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The War on the Baloch: An Interview with Meerain Baloch

Qalandar Bux Memon: It has been widely acknowledged that the Pakistani establishment has used right-wing Sunni jihadi organisations as a way to counter Baloch insurgents, who are secularist in their philosophies. Would you agree with this statement, and what examples are there of the complicity between jihadis and the state? 

Meerain Baloch – Yes, that is exactly the case. Now that the Pakistani establishment has realized that they are unable to defeat Baloch freedom forces via the traditional military and quasi-military channels, they have opted for the right wing groups that they have been breeding and grooming for the last 60 or so years. Madrassas have been opened where schools should have been; mosques have been built and manned by mullahs that been empowered with authority to counter the traditional Baloch secular leadership; Tablighis have been facilitated and given tacit encouragment to recruit Balochis of all ages into their ranks, in order to further radicalize Baloch society. 

The tacit endorsement of jihadi outfits by the Pakistani state becomes quite clear when we note the manner in which these outfits in question have been facilitated when natural disasters have hit the region, the latter of which I will list: the June 2007 flash flood that struck District Kech, leaving thousands homeless overnight, their fields, houses and shops washed away; the wave of floods that hit the districts of Jhal Magsi, Naseerabad and Jaffarabad in 2010, 2012 and 2013, leaving these districts in the same conditions as Kech in 2007. The damage in 2012 alone was estimated at 18 billion rupees. On April 16 2013, a devastating earthquake struck the parts of Balochistan that border with Iran and Pakistan. In the district of Washuk alone more than 3,000 homes were destroyed, leaving about 19,000 people without shelter. The provincial government’s reported response to the plight of the people of Washuk was the provision of about 60 tents for the people of Washuk, and nothing more. 

In each of the aforementioned disasters, foreign humanitarian aid was blocked. Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) was denied access to provide help to the victims, and repeated offers of help by the United Nations Organisation were refused – all on the grounds that the Pakistani Government was taking care of things, and that they did not need help. This was, as you can imagine, far from the case, as people were helpless and found themselves not being provided substantial support. Instead, the Pakistani state allowed radical Islamic organisations – such as the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (Lashkar-e-Taibaa/Jamaatud Dawa) and Al-Khidmat Foundation (Jamaat-i-Islami) – into these afflicted areas. The reason for doing so was fairly transparent – desperate people in dire need of vital and basic necessitates are more likely to change their consciousness towards radicalism. Locals have informed me that at present there are more graffitied slogans of these organisations than there are buildings and even trees in these disaster-struck locales. 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)’s team, headed by Zahra Yusuf, visited Quetta earlier this month on a fact finding mission. The HRCP later issued a report in which it expressed great concern in regards to federal government policies that allowed and endorsed the injection of Islamic militant groups into Balochistan, in order to count secular Baloch nationalist forces. The report stated that an outfitted affiliated with Daesh (ISIS), Lashkar-e Khorasan, has been given the task of eliminating Balochi pro-freedom groups, under the pretext of providing humanitarian aid to earthquake and flood victims. The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch and his accomplice Mir Hasil Bizenjo (the president and vice-president of the National Party, respectively) have on numerous occasions admitted to the presence of ISIS and its affiliated outfits in the region. What the two will not admit to is that the state that the represented created and supports these extremist groups. The Baloch National Movement (BNM), however, has sent a letter to the Secretary General of United Nations expressing great concern upon the government patronage of religious outfits such as Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Jaish-e Muhammadi, Furqan al-Islam, Jamiat al-Dawa, Lashkar-e Khorasan, among others. 

These groups and their allies have found recruitment to be easily facilitated by the huge and ever growing  network of tablighi activities and madrassa schools.  

Some regions of Balochistan, such as Panjgur and parts of Turbat, are literally under the control of jihadi groups that are able to operated openly and impunity, with checkpoints on main roads checking passing vehicles for Baloch activists and members of the Zikri Baloch community. Rather than accepting the demands of the Baloch people, the State of Pakistan are giving Daesh (ISIS) free rein in Balochistan. Pakistan is playing a dangerous game that will not bode well for anyone. 

 QBM: Who are the Zikris? How have they historically been treated, and why are they under attack?  

