(Part I of a two part series)
Hyrbyair Marri is a Baloch nationalist activist and one of the most influential members of the Baloch community. He currently lives in London, UK. The fifth son of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Hyrbair Marri is the founder of Free Balochistan Movement (FBM), a political party working towards the goal of an Independent Balochistan.
In an online interview, I spoke to him about Balochistan’s freedom struggle, the BLA, China’s presence, expectations from India, and sovereignty and nationhood in South Asia. Excerpts:
When and why did you leave Balochistan?
In December 1999, I was visiting London for some personal work, when [Gen. Pervez] Musharraf slapped charges of murder of Judge Nawaz Marri against me and my family. By murdering a member of our tribe and charging us with it, they tried to kill two birds with one stone.
The main reason however was that previously they had approached my father [the late Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri] with a proposal to explore gas and petroleum reserves in the Marri tribal area of Balochistan, which we had rejected. The land and its wealth belong to the Balochs and these false murder charges were their reaction to our rejection.
They arrested over 500 people, mostly from the Marri tribe, and jailed my father for 18 months. It was a collective punishment, politically motivated for economic gains. The case is still going on; it’s been 21 years and the ‘speedy’ courts of Pakistan as they call them have still not passed judgement.
Meanwhile, they lodged and dropped about 2-3 dozen cases against me. This was blackmail – they would lodge a case, then I would get requests for reconciliation and return to Balochistan, offering me a [government] position and political standing. I would refuse.
They issued an Interpol red notice against me and in London, tried me in an anti-terrorism court. Pakistan has tried hard through blackmail and threats, but thankfully, I still stand for my cause, our freedom, our rights, and our community, and continue working for them.
So, in the last two decades you have not returned to Pakistan?
I have nothing to do with Pakistan. I am native to Balochistan, and if I go, I will go to Balochistan. So, no, I haven’t been to Balochistan after 1999.
There are many militant organisations in Balochistan fighting for its independence. Why has the US proscribed only the BLA?
Around 1996-1997, when the call and efforts for independence picked steam, it was BLA who organised everyone and worked for Balochistan’s independence. Pakistanis fear BLA’s grassroots connect and local support. In early 2000s, they got Britain to proscribe BLA.
During US-Taliban negotiations, one of the points on the agenda was to ban BLA.
Both Pakistanis and Americans acknowledged this. Pakistan pushed its agenda through Taliban;Taliban became Pakistan’s mouthpiece and pressurized the US. Also, Zalmay Khalilzad (US Special Envoy to Afghanistan) stated that the Balochs must not be supported. The truth is, Balochs are not being supported. If they were, by Americans or Afghans, things would move ahead.
At that time, I had tweeted to the Americans to not heed the Taliban. However, the US ignored us – a secular, tolerant organisation created for Balochistan’s defence and not against any language, community, or religion. Instead it chose to listen to the Taliban, the exact opposite, who is against different languages and communities, who kills a Tajik for being a Tajik, Shia for being a Shia, Hindus and Christians for their religions.
The US listened to Pakistani generals, who take their money and along with the Taliban, kill their soldiers, and ultimately proscribed the BLA. This is unfortunate and they will suffer in the long term.
One of the main reasons why Balochistan’s struggle lacks international coverage is because it is scattered and the Balochs don’t have a leader like Mahatma Gandhi who would unite all Balochs in one solid front. What do you think about this?
The enemy [Pakistani establishment] has created this disunity. In the process, they have spent billions of dollars and bribed people with land and powerful positions, just like the British used India’s wealth and people to keep Indians as slaves for two centuries.
Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t the only leader in Indian history. He was one of the leaders; Bhagat Singh, Subhashchandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru were there too. The culmination of their efforts plus World War II, and not Gandhi alone, won India its independence.
Some cracks are created by the enemy, some unfortunately are our own. Some external actors see that Balochistan is big and strategic, and sow seeds of friction in Baloch minds. When Indian politicians and journalists start using divisive terms such as “common Baloch” and “elite Baloch”, they are indirectly and unwittingly helping the Punjabis [read: Pakistani establishment] create more cracks within the Baloch community.
I would ask my Indian friends to not export the concept of ‘common’ and ‘elite’ to our community. Baloch society has a different social fabric and lifestyle – please understand it first. We are occupied by Iran and Pakistan and common or elite, we are all slaves of Iranians and Punjabis. Why would you bring out such differences if both are slaves and both are struggling?
Also, this is a freedom struggle; we are not bringing about a social revolution – Russian or Chinese Communist – here.
Would a non-violent struggle for an independent Balochistan have been more effective?
Was our independence snatched away peacefully? Or was it done using tanks, jets, and bullets, causing heavy destruction? If the takeover had been peaceful, we would have thought of peaceful solutions.
We are not using violence – we don’t want it, and we have never used it against anyone. But there is a clause in international law which gives one the right to defend oneself. The US resorted to pre-emptive strikes in Iraq when they didn’t even know if Iraq possessed WMDs or not.
They also took action in Afghanistan. With big countries, it’s self-defence and acceptable, but with smaller, weaker communities like the Balochs, it’s violence and crime. Balochs are against violence, but we reserve our right to self-defence to save our lives and livelihoods.
Read Part II of the two-part series here.
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Mark Kinra is a corporate lawyer by profession and geopolitical analyst at heart. He primarily works on South Asia, specializing in Pakistan.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.