The Post : "We fear extinction"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"We fear extinction"

(originally here)

Nawab Khair Buksh Marri interviewed by Rashed Rahman | January 15, 2008

We start with the fact that the fifth military operation is on in Balochistan for the last six or seven years. We need to look into its reasons. As we explore this question, we are likely to come up with a number of causes. A recent development was the purported complicity of the British and Pakistani governments regarding a prisoners’ swap. Some circles believed that the Pakistan government would send Rashid Rauf from here and bring Hairbiar Marri and his companions to Pakistan in an act of reciprocation. However, it is alleged that the Pakistan government has choreographed the escape of Rashid Rauf in mysterious circumstances. The real reasons for this escape are unknown so far. An investigation is underway. One analysis is that Rashid Rauf might have been in possession of information, the disclosure of which could have embarrassed Pakistan. The interaction of our secret agencies with al Qaeda, the Taliban and related elements is very intricate. Quite often, it is difficult to clearly ascertain the precise dimensions of their linkages and past connections. Therefore, Rashid Rauf’s disclosures in Britain might have compromised the Pakistan government. That could have been one reason for his seemingly orchestrated escape. The stated circumstances of his escape are quite puzzling. He was a high profile prisoner and the arrangements for his security were surprisingly loose. He was allegedly allowed to enter a mosque without escort. In any case, one spin-off of his escape has been the dismissal of the likelihood of the prisoner swap now. According to my information, large-scale protests are taking place in London against Hairbiar’s arrest. Human rights activists are holding vigils outside the court where he is being tried. Their contention is that Hairbiar is campaigning for the human rights of his people in Balochistan. He is raising voice for the legitimate rights of his people. Another point is that extraditing Hairbiar and other prisoners to Pakistan might endanger their life and safety. Such an act would be in complete violation of British and European human rights law. Lawyers are also taking up this point. We would like to talk about these issues as well. However, my main thrust is to ensure that the Balochistan question is presented in a comprehensive way.

Nawab Khair Bukhsh Marri: While I appreciate your sentiments, I am not very definite if I am prepared to present the issues in a way that may benefit Hairbiar and his companions or may further the cause of the Baloch people in some positive manner. It might have been better if I could also pose questions in this interview. I am not particularly informed about the situation in Britain. So my arguments may not be factually correct or to the benefit of this group. I need to know if they have been arrested because they are terrorists or is it the other way around. I mean, it is also possible that they are being labelled as terrorists to justify their arrest. I have apprehensions that it is the need of the British government to call them terrorists. The objects that the British authorities claim to have recovered from them (Hairbiar and his companions) cannot be called weapons by any stretch of the imagination. Theoretically, any object can be employed for defence as well as attack. I have heard that women in Europe carry several gadgets that are meant to temporarily stun or paralyze a potential attacker so that the victims can call for help in the meantime. Now those objects can hardly be called weapons. Our companions wrote to the British authorities and have since received the response that Hairbiar and his companions have not been arrested for the purpose of extradition. They have claimed that their interior ministry has arrested them. So far so good, but these days, it is hard to believe what governments say. Returning to your question regarding the Baloch question, will you kindly repeat your question in more specific terms?

RR: I am interested in a recapitulation of the events in Balochistan over the past sixty years. I believe such a review can help put matters in perspective. There are people in our country who are completely unaware of our history. In the course of my work, I meet young people who do not even know that Bangladesh was once a part of Pakistan. They are completely in the dark regarding the events that led to the separation of East Pakistan. If they are ignorant of such a huge event, it is understandable that they do not know the history of the Baloch question either. So an explication of the political position of those who have waged this struggle or who have researched such historical events is surely beneficial.

KB: I do not have a prepared text. So my submissions will be somewhat haphazard. The first question is the allegation of terrorism in Balochistan. Balochistan is such a backward area that the allegation that the Baloch people are committing acts of terrorism is unintelligible. Are they religious terrorists? Are they mercenaries? Have they gone mad? After all, what is it that the Baloch people have done to deserve this appellation? How can they be termed as terrorists?

RR: Actually, the Americans, Europe and to some extent Pakistan have begun to term all guerrilla struggles and all resistance movements as terrorism.