MB: The Zikri are Baloch that on the whole speak Balochi with some Brahui speakers, and largely reside in the Kech district, and that identity as belong to Sufi Islam. The Zikri emerged in the 16th century in Kech (now Turbat), Makran. Some non-native scholar claim that the Zikri follow Syed Mohammad Junpuri, but this has been denied by the Zikri themselves, asserting that their Imam Mahdi was of a later period than that of Junpur. They say that Syed Junpur never came to Balochistan, and thus could not be the one who spent ten years and died in Turbat. They believe that  Imam Mahdi was the last Imam, with handwritten Zikri records claiming that he was born in 977 AH. The Zikri pray zikr five times a day instead of numaz, and visit  Koh-e Murad in Turbat each year on the 27th of Ramdan. Koh-e Murad is a hillock few miles south of Turbat town, and is believed by the Zikri to be where Imam Mahdi had spent the last years of his life praying and propagating his faith. It is their ziarat and they perform ziarat at this place. 

The Zikri Baloch have been persecuted ever since, with the first major massacre or attempted genocide occuring in the time of Mir Naseer Khan Noori ( the Khan of Kalat from 1758 until his death in 1794). Thousands of Zikri were executed by the Khan. People would be shoved into huts with the entrances and exits barred, and spared if they accepted Sunni Islam. If they refused, however, the huts would be set on fire, with people inside burning to death. Very few Zikri survived those massacres, but enough did survive. Under the British they lived a fairly peaceful life, but some Zikri found themselves targeted in Iran-occupied Balochistan by Sunni clergymen. Some families migrating from western to eastern Balochistan where the British provided them with relative protection. Partition and the creation of the state of Pakistan, however, led to the Zikris Baloch being persecuted in the name of religion once more, with the occupation of Balochistan by the Pakistani army. Since then, Sunni mullahs have repeatedly made attempts to declare Zikris kafirs or non-Muslims. Baloch nationalist forces have generally thwarted such attempts, however, by providing protection to the Zikri Baloch, whom they consider guardians of Baloch national values. 

The declaration of Ahmedis or Qadianis as non-Muslim saw Zikris come under attack as well, but they survived thanks to Baloch nationalist support. This happened again in the period of General Zia’s martial rule. For as long as Pakistan has been in existence the Zikris have thus far survived numerous attacks on their lives and properties, with things getting worse over time. Should Baloch nationalist forces be weakened and defeated, as a matter of fact, then Zikris would be for the most part defenceless against Sunni fundamentalism, and declared non-Muslim. 

Zikris came under attack during Bhutto’s period when Qadianis were declared non-Muslim but they survived with support of Baloch nationalist. In General Zia’s period again Baloch nationalist forces came to rescue them. Though they have so far survived being declared as non-Muslim there have been off and on attacks on their lives and properties and things are again getting worse for them. In fact, if Baloch nationalists are weakened then Zikris will be declared as non-Muslim and systematically attacked by Sunni fundamentalism. 

The past decade of the Baloch struggle for freedom has seen Zikri Baloch youth present on the forefront of the struggle; Raza Jahangir, Imdad Bujer, Ilyas Nizar and many more  were Zikris that laid their lives for the freedom of Balochistan, and many more are joining the struggle every day. It is because of this solidarity that Pakistan and the jihad groups that it supports and cultivates are targeting the Zikri Baloch , who make up one-third of the population of Makran. The state of Pakistan aims to terrorise the Zikri and marginalise them, to remove them from mainstream Makrani life, and thus isolate this support base from the Baloch movement. To this end jihadi groups such as the  Lashkar-e Khorasan have been targeting Zikris in Gwarkop, Dasht, Gresha, Awaran, Mashky and Khuzdar. The Zikri in many places are trapped within their villages by these groups that also control the roads coming in and out of these areas, manning checkpoints. Should they come across anyone that can be identified as being a member of the Zikri population, they are known to kill them. Some Zikri have no access to basic facilities for their survival, and local shopkeepers have been warned to not sell anything to Zikris, on the threat of beheading.  

QBM-?Raza Jahangir was a Secretary General of the Baloch Student Oganisation (Azad) and was murdered by the state agencies. His father, too, was recently murdered by right-wing jihadis. Could you tell us about Raza?? What did he study?? When was he picked up? By whom?? Also, how was his father killed?  

MB –  Jahangir was a pro-freedom activist and a leader of the BSO-AZAD, born in a village called Teertej. He received his early education in District Awaran and got his Bachelor’s degree from Atta Shad Degree College of Turbat. He went to Quetta for further studies and got his?diploma in?electronics from?the Polytechnical?College Quetta. He successfully gained admission at the University of Balochistan and received a Master’s Degree in International Relations.  He then became Secretary General of Baloch Student Organisation (Azad). 

