What followed the 1948 invasion of the sovereign state of Balochistan by the Pakistani military was an armed revolt led by Prince Agha Abdul Karim, younger brother of the ruler of Kalat, Mir Ahmedyar Khan. The revolt ended in defeat.
Early Reminiscences of a Soldier, published in the daily Dawn (August 14, 1960), authored by Major General Akbar Khan who commanded Pakistan Army’s Seventh Regiment against Prince Karim’s insurgents, highlights interesting details of the Pakistani military occupation of Balochistan.
The Kalat State National Party (1937-1948) was the first modern political structure in Balochistan aspiring nationalist objectives, freedom from the British occupation and education for women. The party won 39 of the 52 seats in the lower house of the Kalat state in the 1947 parliamentary elections after the party was declared illegal on July 20, 1939 by Kalat ruler, Ahmedyar Khan. KSNP candidates contested the elections on non-party basis and won the majority seats. Ironically, the first democratic, secular and modern political party was banned in Balochistan by its rulers prior to the Pakistani occupation.
When the Pakistan Army invaded Balochistan a year later, in 1948, there was no popular political movement in place to organize a mass uprising in support of the revolt against the occupation. As a result, the revolt lasted a short period of two years, got defeated and died out in isolation.
The military defeat of Baloch uprisings in 1948, 1958-59, 1963-69 and 1973-77 did not translate into political victory for the state of Pakistan because the underlying political thought and movement never surrendered. This is the strength of the Baloch nationalist movement that kept the flame burning for seventy years.
National liberation struggles are great schools of learning wherever they may originate from; these movements become carriers of culture, enlightenment, freedoms and socioeconomic progress. At least that’s the case for the oppressed and the wretched of the earth. And yet we have witnessed dictators of all sorts born out of such struggles in the pre and post periods of independence.
A personality’s regression from a leader into a threat to his people is a possibility that cannot be overlooked. How does this transformation take place, undetected at times, from a revolutionary to a dictator? And most importantly how to stop this regressive phenomenon from happening when it is happening? What are the telltale signs of such a disaster? The phenomenon and the symptoms may vary from a culturally advanced industrial society to a developing nation struggling against colonialism. Every culture shapes its own dictator from a society it suppresses based on the authority given to him either voluntarily by the people or taken by force.
The Baloch are no exception. A study of their struggles will reveal the triumphs, dangerous pitfalls leading to defeat and the patterns of destructiveness within the movement. If left unchecked, such ruinous patterns will grow with time into monsters unrecognized by its unwitting creators. The seeds of self-destructiveness are there to observe and it’s just a matter of time before the nation will witness their growth and the inevitable tragedy to be born out of the shadow of war.
So what went wrong along the road to freedom?
Things do get out of hands in protracted struggles that may shrink into strategies of survivalist adventures from the original mass-based political movements. This is exactly what happened to the struggle for the liberation of Balochistan – a narrow path got carved out from the highway that took us to the woods. In other words, the umbilical cord that connects the struggle to its people was severed – the politics that defines and represents the movement was abandoned.
Such devastation in a nation’s history does not happen overnight or may not come from a single source. It happened in stages and the ground was set by the opposing forces – namely, the state and the forces that challenged it. It is indeed ironic; the very power that desires freedom kills it. And such is the tragedy of Balochistan its people and the movements that emerged from the land only to be forsaken, forgotten and grossly misunderstood in terms of relevance.
The political disconnect of the movement’s history from the current struggle is a huge generational gap that has not only distorted our view of the past but is playing havoc with the political understanding of the present. We cannot understand the ‘now’ in politics without the knowledge of its source. We did not fall into the present from the sky – it is a journey that begs to be known and understood without the bias.
The method of a nation’s subjugation employed by the enslaver determines the path the oppressed will take to regain freedom. All anti-colonial and anti-occupation struggles are largely marked with armed uprisings against the armies that invaded and controlled the colony with brute force. African national liberation struggles are prime examples of such paths that led to freedom from the colonial yoke. And we also have Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam and Mao’s China where theory and practice of guerilla warfare were refined with success. Latin American revolutions against dictators relied heavily on guerilla methods of war with iconic figure and theorist Ernesto “Che” Guevara becoming the quintessential symbol of struggle globally.
Along with armed struggle being the common denominator, most of these nations also have suffered worst cases of “revolutionaries turned tyrants” and lack the basics of a democratic society in the post-independence period. Nelson Mandela, his ANC and South Africa are an exception. Balochistan does have some similarities with the African and Latin American struggles of the past decades but its unique political history and society has features that require original thought rooted in that particular culture different from the neighbouring South Asian movements as well. Unfortunately, the Baloch political legacy did not progress beyond the impact of Indian and the global revolutionary models that influenced it from time to time. To be influenced by the trends of a given period is quite common but it becomes a problem when one cannot outgrow adolescence and become trapped in a certain period of time no more relevant.
