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In the shadow of the gun (Parts I and II)

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

During the 1973-1977 army action in conflict zones, thousands of innocent people were killed, tens of thousands were internally displaced

Mr Ikram Sehgal’s “Of Empire and Army” (Newsline, March 2012) is a bundle of misinformation and bias against the Baloch. Perturbed that the media holds the security establishment solely responsible for the Balochistan crisis, he claims, “Most of our problems stem from jumping to conclusions that are based on misinformation, and then deliberately distorting those half-truths to suit mass perception.” He feels, “Disproportionate media projection of the separatist leaders encourages ethnic divisions and violence.” He probably thinks the Baloch struggle and the atrocities by the state are a figment of the media’s imagination.

The state’s brutal kill and dump policy seems justified to him. He half-heartedly admits, “No one denies the fact that targeted killings of the Baloch are taking place, that people are being picked up and that state actors are involved in the killing and the disappearances.” Then he offers a lame justification that “sons of the soil” are killing an equal number of settlers. Balochistan Home Department’s recent report said that the majority of the ones killed are ethnic Baloch.

Sehgal tells us that on December 29, 1973, as his son was being born in Karachi, his company came under heavy fire from Marri insurgents near Kahan, after the dismissal of Ataullah’s representative government. The Baloch considered them aggressors rightly, and could not be expected to throw a party. He then says, “Throughout that year, many soldiers were martyred and several injured,” and adds, “In one instance, the insurgents beheaded 19 of our soldiers.”

Well, I too was in the Marri area with the Baloch nationalists then and assuredly, the Marris never indulged in such abhorrent practices. His claim defies reason as no guerilla could possibly have time to ambush and behead soldiers. Ambushes invite response and with helicopters, jets and motorised transportation at the army’s disposal, only fools would linger after an ambush.

The columnist adds that the army could have retaliated against the Marris in kind but relented because they understood that their Sardar (tribal chief), who was living comfortably in Kabul, misguided the Marris. Incidentally, Sardar Khair Baksh Marri and other Baloch leaders, including Sardar Ataullah Mengal, were in jail until 1978. He blames the media for misinformation and distortion. During the 1973-1977 army action in conflict zones, thousands of innocent people were killed, tens of thousands were internally displaced, social and economic life was disrupted, flocks were stolen, crops destroyed, and the entire Balochistan was terrorised. Eight persons, whom I knew personally, including my dear friend, Daleep Dass, aka Johnny Dass, went missing, never to be heard of again. Sher Muhammad Aliani — a sept, an elder, a septuagenarian — was picked up because of an ambush in the vicinity of his settlement near Kahan; his brutally tortured corpse was later recovered. Murad Khan Ramkani of Tadri too was similarly killed. The valiant Asadullah Mengal and Ahmed Shah Kurd were abducted and killed in Karachi. The examples of the ‘consideration’ shown are too numerous to note.

Talking about population and tribes, Sehgal says that Punjab and Sindh have more Baloch than Balochistan. Let us not forget, Dera Ghazi Khan with its tribal areas was annexed to Punjab in 1950, hence the increase in Baloch population in Punjab. He seems very upset about the discontinuation of appointing of Pashtun governors. The imported ‘Viceroys’ only exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions. Owais Ghani reigned when Sardar Akbar Bugti was killed.

Sehgal shows his bias against the Baloch and sardars by repeating a patently fictitious story that some of the proud Baloch sardars of yesteryears carried Colonel Sandeman on a litter on their shoulders for many scores of miles from the Punjab into Balochistan. Oddly, neither a Sardar is named nor the place. The best way to malign someone is to spread unsubstantiated tales knowing that prejudices will do the rest and clearly, any lie about the Baloch is readily believed here. Moreover, this story would make you believe that the British had no horses to transport Sandeman; they were not like Pakistanis who would send a rundown ambulance, without a spare tyre, to bring a terminally sick Jinnah from the airport.

Exposing his ‘prejudice’ against the present nationalist leaders, Sehgal says, “It is ironic that a small militant minority, led by descendants of some cruel and despotic Sardars, speak about “democracy and independence”. His other grouse is, “The Baloch now protest against the presence of army cantonments but they did not protest when the British built the biggest cantonment in British India after Agra in Quetta in the early 1900s.” I wonder what he would say about those who loyally served the British and docilely submitted to a 50-year long Khalsa (Sikh) rule. No one resisted the sacrilege of Badshahi Masjid in Lahore being used as a stable by Ranjit Singh. Syed Ahmed Shaheed had to come from Bareli to resist Sikh rule. Ironically, the stuffed remains of Ranjit Singh’s favourite mare Alif Laila, sketched as Laili by Emily Eden, adorns the Lahore Museum. He remembers “cruel and despotic Sardars’” imagined lapses, but forgets the past of present defenders and leaders of the Ummah. He selectively remembers some and overlooks other inconvenient facts.

Sehgal says that the Baloch Sardars submitted to humiliating British terms regarding heirs, but he probably does not know that the Marris defeated the British in the Battle of Sartaaf and Nafusk in 1839; Mir Mehrab Khan, the Khan of Kalat, died defending Kalat. In 1917, the Marris refused recruits for World War I and chose to battle with their flintlocks and swords against British machine guns at Gumbaz and Harab; none except the Marris in the subcontinent refused. The Baloch have an illustrious history of resisting the British, while others except Tipu Sultan, submitted meekly.

‘Submission’ of some Sardars to Sandeman is an unpardonable and abhorrent crime for him but meek acquiescence of entire peoples and regions in the subcontinent to Khalsa Raj and British rule do not seem to ruffle his feathers. He alleges that, “There is now a very deliberate attempt to create a perception of non-Baloch hegemony. The fact remains that the present political and administrative leadership comprises of the native Baloch.” He fails to realise that this perception has solid reasons. The army and the Frontier Corps (FC) from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a complete disregard for Baloch sensitivities, and as far as the corrupt native Baloch political leadership is concerned, they have stated on record, repeatedly, that the FC runs a parallel government in Balochistan.