KB: Look, we have two parties to this conflict. The first party is weak, illiterate, backward and poor. On the other side of the divide, we have the most powerful people of the world – America, the West and their stooges. The question is who is damaging whose interests? The prices of everything in the international market are decided by the powerful. It is not the weak who are making the decisions. And when the weak make some feeble movement, call them twitches in the dying throes, you call them terrorists. We cannot kill Americans. We cannot kill the British. We cannot kill even Pakistani leaders. How is it that we are called terrorists? America decides, and whatever is not palatable to America, is being labelled as terrorism. Sometimes, it is called Islamic terrorism and on other occasions it is called fundamentalist terrorism.

Placed in a historical context, the Baloch have never been terrorists. Al Qaeda and the Arabs have doled out money to terrorists. But no one has accused the Baloch people of gaining from this bounty. The Baloch are such weak and backward people, who is going to waste money on them? Even during the days of a fierce conflict between the USA and USSR, the Baloch activists were in Kabul. They did not fire a single shot in favour of the Americans, Russians or Islamists. The Americans knew that the Baloch were living in Kabul but also that they did not participate in that war.

The Pakistan government refused in the past to accept the majority opinion of East Pakistan. That effectively finished the possibility of peaceful means in the struggle for the rights of the people in Pakistan. I have been a member of NAP. We contested elections and won but it never helped us in winning our rights.

Now the situation is that some Baloch are fearful of the changing times. The breakup of the Soviet Union has transformed the situation in our region. There are a greater number of options before the people now. They can trade their resources in a larger market. All states can be part of such a bargain now. In Gwadar and other parts of Balochistan, we can expect a lot of prosperity in the near future because of mineral resources. Gwadar can be a huge market – call it a gateway or doorway. That possibility has also brought about the fears of a change in our ethnic or demographic profile. We do not have a lot of time. We have no patience for elections or democracy and parliament. We understand that in a period of 20-25 years, the Baloch may become a minority in their own backyard. They will plunder our resources. And those who intend to plunder our resources are accusing us of terrorism. If you say we can resort to parliamentary democracy for a resolution of issues, I would cite the example of East Pakistan. Awami League tried the parliamentary option but failed to get the desired results. Even after 1971, we had coalition governments in two provinces, but Mr. Bhutto won because he had support in Punjab. So when it comes to Punjab, all other claims are rendered futile by default.

RR: There is a question that the last war in Balochistan ended in 1977. Afterwards, peace prevailed for 25 years till 2002...

KB: Sorry to cut you, that was not the end of the war. That was the end of a round. A battle ended in 1977, the war continued.

RR: I stand corrected. So there was peace for 25 years. For 25 years, the people struggled in parliament. Even after the 2002 elections, our friend Sanaullah Baloch spoke in the Senate. Research was conducted and a number of submissions were made by him. But nothing came of that. The sort of elections we have had, it seems the system is deaf towards the voices of the backward and poor Baloch people.

KB: The Baloch is a shepherd. In this federation, he is yoked with Punjab. Punjab is relatively developed, literate and skilled. Punjab has been a shareholder in the organs of the state. The Baloch has been a peripheral character in this market. In this game of cat and mouse, the Baloch has been the mouse. The Baloch has been out of all competitive fields. Now, the Baloch is harbouring fears for his identity. He has never been a part of decision-making. He dwelt in the mountains. Now his mountains are throwing up gold and silver and he fears that he may be ousted from his mountains as well. He fears that he will be divested of his mineral resources. When the Baloch resists, he is called a terrorist.

RR: What is the interest of the Centre and Punjab in Balochistan? There has been a pattern of exploitation of resources since the days of colonialism. Now Musharraf is speaking of mega projects. Who will benefit from these mega projects?

KB: We have one precedent of mega projects that were installed in North America. What happened to the indigenous people of that region? This is all a game of classification, a hierarchical process. America was called the land of opportunity. What opportunity came to the original inhabitants of that land? The basic notion in that paradigm is the destruction of one group and prosperity for the other. Those originally dwelling in the region were destroyed so that the outsiders could prosper. They were not adjusted. There was no sharing of emerging opportunities. They were just eliminated.

