the peoples consent. It was agreed that there would be self-rule in the Kalat-state, which represented all areas of the present Balochistan.
Liquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, tried to break up the Kalat State. Lasbela, Mekran and Quetta were made separate administrative regions in 1948 in an attempt to weaken the Kalat State. When they forced Ahmed Yar Khan to sign the accession, he was, immediately after signing, arrested and his brother Prince Abdul Karim went to the mountains as Mekran region was being forcefully taken away by Pakistan. Then Mr. Jinnah ordered the military officer of Quetta to prepare a brigade to invade the Kalat state. These were the instructions of Mr. Jinnah. We do not know what happened subsequently but he relented and asked the army to maintain the status quo. As a result, Mekran and Lasbela were once again given back to the Kalat State. Prince Karim was brought back from the mountains but put into the jail for ten years. Ahmed Yar Khan was also released. Again in 1958, when the Pakistan army invaded the Kalat State, took down the Kalat State flag and replaced it with Pakistani flag, Ahmed Yar Khan was arrested and put in house arrest in Lahore for ten years.
We call it annexation, not accession. It was a forced annexation and military occupation of the Kalat State by the Pakistan army. Ahmed Yar Khan was not personally adverse to accession with Pakistan. There was pressure on him from the people of the Kalat State and the parliament and there was pressure from Mr. Jinnah as well. It was a military occupation and annexation. That is why we say Balochistan has never been “governed”. It has always been “ruled” as a colony. You see when you capture any region or territory; you never treat it as an equal partner in the federation.
The question of Balochistan stems from 1947. This is what I always try and explain to my friends. They somehow don’t seem to understand because of the history studied by our friends in schools and colleges. The history they study at schools and colleges is the government’s version of the region. This is why it is crucial that I keep telling my Baloch friends that they have to write their complete political history. There are books such as Ahmed Yar Khan’s autobiography, Inside Balochistan, in which he admits that he did not have the mandate of Kalat parliament to accede to Pakistan.
MSA: Who do you think is responsible for not accommodating the Balochs in the federation of Pakistan?
AR: The Pakistan State, who else? The state has denied the Balochs their rights. Balochistan finally became a province in 1970. Before that, it was being ruled by a governor in Lahore, under One Unit. What I am trying to say is that once India and Pakistan were both colonies. Why did they start a movement for independence? Because they faced a similar situation. Over there, you also had military suppression by the British Crown. The people of India and Pakistan fought against it. Now, when we talk of Kalat (Balochistan) and how its independence was usurped, how they have been colonized and how they are demanding their rights, what is your answer? Your response is the same of the British colonial army that you start firing on them.
MSA: Many people would say we have to forget the past and look at the future. One feels that even there is ample realization in Punjab that Balochistan had not been treated fairly in the past. Is there a possibility for the future for Balochistan and Pakistan to coexist?
AR: The issue is that the state structures of Pakistan are not a federation. The structures are not of a federal set-up. They are a centralized government run by the state in a repressive and oppressive manner. The repression and oppression in the whole of Pakistan is at varying degrees depending on the number of people from those provinces and territories that are a part of the ruling elite. Who are the ruling elite in Pakistan? It is the army, the civil bureaucracy, the rich and the industrialists of the country. They do not want to include the Baloch leadership. They want to exclude them in all forms of decision making processes.
MSA: Why does this attitude exist against the Balochs only? Why not against the Punjabis, Pashtooons or Sindhis?
AR: Because Punjabis, Pashtoons and Sindhis are all part of the ruling elite. They don’t want to include the Balochs in this club of elite.
MSA: But they say Balochistan, ironically, has its own elite which has allegedly kept the Balochs backward and hampered all sorts of development in the Baloch areas.