In the shadow of the gun — II

The Sardars embezzling money meant for development purposes are in league with the government. The evil nexus between state-sponsored terrorism and corruption is used for depriving the Baloch people of their resources and rights

Ikram Sehgal in “Of Empire and Army” says, “There has been a Baloch president and a Baloch prime minister. During their time in office, none of the Baloch nawabs and sardars made any effort to ameliorate the conditions of their own people.” He forgets that the establishment ‘accommodates’ only those Baloch who connive in denying the Baloch people their rights. The ‘establishment’ as a quid pro quo turns a blind eye to excesses and corruption. It now even encourages them to fight a ‘dirty war’ against the nationalists. The ordinary Baloch suffers injustices from both the Centre and its local agents; this has reinforced the perception of non-Baloch hegemony. The only representative government of Sardar Ataullah Mengal, which presented the bill to abolish the Sardari system on July 8, 1972, and worked for Baloch rights, was dismissed after nine months. Amelioration of conditions was not tolerated.

Sehgal says ‘the three ‘nawabs’ of the Baloch, now agitating for ‘independence’, have at one time or the other ‘taken oath of allegiance to Pakistan’. This he thinks obligates their submission to the federation. Mr Jinnah presented Kalat’s memorandum supporting its independence to the Cabinet Mission in May 1946, but did not feel honour bound when in March 1948, he ordered troops into Kalat. Incidentally, Sardar Khair Baksh Marri has neither held office nor signed the 1973 constitution; his son Mir Balach Khan swore allegiance to Balochistan in Balochi in the provincial assembly.

“The incongruity of it all is that the military wants democracy for the Baloch people, but has not been able to translate its objectives into practice. This can only be achieved under a democratic dispensation, which must obtain freedom for the Baloch from its cruel depraved rulers, who hold the power of life and death over them and their children,” Sehgal pontificates. He seems oblivious to history, for if militaries gave way to democracy, they would have in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in Latin America. Atrocities in Bangladesh and now in Balochistan would never have happened. Presently the Baloch are being killed, dumped and oppressed by state institutions and it is these institutions that illegally exercise ‘power of life and death’ over them and it is from them that the Baloch strive to obtain freedom. Now the Baloch are tired of living in the shadow of the gun.

Another allegation is, “The ‘democracy’ that the feudal lords espouse is limited to their own version of despotic rule,” but forgets that the same and more holds true for the democracy that the military envisages for the Baloch. He also forgets that these ‘cruel depraved rulers’ are not ‘the three ‘nawabs’ but are the obsequious Sardars at the beck and call of the establishment, assisting it in its dirty war against the Baloch people. The Sardars embezzling money meant for development purposes are in league with the government. The evil nexus between state-sponsored terrorism and corruption is used for depriving the Baloch people of their resources and rights.

Expressing sympathy and blaming feudalism, the writer says, “The Baloch must be taken out of their life of deprivation and want,” but conveniently forgets that mostly the military has been in power in that province. The present situation was precipitated by Musharraf who, recently, brazenly advocated more Baloch repression. He forgets that the precious little that Pakistan receives as aid is devoted to the military. Two years ago, Fakharuddin G Ibrahim said, “During the last 30 years, Rs 178.3 billion had been spent on education and Rs 98 billion on health while, on the other hand, around Rs 2,835 billion had been consumed on defence alone.” Interestingly, combined health and education expenditure in three decades is a little more than half of defence expenditure in 2010-11 alone. The remainder is devoured by politicians and bureaucrats. This policy of beg and spend for the military is overlooked as the real reason for backwardness here.

The article claims, “The tribal sardars living in self-imposed exile breathe fire against the state in the media but do not represent the majority of the ethnic Baloch nor the vast majority of the non-Baloch who populate Balochistan today.” He is absolutely wrong, for had not the majority of the Baloch supported the ‘fire breathing Sardars’ since 1947, the demand for freedom would have petered out long ago. Moreover, the non-tribal areas of Makran would not have become the hotbed of struggle that they are today.

Sehgal says, “Kill and dump, is certainly not the answer to Balochistan’s problem. Indeed, such acts should be condemned unequivocally.” Then in the same breath he justifies it with: “But what is the Frontier Corps (FC), who are tasked with defending critical socio-economic installations like gas pipelines and electric transmission towers that are regularly being blown up, expected to do when they are attacked violently?” And how does he expect a brave and proud nation to act against those they see as aggressors and the reason for their plight? Certainly, they would not be garlanding FC soldiers and installations.

Demanding exclusion of the Sardars from negotiations, Ikram says, “To negotiate with the hereditary rulers and their hired guns, who represent only a minority of the population, is tantamount to condemning the people to continued slavery. Compromising the basic tenets of society at the point of a gun will prove fatal for the federation.” He is more worried about the federation than the Baloch people, who any way are incidental and secondary in his scheme of things. Why should he expect the Baloch to submit to exploitation and negotiations at gunpoint? The Baloch too will not negotiate in the shadow of the gun, and moreover, without the “hereditary rulers and their hired guns”, no dialogue is going to be of any use.

Ikram Sehgal should understand that the Baloch struggle represents the political will of the people and is not fueled by hidden hands. It will continue in spite of ever-increasing brutal repression because the Baloch have understood that their repression and exploitation is not by rogue elements but is a well thought out policy of the state to permanently deprive them of their rights on lame excuses of ‘national interests’. The Baloch struggle to put an end to the reign of the gun certainly is not going to vanish simply because Mr Sehgal or the government does not like it.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at