Baluch liberation leader
Story and photos by Karlos Zurutuza. Reposted from the
Spanish original at gara.net
August 11, 2010
"Pakistan has not won
any of its wars, but it's been brutal to the people
living under its boot."
On the 63rd anniversary of
Baluchistan's declaration of independence,
Hayrbyar Marri, a prominent leader of the Baluch cause,
speaks in an exclusive interview about one of the world's
most forgotten conflicts. "There is only one point
to negotiate with Pakistan—insists Marri—and
that's the unconditional withdrawal of all occupation
Mr. Marri's manner is slow and reserved and he stares
directly into the eyes of his interviewer. One may feel
somewhat uncomfortable initially, but soon realizes that
his attitude is not defiant, rather it reflects
the style of traditional Baluch
leadership. In fact, we've seen him smile before the
interview when he told us about his recent fatherhood,
and again when he expressed regret over not having brought
a certain copy of the New
York Times along—the
very one that announced Baluchistan's
declaration of independence 63 years ago today.
||"There is only one point to negotiate
with Pakistan—insists Marri—and that's the unconditional withdrawal of all occupation forces."
Today we meet 63 years after the Declaration of Independence of Balochistan (Pakistan-controlled). Is there anything to celebrate?
Our land was independent for seven months until it was occupied by Pakistan
in March 1948. Since then we've been the victims of a genocide in slow motion,
a process of extermination that has left our language, culture and identity
in danger of extinction. If we add to this that we are divided by three countries
(Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan), then we're
speaking of a people struggling for their mere survival.
Both Islamabad and Tehran claim that the Baluch
tribal leaders themselves are responsible for the underdevelopment
in the region. What do you think of these statements?
It's always the same old rhetoric: “the Baluch
is a tribal society opposed to any kind of progress." But
which development are we talking about? At what cost?
Is the constant bombing of Baluch villages, the thousands
displaced, the missing…is
that the way to bring progress to our region? Pakistan
steals 90% of the wealth of our land while families still
cook with firewood and dung beneath gas reservoirs that
feed the kitchens of Punjab. That, and not the other
claim, is the reality of our people.
Zardari, however, has recognized the neglect
in Baluchistan and supported a series of packages
to rectify this situation…
I will give two familiar examples: both Washington and
London are investing huge sums of money in rebuilding
Iraq and Afghanistan. It is undeniable that both countries
have been invaded, but at the same time, the occupying
forces have set a deadline for their withdrawal. In our
case, the occupation comes from Pakistan who, unfortunately,
has no intention of withdrawing. Yes, Islamabad also
tries to "buy" us with jobs in coal mines
or gas plants. Unfortunately, people do not realize that
all that gas, all those resources, belong to themselves.
Baluch coalitions such as the BNP favour the
right to self-determination for their people, an option
you've always firmly rejected.
Why is that?
It is impossible to change anything through parliamentary
politics as our representation in Islamabad is minimal
and the country is controlled by the army and secret
services. BNP's parliamentary politics is just another
form of collaboration with a state that oppresses us.
The mere claim for self-determination simply justifies
the illegal occupation of our people by Pakistan. Self-determination
would only be a valid path if Balochistan had integrated
voluntarily in Pakistan, but that is not the case.
Would you be ready to negotiate with Islamabad at a given moment?
If the Baluch people elected me as their legal representative,
I'd only negotiate on a single point: the unconditional
withdrawal of all occupation forces in Balochistan.
It would never be a political negotiation. Until then,
our people have the right to defend themselves.
is impossible to change anything through parliamentary
politics as our representation in Islamabad is
minimal and the country is controlled by the army
and secret services. BNP's parliamentary politics
is just another form of collaboration with a state
that oppresses us."
Baloch children in Quetta holding portraits of
Hayrbyar Marri and his father, Khair Bakhsh Marri.
Pakistan has 600,000 troops supported by a
powerful war machine. What are your options?
When one Baluch dies in combat I feel the pain, but
at the same time, I always think it wasn't
in vain. Thanks to them, our people are becoming aware
of their own identity. The insurgency is gaining momentum,
even in regions such as Makran (southern Baluchistan)
and other areas that never rose up in past decades.
We have all witnessed how smaller
nations than our own have achieved freedom in recent
times. It's not the enemy's power but the legitimacy
of our struggle that matters. We've been deprived
of our rights for over 60 years within the boundaries
of an artificial state. Can there possibly be something
more absurd than a country "built for Muslims"?
There are dozens of Muslim countries in the world. Why
don´t they all integrate in Pakistan? Pakistan
is a corrupt state that survives solely on international
aid; it cannot sustain itself over time. Sooner or
later it will crumble. Pakistan has not won even one
of their wars, but it has been brutal to the people living
under its boot. Nonetheless, I do not seek the disintegration
of Pakistan, but the independence of my people.
The Baluchs have often denounced the so called "Talibanization" of
Baluchistan in the hands of Islamabad. Do you agree
with such statement?
This is yet another side of the process of assimilation to which we are subjected.
The purpose of this is to dilute our national identity through the Deobandi doctrines
sponsored by both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Fortunately, the Baluch are, and
have always been, moderate Muslims or secular, far away from the fundamentalism
that attempts to take root in Balochistan as it did in Afghanistan. But the danger
is still there. Today it is almost impossible to control regions as small as
Swat and Waziristan so imagine the scale of the disaster if the Taliban are ever
able to expand into an area which occupies over 40% of Pakistan.
Now that you mention it, to what extent is the
future of the Baluch linked to the war in Afghanistan?
The problem is that today the whole region is infested by jihadist groups controlled
by Pakistan. If Islamabad manages to complete its agenda in Afghanistan, the
consequences will be dire, and not only for the Baluch but for the West too.
During the Cold War, Pakistan aligned with the West and played a crucial role
in episodes like the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Nobody cared then
about our suffering and, unfortunately, it seems that the trend remains very
much the same. We´ve suffered this aggression for decades without anyone
out there to listen. Musharraf and his generals should be tried for "crimes
against humanity" by international courts. Moreover, the International Community
should recognize our legitimate struggle against this illegal occupation and
act accordingly, before it is too late.
Many Baluch believe that the UN can play
a crucial role in the prosecution of the crimes that
you've denounced. What do you think?
There´s no doubt about it but the UN also needs
to be restructured. Stateless nations like the Tamils,
the Kurds or the Basques have no voice in the UN. Pakistan-occupied
to be a legal part of an internationally recognised country.
It is unfair that the UN recognizes the legitimacy of
a state which occupied our land six decades ago.
Zurutuza is a freelance correspondent and writes in Basque,
Spanish and English. He´s been awarded with the
Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti Reporting Award 2009 for highlighting
the Baloch struggle in diferent newspapers and magazines.