AR: I agree. But you should see the level of development in Balochistan. There are no sardars or nawabs in Mekran (Turbat, Gwadar and Panjgur districts). There are no sardars in many other parts of Balochistan. The Sardar is no longer significant. It is an evolutionary thing. You can not impose an immediate change in social and political relations. What you can do is to evolve the people, not necessarily the sardars only, by giving them their socio-economic rights. You give the masses education, good health facilities and better economic opportunities so that they can stand before their own sardars. This change is not impossible. Look at Mir Hazar, for instance, who has challenged Nawab Khair Baksh Marri. Now, Nawab Marri and his sons can not go in the Bijrani region of the Marri area. Why? Because he has empowered his people.
I think our biggest contribution to the Baloch movement is that we sowed the seed of anti-nawab and anti-sardar thinking in terms of people’s rights. If Khair Baksh’s children, for example, are able to study at Aitcheson College or in London then it is equally the right of the sons of Mir Hazar and other Marris to go abroad and study.
That seed that we had embedded is what is being seen as a political development. Fortunately, this change is not occurring in the Marri tribe only. When the other Baloch tribes look at the Marris, they say why they should not apply the same model. That seed that we embedded in the Marris is now spreading across Balochistan and has become a small plant hopefully it will continue to grow. When we are talking about change in social orders, we cannot bring change in a very short period of time. It is an evolutionary change, a slow but progressive change.
MSA: So you are trying to say that the Baloch society is not stagnant but continuously evolving. How big an issue is tribal structure of Balochistan?
AR: Yes, the Baloch society is definitely evolving. It is not stagnant at all. The tribal system is no longer the issue. The issue is of economics, socio-economic development, and exposure of the Baloch social structure to the outside world. At the same time, education is very important. The younger generation needs to be educated. They need to be given skills. Human resource development must take place. The Balochs should be given an opportunity to earn an adequate livelihood.
MSA: Some Balochs complain that the federation has deliberately kept them backward. Do you agree?
AR: Yes, I do. Look at Sui where gas was discovered in 1952 and the gas went all over Pakistan except Balochistan. Sui town is half a kilometer from the gas refinery but it has no gas in the Baloch colony. Dera Bugti is another 50 kilometer away from the gas field but has no gas facility. Only in 1986, Quetta got gas but that too because of the military cantonment present in Quetta. Even today, if you look at consumption of gas in Balochistan, it is barely 2%. Out of 30 districts of Balochistan, only the main towns of four districts have access to the very gas that was discovered and supplied to the whole country since 1952 from Balochistan. The gas pipeline from Sui to Quetta passes two kilometers away from Sibi but Sibi has no gas. This whole thing has led to degradation of the environment. Trees are cut for firewood to cook food. Therefore, the rains are further reduced. This has subsequently generated water issues and deforestation in Balochistan where the underground water level has gone as down as 700 feet. The real question is ownership and control over the natural resources of any given area.
MSA: Some observers from outside find it difficult to describe the ultimate goal of the Baloch movement. Is it a movement that seeks maximum provincial autonomy or separation from Pakistan to found an independent Balochistan?
AR: When the movement started even much earlier than 1970, when we joined it, at that time the movement asked for sharing powers and control over their natural resources. This stemmed from the idea of self-rule and complete provincial autonomy in a federating unitary system. The Baloch movement has now been pushed to that point where they have started to actually asking for the right of self-determination.
MSA: Has this movement, which asks for right to self-determination or independence, arrived to a no-return point?
AR: If we don’t realize our mishandling of peoples rights and do something positive in the next year or two, I think then it will be too late. There is still a very thin and small chance to rectify the situation. If the Pakistani state realizes its mistakes and wants to keep Pakistan as it is today then it has to do something about it.
MSA: There is a hullabaloo in Balochistan about the target killings in Balochistan of the Punjabi settlers. You are a Punjabi who has worked very closely with the Balochs. How do you feel about it? Do you not think such cases are likely to alienate friends of Balochistan like yourself?
AR: It is a good question. Target killings are not confined to Punjabis alone. Hazaras and other ethnic communities are also the victim of target killings. Let me be very categorically clear and state this that it is not the Baloch movement doing this. Target killings are being done by some Balochs or Pashtoons agents of the intelligence agencies who are being instigated and paid to do this. In Mastung, for instance, two persons attempt to target kill a school teacher were caught red-handed by the members of the community. They turned out to be the personnel of an intelligence agency and possessed official service cards.