Before the British arrived here, there had been other invaders. However, the British were in possession of more developed skills, information and methodology. They brought roads, railways, hospitals and schools to this region. They did all this for their own benefit. Any benefits coming to the local people were just a by-product and unintended consequences. They needed skilled workers to do their chores – to run the railways, to carry products to and fro and to construct roads. When the British were about to leave, they calculated that the Baloch were the most backward people in India – at least by modern standards. The Baloch were shepherds, nomads and tribal people. Their economy revolved around livestock. Their agriculture was heavily dependent upon rains. That was their relationship with the market. So Pakistan was not made by the Baloch. The Baloch were not a party to the decision to join Pakistan. They did not join Pakistan through their free will or their political alliances. India was partitioned and Pakistan was carved out in the name of Islam. I do not want to go into the debate of how Islam has been exploited in Pakistan. The confrontation between Hindus and Muslims went back into history and had deep roots. But Pakistan was made in the name of Islam. However, the people also had a civilization, culture, language and history.

The Baloch had been resisting the British much prior to the days of the partition of India. Balochistan had many tribal alliances and they resisted the British. Even the tribes outside the ambit of those alliances had been fighting the British. The state of Kalat was the centre of the union of tribes. However, there were tribes outside the influence of Kalat and they too resisted the British. The Marri tribe fought against the British till the times of my grandfather. He even sought support from the king of Afghanistan and went to Kabul in the hope that the Muslim ruler of Afghanistan would support him. However, it was an innocuous illusion and he had to return empty handed. This does not mean that only the Marris resisted the British. Other tribes too fought against the British. The Mengals fought and so did the Zehris, amongst others.

When Pakistan was announced, several tribes and Sardars decided to join because they were deceived by the slogan of Islam. But then they had to raise arms against Pakistan till a point arrived when people openly spoke of separating from Pakistan.

The British knew that they had to leave India. They had made elaborate plans to safeguard their interests long after their departure. They had to identify the people and individuals who would be useful in such an arrangement. So they sort of created a fort, a citadel to watch their interests in the form of Pakistan. We, the simple Baloch, were yoked to this scheme. The Baloch people had treaties with the British, which defined their relationship with the British Empire, and these treaties were categorically different from those contracted with other states of India. Only the British treaty with Nepal could be considered somewhat close to the one between the Baloch and the British. According to those treaties, the Baloch were supposed to regain their freedom after the departure of the British. When the Baloch were asked, they opted for freedom. Even the British recognized their right to freedom after the end of the Raj.

RR: Did Pakistan refuse to recognize this position?

KB: I am not sure. There is one version that the state of Kalat was promised independence. However, the British realized later that the Baloch were too simple and backward to properly safeguard British interests. So it was decided to annex Balochistan by force. According to some historians, Kalat remained independent for some time, perhaps months, before it was forcibly annexed by Pakistan. And that resulted in a war immediately after the departure of the British.

RR: In 1948?

KB: Yes. Agha Abdul Karim, younger brother of the Khan of Kalat, refused to accept the annexation of Kalat and went into the mountains for armed resistance. Both houses of the parliament of Kalat had decided, by an overwhelming majority, to remain independent. However, Pakistan decided to violate that decision. Then Agha Abdul Karim was brought back after some promises. He was given amnesty with an oath upon the Quran. Even that oath was not honoured. When he was returning from the mountains, he was captured on the way and imprisoned. Then came the Nawab Nauroz Khan episode. This is not the occasion to go into the details of the Nauroz Khan episode. This was followed by the NAP period. These were all different rounds of a continuous struggle. The people of Balochistan never conceded defeat. Now, the current insurgency is the fifth round of this struggle. The main reason for that is the unnatural federation among disparate peoples. The Baloch were backward and so were the Pashtuns. However, the Pashtuns also had sections of their society who had joined government services. Then there was Punjab and then some others had come from different parts of India.

