Malik Siraj Akbar interviewed seasoned Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, who rarely speaks to the media. In the interview, he spoke about the causes of the Baloch rebellion and the future of the nationalist movement.
Eighty-nine-year-old Nawab Khair Baksh Marri’s meaningful silence over the past many decades has been a constant source of inspiration and guidance for the armed Baloch groups. Lapsing age has not crippled Marri’s attachment to the idea of an independent Balochistan. As the head of the largest Baloch tribe, the Marris, Khair Baksh has become a legendary figure even in his lifetime. Along with late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Nawab Marri forms Islamabad’s axis of ‘three anti-development sardars in Balochistan’. Khair Baksh Marri remains a mysterious figure because of his unadulterated silence; the belief that he is, in fact, leading the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and that he is a staunch proponent of the idea of a Greater Balochistan, a free Baloch state comprising of present-day Pakistani Balochistan province and the Baloch areas controlled by Iran and Afghanistan. A rare communicator with the media, Nawab Marri recently spoke to this blog at his Karachi residence.
An ardent advocate of militant Baloch nationalism, Nawab Marri admitted being a ‘late-comer’ into politics due to the comfortable life he spent at Lahore’s Aitcheson’s College. Though the Marris were widely regarded for their aggressive battles against colonial Briton generations after generations, flamboyant Khair Baksh, the son of Meherullah Khan Marri, was indifferent towards politics in the early days of his life. It was President Ayub Khan’s gas and oil explorations in the Marri tribal areas which aroused his political consciousness. He has always been opposed to the idea of ‘outsiders’ coming to Balochistan and developing the local Baloch population.
Instead of buying the argument that the Baloch tribal chiefs are anti-development, Marri accuses the government of being simultaneously the accuser as well as the judge. Since the very inception, he had been offered ministries, the post of the governor but he spurned such offers. “If I were mad for money then I would not go to Afghanistan [on exile] or spend time in jail. I was offered all the comforts of life by successive governments. Even some people get sold in return of minor amounts. I don’t want to glorify myself, but these comforts never attracted me,” he clarified.
The white-bearded and red-skinned Marri believes that the present Balcoh movement is far more matured than the ones waged in the past. The Baloch have been under suppression of the state for the past sixty years. Every ruler, he said, tried his utmost to muzzle the dissenting Baloch voice. Today, the Baloch have, nonetheless, become cognizant of their future. One can see maturity in Baloch politics, the guerilla warfare-tactics and availability of more information.
“Our movement has constantly been making headway. We are unlikely to compromise on anything less than the freedom of the Baloch nation. We are optimistic to achieve our goals, though gradually,” said the veteran nationalist leader.
The hardliner Baloch said none of the present day political parties in Balochistan qualified as a true ‘Baloch nationalist party’ because they did not have what it took to be ‘a true son of the soil’. In his views, when the Baloch parties begin operating like the Tamil Tigers, Hamas or the Irish Republican Army (IRA) then they truly qualify as nationalist parties. The only force in Balochistan which today qualifies as a nationalist more than the others is the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
“I am pleased with the BLA. It expresses the desire of the oppressed people. They (the BLA) are truer and ‘better sons of the soil’ than many others because they are sacrificing their lives for the Baloch freedom,” he remarked, adding that the Balochistan National Party (BNP) of Sardar Akhtar Mengal was merely a political party but it was not right to bill it as a Baloch ‘nationalist’ party. “The BNP only talks of Balochistan, which is today a province of Pakistan, while a nationalist party should speak of Baloch people as a whole. Baloch live in Iran and Afghanistan as well. How can you ignore them and only talk of the rights of a Baloch land controlled by Pakistan?”
When Marri was asked how he would respond to the impression that he was the real man behind Balochistan’s armed movement, he retorted with a loud laughter: Why are you asking me to confess my guilt at this old age? If I were younger, I would not be sitting and giving you an interview. I have always said that the real fighters are the ones who are doing it with weapons. I wish I were younger so that I would go straight to the hill and fight for the Baloch cause.
“Baloch are a big nation. We are fighting for Baloch national liberation. We want a Baloch state which is not dependent and subservient to any other nation. Within the Baloch, some people are fighting on the political front who believe that they can achieve their goals by participating in parliamentary politics but I subscribe to the other school of thought which talks of independence and supports the armed groups.”
Citing his immaturity and lack of political sagacity at an earlier age, a disappointed Marri said now he regretted his participation in parliamentary politics on the platform of the National Awami Party (NAP) as it did not yield any fruits in terms of achieving the rights of his people.
Marri was asked if he would agree to talk to the government provided that all Baloch forces, including the BLA, nominated him as their chief negotiator for talks with Islamabad, he moved his thumbs down (meaning no way would he talk to Islamabad). Immediately, however, he said if the BLA viewed him as the elder of the Baloch nation and asked him to sit on their behalf to talk to Islamabad then he would present his terms and conditions. When asked what those terms and conditions were, he replied with a single term: Punjabis must vacate Balochistan.
