Volume 6, No. 2, February 2024
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Changing economy and changed social and political consciousness
When I went to the Marri area in October 1971, it was a pastoral society. Apart from the few urban areas in Balochistan, the Marri area was a microcosm of Balochistan. Economic relations were simple, just an advanced stage of a barter economy as livestock was sold for goods and services required. In other words economic relations were simple, the economy pastoral and life tribal. Simple lives meant simple ideas, although reinforced by oral history and traditions that emphasised the dignity of freedom even if only from the domination of neighbouring tribes, i.e. the concept of competition with the Siyal (an equal but opponent). This simple and rudimentary idea of independence could, in the larger context, be corelated and extended to independence from domination of the Baloch by powers alien. The simple can be changed to complex as it provides the basis and foundation for the more complex idea of independence.
The changes in attitudes and mindsets that all people go through are partly influenced by inevitable economic changes that are not entirely subject to human desires. It is the march of history in the shape of changing economic relations amongst the people and the state’s attempts to engineer changes to its advantage that also matter a lot. Being determines consciousness is not an empty adage. It is the most crucial factor, which is either overlooked completely or misunderstood at best. Individual consciousness is something that cannot be divorced from one’s class or socio-economic group. Karl Marx had rightly said: “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society — the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life determines the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
To give an exact picture of the development that took place in economic relations over a period of time in different places, regions and amongst the people of Balochistan would require tens of experts and tomes upon tomes of research. I have simplified the picture to just to give a rough idea of what effect this has had on the Baloch people, their resistance and nationalism.
The 1973-1977 struggle displaced people. They went to Sindh or Punjab where the economic relations were different and they had to adapt. Changed environments and changed economics naturally rub off, but the changes were slow. Some people went to the Gulf to earn and came back with money. They could now buy land or open businesses and this changed their social status and also to a certain extent their thinking. Though natural gas was discovered in Sui in 1953 and was exploited from 1955 onwards, Balochistan was in no way a beneficiary of this boon. After the 1970s there was electrification to some extent and this allowed underground water to be used for agriculture. This expansion of agriculture and also to a certain extent creation of small industry created different economic relations and with it, classes, and naturally the consciousness to correspond to the new reality. The expansion of agriculture was also facilitated by some mechanisation. Land that was previously useless became a coveted commodity in the hands of those who began to monopolise it. Feudalism was spreading its tentacles in Balochistan. This was changing the relationship between the people and the state, along with the change of the relationship between the tribesmen and tribal elders.
It would be of interest to the readers that the land in Marri area was communal property and divided between Septs with specific areas demarcated for them on a permanent basis. That land was redistributed every 10 years on the basis of male members of the clans so that those born during the period would not be denied a share. Sardar Khair Bakhsh was always in favour of retaining this age-old system, which kept the septs and clans bonded to each other and provided the basis for the love of the land and retaining its sacredness via communal property, but amid the changing economic relations, people have now begun to sell off their share. This selling and breaking up communal property is termed Boota trrorr (بوٹا تروڑ), with the literal meaning ‘severing the roots’. Today a lot of land, arable or non-arable, is slowly passing into the hands of individuals who have money, thereby creating economic disparity in the population. This is how feudalism creeps into existence and radically changes the relations between people and people to property, and as a result social and political consciousness. The moneyed class always favours compromise with the state for expansion and protection of their acquired wealth.
The fact that economic conditions determine social consciousness could be seen better in the Baloch life context if we take theMarri area as an example. Not that this is a hard and binding observation for all places and all times but does have value. When I went to the Marri area in 1971, most people lived a nomadic life and thrived on flocks and whatever they could cultivate while some lived in the towns of Kohlu and Mawand. The attitudes were certainly different as the townspeople were mostly supporters of the state as they benefited from association with it by being favoured in jobs while those in the mountains saw the state as an enemy because they had seen the real face of the state in the shape of Doda Khan’s regency period and the state-appointed Sardari era as he, with the authority of the state behind him, arbitrarily penalised and punished them without regard for their rights.
So it can be said that the Madrassas, the changing economic relations and consequently social relations and lastly education did bring about a change in the political and social ethos. The Madrassas were government planted and funded while the economic relations and education were an integral part of the march of historical evolution quite beyond the control of either. However, the syllabuses were in government hands and they did not relent in indoctrinating the students with the state narrative. It is to the credit of organisations like the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) that the onslaught was slowed down and political consciousness was not allowed to be corrupted to the extent the state desired. Now they want control of the curriculum for all those who are schooled here, thereby taking a stranglehold on the minds and psyches of those who seek education.
Schools were being built. Schools meant education and education meant jobs and so education too changed the social relations as jobs and urban life created a middle class, which was something new in Balochistan. The middle class in Balochistan or for that matter feudalism were not of the classic type as there was an overlap over them of millenniums-old social and economic relations. The middle class always strives for better circumstances for itself. As there were restricted job opportunities, they became traders or politicians. The politicians showed the qualities of the traders and bargained the rights of the people for personal advantage. Most of the feudal and tribal note worthies were not lagging behind them and there was a surge towards compromise and the rights of the people being forsaken for personal benefits. Compromise with the state is like doing a deal with the devil for once you are in this quagmire there is no getting away. Many of those who chose careers didn’t compromise on principles as during education they had come into contact with progressive and nationalist ideologies and these had rubbed off. However, in the educated class many did change and became more loyal than the king. They served the state beyond the call of duty.
Post Afghanistan stay scenario
It is noteworthy that the remaining members of the London Group, i.e. Rashed Rahman, Asad Rahman and Ahmed Rashid returned to Pakistan in 1979-1981. Mohammad Bhabha, as already mentioned, was living abroad. Of that original group of Marxist cadres, it was only me, Mir Mohammad Ali, aka Ustad Arshoo, who was left with the Baloch. Since my arrival in Afghanistan I had looked after the educational and medical needs of the camp inhabitants. These two obligations kept me extremely busy but fulfilling these needs of the people was a support to morale and a glimmer of hope for the education of their children. The students would go to the Afghan government school in the city in the mornings while I taught them in the afternoons till sunset. When the Afghan government offered to send Baloch boys to the Soviet Union for higher education, the opportunity was availed and a hundred plus students studied there and returned as qualified persons in different fields.
I returned home in April 1991 after differences emerged between Sardar Khair Bakhsh and Mir Sher Mohammad plus Mir Hazar Khan and my position became untenable there. The differences were social and to some extent political but were, in my view, not unbridgeable. However, they led to a split that proved quite detrimental and debilitating to the goals for which so much time, trouble and sacrifice was offered. Mir Hazar returned with some supporters around the end of 1991 while Khair Bakhsh Khan and Babu Sher Mohammad returned on the fall of the Dr Najibullah government in March 1992.
This split undid all the advantages that had been gained during that long stay in Afghanistan. The split was corrupted into clan differences between the Gazainis, Sardar Khair Bakhsh’s clan, and the Bijaranis, the clan that Mir Sher Mohammad and Mir Hazar belonged to. It took people a long time to overcome this unfortunate development but the damage was done. Had there been no split, all would have willy nilly returned after the Mujahideen toppled the Najibullah government because they were no friends of the Baloch but were largely proxies of Pakistan. It wasn’t for nothing that once Nawaz Sharif said that if they had wanted to harm the Baloch leaders they well could have.
(To be continued)