The other day, a Mohajir lady came to interview me. I asked her how could she, with her background of Delhi, be a part of my nation. They were urban people and we in Balochistan were nomads. How do these two entities constitute a nation? A nation is made up of shared interests, shared economic interests, shared history and shared culture. Our union in one nation cannot be taken for granted. If we are to become one nation, we need to undertake sustained efforts to understand each other. There are enormous differences in our understanding of things. We have not adopted proper ways to forge nationhood. Nations are not built by decree, by fiat or an executive order. And when a part of the equation resists forcible cohesion, we accuse them of being traitors, enemies of Islam and the country. Different components of Pakistan were so different, so diverse, that they cannot be called a nation by default.

The events of Kalat at the very inception of this country forced many Baloch to think that they were not a party to the union or decision-making. And they were being enslaved. By and by, others began to think along the same lines. The Baloch take time to understand things.

The British believed and I would say believed correctly, that Punjab is an obedient land. Maybe Punjab’s attitude had a historical context. Invaders from the north had subjugated Punjab for too long and far too frequently. Punjab had a fertile terrain and it was called the granary of India. The people of Punjab had learnt to live with the invaders. So the British decided to train the people of Punjab as their assistants and heirs. Once we understood that situation after the events of 1948, we decided to struggle for our rights. And that struggle continues to this day. As a result we are called terrorists, wild beasts and enemies of the country.

I want to ask who defines international standards. Who creates the world order? Who forms international public opinion? America and her satellites decide the price of petrol and the fate of nations. And whosoever dares disagree is a terrorist. Human beings need to think as to who is the real terrorist: the one who kills or the one who defends his right to life, the one who cons or the one who resists being conned? It is not predetermined that a superpower is civilized and peace loving by definition. Who invented and dropped the atom bomb before any other nation had an atom bomb? That is quite akin to the parable of the lion distributing the bounty. The phrase “lion’s share” does not refer to a fair and just distribution of resources. America is the lion of the international community and then she has quite a coterie of hired servants, stooges and cronies. America has colonies all over the world apart from vast interests in technology, science and research. Whoever resists America, is being labelled as a terrorist. When Osama asks America to leave his lands, he is called a terrorist, even if Osama and those of his ilk have been working for the American interests in the past. When Mullah Omar asks America to leave Afghanistan, he is given the title of a terrorist.

The Americans have not designated the Baloch resistance as terrorism so far. However, the British are trying to be more loyal than the king and have listed the Baloch insurgency as terrorism. By what standards is the Baloch insurgent a terrorist? Is the Baloch resistance fighter trying to capture anybody’s land? He is just asking for his right to equality, dignity and his legitimate entitlement to his resources.

RR: Clearly, the Balochistan question became complicated at the very outset. And then gas was discovered at Sui (Dera Bugti) in 1952. Sui gas was used in every part of Pakistan except Balochistan, in households as well as factories. Balochistan was the last region to benefit from this facility. Even now, Sui gas is not available to all parts of Balochistan. Similarly, Balochistan has a vast range of mineral resources including oil, copper and gold. The Saindak Copper-Gold Project in Balochistan has become operational and further exploration is underway. An Australian company is working in Balochistan. Gwadar port is being constructed. Mega projects are being planned. How much share do the people of Balochistan have in the discovery and development of these resources?

KB: Currently, the lion is enjoying the lion’s share and the jackals are hovering around the corpse of Baloch resources.

RR: Is it essentially a political question? I mean the Baloch do not have political rights and consequently they do not enjoy economic rights. Are these two forms of deprivation linked to each other? For example, political rights are usurped to capture the resources and in turn the resources are exploited due to lack of political rights. How do you look at the inter-linkage of these two propositions?

KB: I am not quite clear about your question. Obviously, there is a linkage between the two. Do you want to know the precise ratio of the inter-dependence between the two?

RR: I want to know if it is inherent that the Baloch people be denied their rights so that their resources can be exploited.

KB: I believe that it is inherent. If someone wants to deprive you of your resources and employ them arbitrarily, he will have to snatch them from you.

RR: That is the exploiter does not want to let go of his share of the exploitation…?

KB: A share both as an owner or partner and more so as an owner. Even as a partner, he wants the lion’s share. The exploiter wants to have his way and throw the leftovers to the genuine owner.

RR: In today’s world, one school of thought holds that no country or region can achieve real development unless its people are a part of the process, i.e. participatory development. We have not seen any form of participatory development in Balochistan till now. Do you think that the people of Balochistan have got some benefit from the exploration of Sui gas or Gwadar port or none at all?

