A Trusted Comrade

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Asad Rahman was indeed Punjab’s most popular and loved intellectual and social activist in Balochistan. He was widely admired among the political figures and progressive scholars of a province that is often known for its deep anti-Punjab sentiments.

When Asad Rahman passed away on October 29, 2012, in Lahore, he left behind a rich constituency of Baloch admirers who mourned the death of a true and trusted comrade. He had cultivated a remarkable bond of companionship with the Baloch expanding over four decades. The Baloch nicknamed him after the 15th century statesman, Chakar Khan, and Rahman, in return, learned and spoke fluent Balochi to reciprocate the Baloch hospitality.

Asad Rahman was the youngest member of the popular London Group which joined the Balochistan resistance movement in 1970s. The London Group comprised non-Baloch, educated, elite urban young Pakistanis who gave up all comforts of life to go to Balochistan as guerilla fighters.

The London Group was a study circle of left-wing Pakistan students in England that learned about the Pakistani military’s atrocities in East Pakistan and Balochistan after getting access to reliable news reports and leftist literature that was banned in Pakistan.

Asad Rahman and his comrades, which included his elder brother Rashed Rahman and journalists Najam Sethi and Ahmed Rashid, were deeply agitated at the army’s treatment of the Bengalis and did not want Balochistan to suffer in the same way.

As a young Marxist, Rahman did not only demonstrate courage to speak up against the injustice but also showed an unflinching commitment to fight for the people of Balochistan. He was only twenty years old when he, without even informing his parents, quit his studies in London and ended up in the Balochistan hills.

The young guerillas drastically reshaped the dynamics of the Baloch resistance movement. While some of them were arrested and tortured, Rahman fled to Afghanistan. As a refugee with the Baloch, he was unable to attend his father’s burial. In Afghanistan, he taught the Marri children.

“The London Group played a very vital role in awareness raising and empowering Mir Hazar (the Baloch tribal chief who headed the resistance movement) and his commanders,” he told this writer in a 2009 interview. “I converted the traditional guerilla war tactics into modern tactics…All politics were derived from our discussions and dialogue. We discussed socio-economic relations, governance, human rights and other issues with him.”

Decades after his participation in the Balochistan movement, Asad Rahman never regretted supporting the Baloch against the Pakistan army. He always described himself as a “patriotic Pakistani” who supported the Baloch right to self-determination.

“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,” he said.

He was deeply perturbed over people’s ignorance about Balochistan. He regularly visited the province and passionately heard people’s point of view. While visiting Balochistan, he was often hosted by the Baloch who wanted to live with Pakistan and those who wanted separation. He was equally popular across Balochistan’s divided social and political spectrum.

Asad Rahman was probably the best interlocutor between Balochistan, the Punjab and Islamabad. He delivered lectures at key colleges, universities of the Punjab to educate the people about things they would otherwise never learn through the mainstream media.

He wrote columns and organised conferences in Islamabad to bring forward perspectives from disillusioned Baloch leaders and adamant government officials in order to encourage dialogue on critical issues. To the Baloch, he insisted that they unite and educate their children so that they could write their own history.

With Asad Rahman’s demise, Balochistan has lost an ardent advocate for mutual understanding, political dialogue and cultural interaction. He was a bridge between the Baloch and the people of Pakistan. He was among those unknown heroes most Pakistanis never learned about through textbooks or the media.

“Unfortunately, the kind of activism that the youth of that time were capable of and engaged in, is lost to us,” said one of his admirers. “There was so much idealism and passion and people were willing to fight for those ideals.”

This article was originally published in The News on Sunday, November 4, 2012


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