Currently, there is a lot of fear and resentment in the Punjab about these target killings.
There is another issue here. Some of the settlers, not necessarily just Punjabis, have been guilty of giving information to the intelligence agencies about guerilla movements. Unfortunately, Awami National Party (ANP) is also a part of it. They are now giving anti-Baloch statements from the Pashtoon side. I perceive that they (the rulers) are still following the same divide and rule policy in Balochistan and trying to pit the Pashtuns against the Baloch; Balochs against the Hazaras and the Hazaras against the Pashtoons. They have managed to develop a situation of uncertainty by creating ethnic rivalry among the people of the province. By doing so, they think they can destroy the whole Baloch movement in this way.
MSA: You have been emotionally attached with the Baloch movement. Do you also tell your children about your Balochistan experiences?
AR: As a very small supporter of the Baloch movement, I have even taught my son a little Balochi. In 1997, I brought two of my nephews and my own son to Marri area to show them how people lived there. I wanted them to know what the Baloch society looked like and what it was all about. I deliver lectures in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and other universities. The youth of the Punjab understands the problem of Balochistan. They lack current information. So it’s a little difficult to mobilize them on this issue.
MSA: Do you support the movement for an independent Balochistan?
AR: Any person who believes in the international human rights conventions has to support the independence movement of Balochistan. In any case, if the Baloch nation is suppressed and repressed for as long as 62 years and there is “genocide” going on then the Balochs have very right to seek self-determination. I will support them in anyway that I can.
MSA: What recommendations do you have for Islamabad to resolve the Balochistan crisis?
AR: The government should immediately take confidence building measures.
The government needs to address these issues immediately. 1) Withdraw the FC from Balochistan as they are promoting ethnic conflict. 2) Withdraw the army to the positions of 2000. 3) Release and give information of all missing or killed Baloch people especially the 150 odd women. 4) Cancel all agreements with foreign companies who are exploiting the gold-copper from Balochistan and the Gwader port authority. 5) Hand over these projects to the provincial government. 6) Release all political prisoners and student activists. 7) Move complete provincial autonomy as the priority legislation to be made for all provinces allowing only 3 or 4 subjects to the Federal government. 8 ) Taxation should be provincial subject with a share given to federal for its expenses. 9) All natural resources belong to the people of the district, province and not the central government.
The constitutional packages and all these things are nonsense. These packages do not solve the issue. They think they can buy the Baloch. Let me tell you categorically, you can never buy the Baloch. If you give the Baloch respect, they will give you respect. If you offer them friendship, they will give you friendship. If you share your bread with them, they will share their bread with you. If you try to take anything away from them by force, they will resist it till the last man.
• The Pakistani forces once again started a military operation in Balochistan in 2004 which is still in place today. The operation killed Nawab Bugti, the chief of the Bugti Baloch tribe and a son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, Nawabzada Balach Marri.
• Asad Rehman passed away in Lahore on October 30, 2012. At the time of this interview, he lived in Lahore and was currently working as Director Programs at a non-governmental organization, the Sungi Foundation.
• Rashed Rehman is the Editor of the Lahore-based English language newspaper, Daily Times. He lives in Lahore.
• Ahmed Rashid has become an internationally acclaimed journalist and writer of the internationally best-seller book Taliban. His latest book is Decent Into Chaos
• Najam Sethi brought out Pakistan’s first independent English weekly, The Friday Times. He founded the Daily Times and remained its Editor-in-Chief for eight years and Daily Aajkal for two years until he resigned in October, 2009. Najam lives in Lahore with his journalist wife and author son. He was awarded the Gold Pen of Freedom Award by the World Association of Newspapers in 2009.
• Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur lives in Hyderabad and regularly writes about Balochistan’s issues in Pakistan’s top English language newspapers and magazines like Daily Times, Dawn and Newsline.
• Dilip Dass was never discovered. Neither his dead body nor the grave could ever be located.