Ahmed Rashid’s Balochistan
Nobody reviews a book twice, nor do I. I had just published a review of Ahmed Rashid’s latest book Pakistan on the Brink in the Huffington Post on June 25th. The portions of Rashid’s book dealing with Balochistan justifiably required a separate column. He is a widely respected journalist in world capitals because of this unique expertise on Afghanistan. Rashid is not so well-known inside Pakistan because most of his writings and lectures are in English targeting a western audience. Very few Pakistanis read or understand English. Thus, Rashid is among the lucky ones who are not very popular in today’s (extremely intolerant) Pakistan.
What is barely known about Rashid in the west is about his role as a young guerrilla fighter in 1970s in the mountains of Balochistan. I have not come across a piece of writing about the Balochistan resistance of 1970s as beautifully written as chapter four of V.S. Naipual’s remarkable book Beyond Belief. The chapter is called “Guerrilla“. Guerrilla is about a group of young Punjabi teenage students from elite families who have gone to London for higher education but abandon their studies to go to Balochistan to become guerrilla fighters. They adopt Balochi names, learn the local language and join the Baloch fighters to literally wage a war against the Pakistani army. Some believe that Shahbaz, the young boy mentioned in Naipaul’s book, is actually Ahmed Rashid.
The young men who participated in the Balochistan resistance remained obscure as the names of the actual members of what is now known as the London Group remained disputed. In a detailed interview I conducted in Quetta’s Lourds Hotel some years ago with Asad Rahman, a son of a former Pakistani Chief Justice and the youngest in the group, a lot of details about the guerrillas and their roles in the insurgency came forward.
After 9/11 Rashid, who is the author of the popular book Taliban, has become an internationally acclaimed writer and now, I hear, he disowns his association with the Baloch nationalists. However, he wastes no opportunity to distort facts about Balochistan when addressing an international audience.
For instance, in an article he wrote for the BBC on February 28, 2012, Rashid claimed “the Baloch number only five million people and are outnumbered in their own province by Pashtun tribesmen and other non-Baloch settlers like the Shia Hazaras who arrived in the 19th Century.” Even chauvinist Pashutns do not claim a majority population in Balochistan over the native Balochs. Only the Pakistani military and its proxy journalists have repeatedly raised the issue of Baloch-Pashtun divide in order to deflect attention from critical political questions.
In the same article Rashid adds, “Until now, there has been a kind of ethnic peace between the Baloch and Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns living in Balochistan, but that could end in a bloodbath.” A bloodshed? Why? The Baloch and the Pashutn never warn against a bloodshed between themselves, do they? Where else is, if not in Balochistan, a bloodshed between the Baloch and the Pashtun is being conceived? Only the generals or the scholars in Punjab seem to fear (or wish) a bloodshed between the two brotherly nations that have lived on their respective territories for centuries with mutual respect and coopertation.
In Pakistan on the Brink , Rashid alleges “In all past Baluch insurgencies India has had a hand in providing some level of support—usually money for the insurgents in a tit-for-tat return for Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militants.”
It is interesting that even the Pakistani government has not blamed India for supporting previous Baloch insurgencies. When Rashid talks of “all Baluch insurgencies”, does he also confirm that he fought in Balochistan in 1970s as an India-funded guerrilla? While the Pakistani government has not been able to produce evidence of Indian support for the Baloch nationalist movement, the problem with Rashid’s assertion is that of stark intellectual dishonesty. Rashid discredits an indigenous public uprising which has its roots in Balochistan’s forceful incorporation into the Pakistani state in 1948 and the Center’s excessive use of force and exploitation of Balochistan’s mineral wealth.
He further writes, “there is every reason to suspect that India is also involved in this (Baloch) insurgency, possibly providing money to Baluch insurgent leaders who are living in Europe and the Gulf emirates.” We often blame the Pakistani military for being India-centric but fail to notice that this phobia is not confined to the men in khaki. Even intellectuals, such as Rashid, living in metropolitans stop being ‘liberal’ when they talk about critical issues like Balochistan or India. Unfortunately, the urban elite intellectuals in Pakistan join the bourgeois in their condescending attitude toward those in the periphery struggling for their fundamental rights. Subscribing to the official (read military) narrative on Balochistan has been the fastest way for urban intellectuals to finish their book chapters on Balochistan but it has not helped in truly understanding the Baloch issue.
Besides several other distortions, Rashid also misleads his western readers by saying that the Taliban have maintained “excellent relations with the Baluch”. As a matter of fact, Pakistan uses radical Islam to counter both Baloch and Pashtun nationalism. The Balochs are a secular people endeavoring to retrain their historical identity against the Islamic identity. For those familiar with the Baloch history, it is impossible to imagine that the Baloch would maintain “excellent relations” with Taliban. Six decades ago, a Baloch nationalist leader Mir Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo resisted the idea of Balochistan joining Pakistan by saying “If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran… should also amalgamate with Pakistan.” The day Baloch nationalism integrates into radical Islam, it will cease to exist any longer.
Pakistan on the Brink provides a condescending and underestimated account of the Baloch. It also shows why most people in Pakistan do not know much about Balochistan. Simple: Because their intellectuals do not known much about Balochistan and they rely on the military for information about this vast region.