In August 2013 he had come to Turbat for a party meeting, and stayed with one of his political colleagues, Imdad Bujer, at his house in Asbor, Turbat. On August 14 They were both murdered in cold blood when the Frontier Constabulary attacked Imad Bujer’s home. The house itself was partially destroyed by mortars fired at the house. On August 28 2014, Raza Jahangir’s father, Mr. Baktiar, was killed in the Zikrkhana in Teertej. Mr. Baktiar, a simple non-political man who earned his bread by working as a daily labourer and was illiterate, died along with six others when masked and armed men attacked the Zikrkhana during evening prayers.  

QBM-?Could you tell us about the history of Baloch Student Organisation (Azad)? 

MB-  The BSO-A was founded by Dr. Allah Nazar (now leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front) in Turbat, Kech, on January 22, 2002. Dr. Allah Nazar remained Chairman of the BSO-A until March 15 2003. The BSO-A denounced parliamentary politics, and declared that as Balochistan was an occupied nation, the only to get back Baloch rights was through Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan and Iran.  

At a press conference held on March 15, 2003, Dr. Allah Nazar and Shaeed Hameed announced the merging of BSO-A to BSO Star, with Malik Baloch nominated as BSO Chairman until May 2004 On May 11 Dr. Imdad Baloch was nominated as BSO-A Chairman in the council session held in Pangur. On March 25, 2005, Dr. Imdad Baloch along with other leaders of the organisation – Dr Allah Nizar, Dr Naseem, Dr Yousuf, Ghulam Rasool and their friends Akther Nadeem and Ali Nawaz – were abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies and tortured. From 2006 to 2011 Basheer Zeb was elected Chairman of BSO-A, succeeded by Zahid Baloch aka Baloch Khan – unfortunately  Zahid Baloch was kidnapped by Pakistan security forces on March 18, 2014. The BSO-A is now headed by Banuk Karima Baloch.  

The BSO-A has suffered the brunt of Pakistan’s “Kill and Dump” policy, in which over a hundred activists have gone missing, with dozens of mutilated bodies recovered so far. 

It must be pointed out that though BSO-A and the BNM both struggle for a free and independent Balochistan, they are non-militant organisations – unarmed political parties whose joint aim is to create a free Balochistan through peaceful political means. If any members of these organisations has joined armed groups, they have done so by their personal decision and not through a decision of these organizations.  

As mentioned before they consider Balochistan to be an occupied country, taken by force under the barrel of guns on March 27, 1948, and kept under occupation since then with the help of the massive use of brute force. As long as Balochistan’s occupation by Pakistan and Iran continues, the Baloch people will not have their political and economic rights. These organisations also oppose any mega projects in Balochistan, as they believe that this will change the demographic situation of Balochistan and turn Baloch into a minority in their historic homeland. 

QBM- Jihadhi groups have also threatened schools in various areas. The government of Dr. Malik promised to provide protection for schools and students, but have has it done so? How would you access Dr. Malik in relation to jihadhi organisations: Has the National Party tried to take them on? After all, the National Party has Left and secular roots  (if only in name). 

MB –  Yes, jihadi groups have attacked schools in the region, targeting girls education in particular. The government of Balochistan under Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch has not tackled the situation at all, and has not even offered any lip service, other than a hollow assurance of providing protection to these schools. The reality on the ground is that private educational institutions in Panjgur, for instance, were shut down by force by a little-known Islamic group by the name of al-Furqan. Despite visiting Panjgur and making promises to re-open these schools at any cost, Dr. Malik Baloch’s Health Minister from Punjgur, Mir Rahmat Saleh, went on holiday to Holland and Belgium, with Dr. Malik as quiet as the grave on the matter. Dr. Malik Baloch continues to assure the people of protection to schools and towards girls’ education in Panjgur, but those schools remain closed to this day.  

Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch promised many things before he came to power, but now he speaks the language of the troublemakers that created this mess in Balochistan. Dr. Malik knowns that the day he utters a single true word for the Baloch people will be his last day, and so he and his entourage shut their mouths when it Baloch’s issues, but will justify state atrocities in Balochistan. He has not changed things for the better, and thus things will not change for Balochistan. 

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