KB: According to my information, since Sui was closer from here (Karachi), Bugtis were brought here by air. They were brought to Karachi for medical treatment. Salaries were in the range of Rs 5-10 thousand. In any case, this was all a dole-out and not a genuine share.

RR: Is it a fact that not only have the Baloch people resisted all military operations – and we just mentioned that the current operation is the fifth of its kind — the Baloch have also tried to secure their political rights, participation in decision-making and control over their resources through the mainstream political system by participating in elections and parliament? It was especially so during 1977 to 2002 when there was peace in Balochistan. What are your comments upon that form of political struggle through democratic means?

KB: I may not be able to recall all the details. I have myself contested elections on two or three occasions. I was a member of parliament and tried that democratic option as well. I won the election in 1970 when arguably the most impartial and fair elections in the history of Pakistan were held. Awami League won the majority followed by the People’s Party. NAP formed coalition governments with JUI in two provinces. Even if the separation of East Pakistan had changed the situation a lot (and the country was in a crisis), our coalition was allowed to run the government for only nine months. After that, it was prison and the Hyderabad Tribunal. So, we tried the democratic option as well. In my opinion, the parties that came after NAP did not even have demands like those of NAP. Even so, they were kicked out sooner or later.

I believe Akhtar Mengal’s ministry was also dismissed after a short while. The Baloch were given some ministries under the tutelage of Karachi or Islamabad but they were not accepted as equal partners. The Baloch were given political employment as subjects but they were never allowed to have their rightful share in the political process.

RR: Apart from your personal participation in parliamentary and democratic politics, your sons also tried that option. The elder sons also tried it, and so did the younger ones, the latter being elected to parliament in the general elections of 2002. How was the conclusion drawn after the 2002 elections that the system was still unwilling to furnish any guarantees of rights? Was that inference behind the resurgence of militant struggle? What was the immediate reason behind the current phase of the insurgency?

KB: I do not clearly remember the situation in 2002. Some youngsters were already on the warpath and they never joined the election process. Some remained with the parliamentary process and still some others chose to leave the parliament for the mountains. My sons might have considered their father wrong, he was too impatient, naïve, wanted to fly on high, but they too found parliamentary politics a vicious circle. My sons remained with me in Afghanistan and were not inclined towards militancy. There are other young people of this generation who have opted for the mountains in the light of their own experience. They have realised that the current system can furnish them the status of agents but not that of an equal partner.

RR: I understand that the Marri tribe has a history of resistance and the Marris have played the vanguard role in each round of resistance in Balochistan. However, it is the first occasion when nearly all districts of Balochistan, including Mekran, Naushki and Jhalawan have joined the insurgency. Does that mean that, apart from the role of your family and tribe, the Baloch youngsters from other quarters too have arrived at the same conclusions?

KB: There must be solid reasons behind that realisation. This is no adventure. All segments of Baloch society, poor or rich, are part of it. I do not say that every member of every household is carrying a gun but the realisation is growing. Take into account the peculiar demographic situation of the Baloch people, the way they are divided – fragmented — amongst Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We the Baloch are divided amongst Sindh, Punjab, Iran, Frontier (NWFP) and Afghanistan…we fear that we may cease to be. We fear extinction. Especially after the demise of the USSR, the newly emerging states, with their so-called parliamentary regimes, have accepted the American influence somewhat beyond any acceptable limit. So the possibility of exploiting their resources is on the cards and the most likely route to that is through Gwadar. On the one hand, we do not have any expectations from parliamentary democracy. We know what happened with the erstwhile East Pakistan. On the other hand, we fear that imperial powers may exploit our resources as well as our geo-strategic location. We have a viable coastal asset and we do have the resources but we do not have time. We fear that we may become extinct in 25 years. Our identity will be wiped out. We have no option but to fight for our survival.

