Volume 5, No. 12, December 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
The Baloch leaders were incarcerated or exiled from Balochistan to deprive them of the support and also interaction with people they had influence on and those whom they could potentially influence to resist the injustices against the Baloch. They thought by separating the fish (guerrillas) from the water (people), they could stifle the resentment that was now burgeoning.
One such exile was Sher Mohammad Marri (Babu). He was accused of getting arms for the fight against injustice to the Baloch. My father Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur had invited him for lunch at our house in Karachi in 1961. There, among other things, he said he was accused of procuring 500 rifles. He said he could confront the torturers of the Baloch if he had just 50 rifles. Sometime in 1962 he skipped bail that restricted him to Sindh. The bail was provided by a friend of my father. Babu went into the mountains, first near Quetta and then in the Marri area. This too was a watershed moment, a defining moment in the armed struggle history of the Baloch for this was the beginning of organised armed resistance by the people permanently under arms and committed to fighting for their rights.
The credit for this qualitative progress in the way the Baloch had till then resisted the military’s might goes to Sher Mohammad Marri, who led them on the ground, and Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri, without whose consent and guidance the change would not have been as great as it was. These two changed the face of the strategy and tactics that the Baloch had hitherto used to resist injustices. It would be very unjust to omit the name of Mir Hazar Khan Ramkani from this list as he hosted Babu and the fighters and led them when there was an incursion into the Marri area in 1966. Equally importantly, he hosted the London Group in the 1970s.
The word ‘Farar’ (Rebellion) and ‘Farari’ (Rebel) were added to the political and resistance lexicon/vocabulary of the Baloch. Though the fighters were tribesmen, they were led by politically conscious and mature political personalities who were very clear about their aims. It is often said that Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri was a late convert to the Baloch resistance but this is contrary to the facts as he once told me that in 1953, Davies, the then political agent, told him: “Khair Bakhsh why don’t you allow the government to develop your wretched people?” to which he had replied: “Davies, had Hitler overrun Britain and you were asked to help the Germans develop your wretched people, what would have been your reaction?” Davies replied: “I’ll be damned if I ever ask you again.” So as far back as 1953 he had clear set goals.
In the Mengal area too this resistance strategy was adopted and fighting groups under Ali Mohammad Mengal and Mir Lawang Khan were formed to resist the Pakistani state. The reason that once a peace was established these groups faded was that there wasn’t the kind of political leadership that we saw in the Marri area.
The Ayub regime appointed its own supporters as Sardars of the Marri and Mengal tribes to undermine the influence of Khair Bakhsh and Ataullah Mengal but both the appointees, Doda Khan Marri (uncle of Khair Bakhsh) and Karam Khan Mengal (relative of Ataullah Khan’s father) were killed by their own tribesmen, Doda Khan on February 4, 1965 with other notables and Karam Khan Mengal also around that time. These acts sent a clear message to the state that the people would accept none other than their legitimate Sardars and would continue to defy the state and its writ. These areas as a result had become no-go areas for the state.
In 1966 there was a large-scale army and militia incursion into the Marri area to cow the Fararis and disarm them to re-establish its writ there. The incursion was challenged and there were skirmishes. The Marris were in no mood to return to the days when orderlies of the regent Sardar Doda Khan could come, take away anyone and punish them with incarceration and fines for violations of unjust taxes, etc. This incident too gave strength to the belief that the government was after all not all that powerful and could and should be fought guns with guns for the time of appealing to its good sense was forever over.
In November 1967 the formation of a students’ organisation, the Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO), was to prove a major step in making Baloch student politics Baloch-centric, while before that student politics was Pakistan-centric; this was a qualitative leap. In my view the historical contribution of the BSO to the political awareness of Baloch youth and Baloch students was and is still crucial to the Baloch resistance and Baloch nationalism; it was the whetstone on which both these choices of the Baloch youth were sharpened and honed.
The BSO has seen many splits and radical transformations and at present its ideology is embodied in the BSO (Azad). There are other BSOs as well, but they do not demand struggle and are therefore of little use to the Baloch resistance since they readily toe and follow the state narrative. Most importantly, the BSO was instrumental in affording an opportunity to Baloch girls to participate in student politics and then in the national struggle. Karima Baloch, who also acted as BSO (Azad) Chairman in 2015, was a pioneer and inspired many Baloch girls. (Karima Baloch’s body was found in a river in Toronto, where she was in exile, in 2020, with the Canadian government covering up her assassination by arbitrarily, and without proper investigation, labelling it a suicide – Ed.).
There now followed a period of stalemate as the government didn’t encroach on the rebel areas and the Fararis kept to themselves, but armed and ready to face any eventuality. This semi-standoff persisted until Ayub Khan was ousted in March 1969. The new Martial Law regime of General Yahya Khan dismantled the One Unit that had lumped Balochistan, Sindh, NWFP and Punjab into one province, West Pakistan, to counter the Bengali majority and ensure Punjab’s ascendency and its greater share of power and development. This regime also declared amnesty for all including Babu Sher Mohammad Marri, Ali Mohammad Mengal and others.
(To be continued)