Insurgency and its impact
Baloch resistance against foreign dominance is deeply entrenched in the traditional tribal system and dates back to centuries of warfare in which tribes played the role of a national army under their chieftains and allegiance to the rulers of Kalat. And all the previous Baloch uprisings against the Pakistani occupation forces, including the 1973-77 conflict, armed resistance was used, mainly orchestrated by the tribes and their chieftains who also formed the core political leadership of the nationalist movement at the time.
However, the ongoing conflict with Pakistan (since 2003 to date) has spread widely across Balochistan into regions where tribal system is a thing of the past. Political and economic factors have raised the stature of Makran Division (southwestern Balochistan) to new heights, especially the coastal belt and the port city of Gwadar, the main hub of CPEC activities. Here the insurgency has progressed from a tribal-backed movement into a local formation led by non-tribal personalities. Often the term “middle class” is used for the non-tribal individuals who could be doctors, teachers, writers, university graduates and farmers.
Today, the low intensity insurgency is the longest running armed conflict in Baloch nation’s modern history, covering large areas of influence than ever before with a diverse population and insurgent groups ranging from hardcore tribal system to the non-tribal social strata. This interesting phenomenon of diversity and spread of the movement should have translated into greater political unity of the Baloch nationalist struggle but it failed to do so.
Balochistan’s insurgency has succeeded in gaining international attention if not political recognition with great sacrifices in a short span of time but there is a cost to it – and the price paid for the rapid achievements is the loss of politics and political structures to represent the freedom movement and unite it inclusively in the public domain. Whatever budding political groups stood by the struggle for freedom were devoured by the insurgency leaving a political vacuum now being filled by human rights violations and mutilated bodies by the state forces.
National unity cannot happen in a political vacuum where insurgent groups are engaged in competing for territory and turf wars. Turning back to history, every time politics was banned by the rulers, nations suffered loss of unity, legitimacy and identity. Today, the Baloch are fighting for their existence and the international community sees us as a “complex problem” trapped in a disastrous situation with unknown consequences. We lack a unified political leadership to represent us with authority sanctioned by the nation in any world forum or negotiate Balochistan’s sovereignty with world powers for recognition and legitimacy.
The case for Balochistan’s sovereignty is a political question and it should be regarded as such even in the darkest moments of the nation’s history. Once we lose the sight of the political basis of the struggle, the conflict can turn into anybody’s war without benefiting the people of the land. Pakistani state and its armed forces have denied the Baloch its political, legitimate right to exist by declaring it a security issue leading to the military solution and war.
Since the first ban on Baloch nationalist politics by the rulers of Kalat on July 20, 1939, the struggle for Baloch identity and statehood has gone through phases of political movements – both, parliamentary and armed resistance. The first case against Pakistan was presented by the Kalat State National Party leader, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, in the lower house of the Kalat state assembly in December 1947. As the leader of the majority party in the parliament, Bizenjo spoke against the proposal of annexation with Pakistan and recommended independence of Balochistan. And in February 1948, the same constituent assembly unanimously rejected the idea of merger with Pakistan by passing a resolution in support of a sovereign Balochistan.
For the last seventy years, the Baloch nation has been engaged in various situations of struggles for their national identity and statehood between changing political climates of war and peace. Regardless of the details, the Baloch nationalist movement circled around four personalities that completed the different aspects of the realities of Baloch society – Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Sardar Attaullah Mengal – together they represent all the various forms of struggle for national identity. This is where tradition and modern politics strike a balance and lay the foundations of a future society without depriving it of its history and cultural heritage.
Today, the Baloch politics has fallen victim to two different forms of nihilistic approaches – the Pakistani state’s military solution to a political question and the responding Baloch armed resistance to the state policy. Unfortunately, the latter has replaced the Baloch politics as the only viable path to the nation’s freedom from occupation. This has dangerously eroded the political platform by reducing its stature to becoming the mouthpiece of armed resistance against the state. The result has been a complete disaster – loss of experienced leadership and cadre by state targeted killings and discontinuation of contact with the masses. The political isolation from the public domain in turn has produced several new issues, including end of accountability of the resistance movement, creating a sense of alienation among the people who feel they are no more part of the movement.
The state of Pakistan is the biggest beneficiary of the political vacuum although it has lost all political and moral authority in Balochistan because of its genocidal policies. The Baloch leadership cannot afford to lose the trust of the people they want to liberate. At the end of the day, it is the people who need freedom and hope for a peaceful future where their children can live without fear. People care for good governance in a society free of corruption and tyranny. People need to see all that in their leaders and the movement who will be their future rulers. And only a publicly connected and politically united movement can provide the hope for a free democratic Balochistan.
Balochistan never had a shortage of heroes who are ready to die for the motherland; what people need today are national leaders who have the wisdom to lift the nation back on her feet.