“The others issues are all domestic which could be discussed later on but the foremost thing is that Punjabis should quit Balochistan… I can coexist with a pig but not with a Punjabi,” he revealed, explaining, “The Punjabis view the Baloch as a very inferior people. They think we are not competitive in any domain of life. They say the Baloch can’t fly an airplane. Thus, they justify their involvement in our maters by saying that they want to develop us. I keep asking who the hell they are to develop us. We are the masters of our land. Who are you to come and teach us? If we can’t fly an airplane today, we will learn it after ten years. If we don’t have qualified doctors today, we will have them tomorrow. But this does not provide you an excuse to exploit our resources on the name of development.”
Alluding to a recent meeting of his with the recently released Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Nawab Marri said he had asked Mengal to identify the ‘mother issue’ before the Baloch people due to which the Baloch were regularly going to jail. According to Nawab Marri, Mengal said if step “A” was taken then the men fighting in the mountains would give up arms. “I don’t think they [Sardar Akhtar Mengal and his father, Sardar Attaullah Mengal] have magical powers to disarm the men in the hills. The BNP does not have a majority on the mountains. God knows it is not the BNP giving arms, shoes, support and money to those fighting in the mountains. I asked Akhtar Jan to stop beating drums. We should know what we are fighting for.”
Nawab Marri, whose well-known hobby of cockfighting has somewhat been replaced by internet browsing these days, explained the reasons for Baloch distrust with the Federation of Pakistan. “Here, we are ruled by a class which does not recognize logic, history, ground realities, democracy. The only language it knows is that of violence and brute force,” he maintained, “The Baloch claim ownership on their land and the state does not accept our logic. Our ancestors have been living on this land for ages. They faced hardships and poverty but did not quit their land. Now, the rulers come to us and say they want to develop us. They want to populate our cities. Our argument is: Can’t we develop ourselves? When the State can’t respond logically to our commonsensical stance, it resorts to use of force. Even the supporters of democracy should see that the just demand of the Bengalis was not conceded by this state despite all logical arguments supporting them. On top of it, they say the Baloch are rebels, getting money from the outside world.”
According to Marri tribal chief, a number of internal as well as external factors have heavily contributed to the failure of the Baloch movement(s) to successfully achieve all targeted goals: Internally, the Baloch living in Iran and Afghanistan were not politically as mature as their Pakistani counterparts. “Some Baloch are oblivious of their freedom. They have sold their loyalties in return of minor amounts, ministries, and other facilities. Now there is an effort being made by the State to present the fake representatives as the real preventatives of the people… These people (referring to Balochistan governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and chief minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani) were born in Baloch households but they have become the salaried men of Pakistan. They do not act like Baloch.”
On the external front, Nawab Marri said the Baloch movement was being suppressed by ‘colonial America’ which was following the footsteps of England. “The US wants the people world over to be subservient. The kind of damage the external forces have caused to the movements of smaller nations has no parallel in the world,” he said. Giving the example of the Gwadar Port, Marri said the very idea of excluding the Baloch in the development process was the brainchild of the United States. “Give them a share,” was what the Americans told the government of Pakistan because “they are opposed to freedom. We have warned the US that you can’t win guerrilla warfare. Therefore, you should not involve yourself, regardless of the fact how fair or unfair a war is. Baloch people will not suffice with a ‘share’ we want ownership on our land, resources and our sovereignty.”
Replying to a question as to which of the old comrades of the Baloch movement he remembered the most, an old Marri suddenly busted into tears. “I remember those who sacrificed their lives for the Baloch land,” Marri referred to his son Nawabzada Balaach Marri, the suspected head of the BLA, who was killed last November in mysterious circumstances. There was complete silence for around three to five minutes. Then he resumed, “In the past, we often used to say that the Baloch are very brave men. They do not cry. But sometimes pain becomes so prickly that tears naturally come out– even sometimes in public.”
Another son of Nawab Marri, Nawabzada Harbayar Marri, was arrested last December by the police in London on the charges of possessing illegal weapons; he was released on April 17 this year. In addition, the government of Balochistan froze the bank accounts of Nawab Marri and his sons. On July 10, 2007, the Intentional Police (Interpol) on the request of the Balochistan police issued the Red warrants of five sons of Nawab Marri, namely Hamza Marri, Zamari Marri, Harbayar Marri, Gazeen Marri and Balach Marri.
Squinting at his past, Marri, who is currently the topmost Baloch political and tribal leader, said he wished he was remembered in the history as a real son of the soil. Though some Marris consider themselves as the vanguard of Baloch rights, Khair Baksh Marri says he is not contended with his contributions. “I occasionally feel ashamed of not having done enough for the Baloch land. What my children and I have done so far is a minor contribution. We are all indebted to the land.”
Listen to the audio version of this interview here: https://vimeo.com/100878393