Factionalism Has Always Marked National Struggles: A Reply To Malik Siraj Akbar


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On November 3, 2014, Malik Siraj Akbar, a Baloch journalist settled in the USA, critically analysed the Baloch nationalist movement in his piece on Huffington Post blogs. Titled, “The end of Pakistan’s Baloch insurgency?”, this essay deserves attention for bringing the Baloch nationalist movement into global focus. However, in my opinion, that is, perhaps, the only merit of his blog post. Even its very title seems immature, raw and unidimensional.

To start with, Siraj Akbar circumscribes and reduces the long history of Baloch nationalism to the armed struggle, which, according to him, began in 2004. He completely overlooks the roots of the Baloch nationalism that reach back to the British encounter in 1839. In fact, some Baloch intellectuals go even further back in history in tracing the roots of modern Baloch nationalism, claiming that Balochs have always resisted foreign invasions and defended their land, language, culture, literature and resources. This resistance continues today.

However, even as the Balochs fought British colonialism tooth and nail, the assaults by the colonial power proved devastating for them after 1839. The infighting and divisions among the warring Baloch guerillas, which Siraj Akbar discusses in his piece about present day Balochistan, marked the struggle back in the 19th century as well.

It has been claimed that the Marri guerillas engaged the British colonial troops in 400 skirmishes. Besides the armed struggle, journalists and intellectuals such as Mir Yousaf Aziz Magsi, Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd and Mohammad Hussain Anka, educated the middle class Balochs through the press and their various publications. That is why they faced the wrath of the British colonial government, which imprisoned and incarcerated them on many occasions. The struggle for Baloch rights gradually and slowly continued till 1947 when the Partition of India resulted in the birth of Pakistan.

This phase of Baloch resistance finds absolutely no mention in Siraj Akbar’s piece. On March 27, 1948, when the Khan of Kalat affixed his signature to the Agreement of Accession to Pakistan, his brother Prince Abdul Karim revolted with his 700-strong militia force. He did not accept the Agreement of Accession. So, suspicion and frustration over the Agreement of Accession provided an impetus to a long-lasting Baloch struggle in Pakistan. Prince Karim’s armed struggle, however, was confined to Kalat. The other front of the Baloch struggle was the district Khuzdar. It was led by chief of Zehri tribe, Nawab Nauroz Khan Zehri. These two fronts, however, remained relatively isolated from each other.

The second phase of the Baloch movement was catalyzed by the imposition of the One Unit in 1955. Under the One Unit, all the provinces of West Pakistan were merged into One Unit.The third phase of the movement commenced in 1962, led by Marxist guerilla Sher Mohammad Marri alias General Sherof. The impetus was the Pakistani intention of establishing military bases in Balochistan. This struggle too, however, remained confined to the Marri areas. Yet it did much to popularize Marxist ideology in Balochistan.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw peaceful political activities gaining momentum in Balochistan. This is the period when the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO), was founded, which further popularized Marxist ideas in Balochistan. When elections were held, the Baloch nationalists formed the first ever democratically elected government in Balochistan in 1972.

This was, however, not to last long. Under false pretenses, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto undemocratically toppled Balochistan’s first elected government incarcerating and torturing seasoned Baloch politicians, intellectuals and writers under the so-called Hyderabad Conspiracy Case. This led to the fourth phase of the armed conflict in Balochistan. This time, the resistance was fierce in the Marri areas. Compared to previous phases, this phase was much more organized. The period, however, also saw grave differences arising between leadersNawab Khair Baksh Marri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Sher Mohammad Marri, the Marxist guerilla fighter of the 1962-1968, sided with Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Despite their common Marxist antecedents, they continued to be at loggerheads. Yet, despite these differences, the resistance continued.

Gradually, in the 1980s, more Balochs got active in politics and subsequently a few Baloch political projects were initiated. Sardar Attah Ullah Mengal, for instance, after his return to Balochistan in 1995, formed the Balochistan National Party (BNP). It soon emerged as Balochistan’s largest political party. It formed provincial government in Balochistan in 1997, headed by Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal. However, his government, only after nine months in power, was removed by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998.  This undemocratic move contributed to the alienation of Balochs. The situation was further aggravated when Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, in 2000, under the Musharraf dictatorship, was arrested.

These events led to the fifth phase of the armed struggle. Post-2000, the situation took an even uglier turn. Nawab Bugti’s assassination in 2006 and Balach Marri’s murder in 2007 fueled further conflict. Since then, the resistance has only grown in strength.In the past, the various movements for resistance were led by the tribal chieftains. This was one reason for the fractious nature of the struggle. Today instead the struggle has evolved into a national movement and is led by a nationalist vision.

At the same time, there is no doubt that infighting and discord among various factions of the nationalist movement continue to mark Baloch resistance.  Siraj Akbar claims that “frustration, suspicion, infighting and division are the common features of the end of a guerilla fight.” These features, however, are not unique to Balochistan. Indeed they have been evident in the case of Palestine ever since the 1930s. Kashmir and Kurdistan can also be mentioned in this context. In South Africa, ANC suffered splits and factionalism. Moreover, this infighting has been a constant part of the Balochistan resistance movement. How can Siraj Akbar then claim that the present schism in Baloch underground organizations will lead to an end of insurgency now, when the conditions that first gave birth to militancy are yet to be addressed?

What is even more unfortunate in Siraj Akbar’s essay is the parallels he draws between the Baloch insurgency and Talibanization. He has, in his previous writings, described Talibanization as the “by-product of the establishment”. Before drawing the unfortunate comparison, he should have at least taken a look at the co-educational schools in his hometown, Panjgur, which have been forcibly closed by the Taliban.

On the one hand Siraj Akbar claims that the current Baloch struggle has drawn more international attention than any previous struggle. On the other hand states that Baloch insurgents appear frustrated over the lack of international support for the current movement. This clearly exemplifies the contradiction in his argument.

He further writes, “Islamabad carried out military operations, bought the loyalties of rival chiefs or empowered the so-called moderate leadership of the Baloch and also sponsored religious extremist groups in order to counter the Baloch nationalists. All these policies failed to completely uproot the resistance in the mineral-rich region.” Despite declaring these attempts as failures, he then writes that the Baloch fighters are jaded by moderate political parties such as the ruling National Party of Dr. Malik Baloch.

There are a few more points in his essay that one can argue about. However, let me conclude by saying that a well-informed journalist should at the very least not twist facts regardless of whatever views he or she holds. We can argue about the prospects of ongoing guerrilla movement in Balochistan. However, let us not decontexulize it. Also, let us respect the facts.

(Courtesy to: Viewpoint Online)

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About Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Muhammad Akbar Notezai is a columnist-cum-political interviewer. He basically belongs to the largest district of Pakistan, Chaghi, which makes a triangular border with Afghanistan and Iran. He was born in Dalbandin (Headquarter of Chaghi), but presently he is living in Quetta. He contributes to these newspapers and periodicals: the Daily Times, The Baloch Hal, View Point, Bolan Voice, Power Politics (An Indian National Magazine), The Balochistan Point and Daily Balochistan Express, Quetta. In addition, he writes and interviews on social, political, cultural and Economic issues of Balochistan. He also covers Iranian Balochistan and Afghanistan.

Posted on November 25, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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