RR: Today’s world is labelled as the age of a media and information revolution. Governments too are keen to exploit the potential of the media. Media outlets, in their eagerness, sometimes transgress professional and ethical lines, intentionally or unintentionally. A few weeks ago, a sad incident took place vis-à-vis your son Balach Marri. There have been reports in the media that Akbar Bugti’s grandson, Brahmdagh Bugti had something to do with it. It was suggested that Brahmdagh Bugti had differences with Balach Marri and wanted to avenge the death of his grandfather. Then your other son, Hairbiar, has been arrested in England. As you have just said, Britain has even taken the lead over the US in stigmatising people as terrorists. Your son has been charged under laws against terrorism. Then there was a lot of talk about a prisoners’ swap before Rashid Rauf escaped. Will you enlighten us on these issues?

KB: I have been questioned about Brahmdagh earlier and I said how can he take out his own eye and blind himself? Brahmdagh called Balach his comrade and companion. I have no suspicions about Brahmdagh. There have been all sorts of rumours. Some said, Brahmdagh got Balach killed. Some others saw the hand of NATO forces in the incident. There were also rumours about the location of his death, ranging from Naushki and Kahan to Kohlu. The killers were trying to distract Balach’s family and friends. I have absolutely no doubts about Brahmdagh.

RR: And what about Hairbiar?

KB: Balach was leading the militant resistance. However, I feel that the government is quite annoyed with Hairbiar.

RR: And what do you think is the reason for this annoyance?

KB: The government believes that Hairbiar is organizing the nationalist forces in Britain, the US, the Scandinavian countries, Poland and Belgium. He has also been accused of money laundering. They believe that the Baloch resistance will need Hairbiar to replace Balach.

RR: They believe that Hairbiar is highlighting the Baloch question at international level?

KB: More than that, he is serving his people by organizing their struggle beyond their frontiers.

RR: There is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Britain. Ordinarily, prisoners cannot be swapped between the two countries. However, there were rumours that the Pakistan government was asking for Hairbiar and his companions (allegedly linked to the Balochistan Liberation Army) in exchange for Rashid Rauf (the terror suspect). Then Rashid Rauf escaped in suspicious circumstances. So the matter of the prisoners’ swap was scuttled. Do you believe that Britain will extradite Hairbiar and his companions irrespective of the changed situation?

KB: Ethical norms and legal parameters too are determined by the powerful in the modern world. Those who wield power are also the arbiters of justice. Processions are taken out at Trafalgar Square every day and the British are not bothered. The rule of law is a nice accessory of the civilized world. Protests are not the sole method of defending rights. These methods can be a pressure tactic. However, they are ineffective when the powerful decide to have their way. Protests could not stop the American aggression against Iraq. The Americans said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as if America did not have any weapons of mass destruction. Well, America was the referee and it failed to find any such weapons in Iraq. Civilized protests are ineffective in addressing deep-rooted grievances.

RR: Balochistan, perched on the Gulf, has a crucial geo-strategic position. Balochistan also has oil reserves and mineral resources. America’s interest in oil and mineral resources is quite well known. We have just discussed that the Baloch people have lost interest in the political process after repeated attempts to achieve their political and economic rights through democratic engagement. How do you see the future of Balochistan, Pakistan and the region in this context?

KB: The powerful are envisaging they will determine the future of the weak. This is the century of the white races and their stooges. I am not sure if the weak can successfully resist this flux. I am not sure if China, Russia and India can join hands at some point in future to change the current power equation. For the Baloch, this is a battle for survival. The outcome cannot be determined as yet.

RR: Will this battle continue?

KB: It should continue. Every action will bring forth a reaction. What remains to be seen is the possible strength of the reaction. To my mind, the weak, the oppressed and the exploited need to be united to achieve deliverance. This will exact a price.

RR: History tells that whenever the weak, the oppressed and the exploited joined hands, they were able to make a difference. How do you perceive the future of Balochistan and Pakistan? Are you optimistic or not?

KB: If you give up hope, you are dead. One needs to keep hope alive to live on. As you know the elections are round the corner. On the one hand we have the clamour of the weak. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the noise and the power of the regime. The weak are neither resourceful nor united at the moment. They do not trust each other either. It is not necessary that the equation remains the same forever. The opposition may try to share power with the army in Punjab and elsewhere but I do not believe that they are keen to strike a power sharing agreement with the Baloch people. That means the likelihood of our alliance is weak. We have different needs.