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Exile Voices

reposted from The News Sunday.

By Murtaza Ali Shah

"We are only against Punjabi-military elite"

Hyrbyair Marri, a former minister in the Balochistan provincial assembly and Faiz Baloch, a Baloch human rights activists were arrested for allegedly committing acts of terrorism "wholly or partly outside the UK" from West London on Dec 7, 2007. Both were acquitted of all charges last month, after the British government decided not to pursue the charges anymore and the democratically elected government of Pakistan People's Party wrote to the British Court stating it wanted to withdraw the case.

The News on Sunday spoke exclusively to Hyrbyair Marri who lives permanently in London with his family and is believed to be the political heir of his father and respected national leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri. Soft-spoken and charming but fierce and hardened to the core in his views, he has lately emerged as the frontline Baloch leader.

Murtaza Ali Shah

The News on Sunday: When and why did you choose to leave Pakistan?

Hyrbyair Marri: I left Pakistan at the end of 1999 for holiday in Europe. I had plans to return to Pakistan but on Jan 7, 2000 Justice Nawaz Marri was assassinated in Balochistan and false cases were registered against my father Khair Bakh Marri, my brothers Ghazan, late Balach, and Mehran and myself. It was alleged that we had shot the judge. Ironically, when the unfortunate murder happened, I was in London with Mehran and Balach while Ghazan was in Karachi. Only Humza Marri was in Quetta. The FIR was actually registered two days prior to the murder. After Musharraf took over, he sent me messages through emissaries that his government wanted to explore oil and gas in our area and thought I will be able to convince my father to agree. I was offered huge bribes but I told Musharraf we cannot agree to any exploration that will not benefit Baloch people. We had the example of Sui before us. The Sui gas never benefited Bugtis or the Baloch people.

TNS: How would you sum up your main grievances against Pakistan?

HM: There are so many that I don't know where to begin. Pakistan has stamped over all kinds of international law in the case of Balochistan. Crimes against humanity have been committed in Balochistan. Our sovereignty was violated on March 23, 1948 when Pakistani tanks rolled in. Khan of Kalat's palace was taken over and the whole province was run over. We were intimidated into signing the treaty of accession. The attitude of Punjabi elite towards Baloch people has been that of master and slave. They are so arrogant that they don't even consider us humans. We have been treated as salves in our own homeland.

There have been massacres, ethnic cleansings and ethnic flooding into Balochistan of non-Balochs to make us a minority. The repression forced Baloch people to wage insurgencies five times over. Khan of Kalat was not allowed to return to his homeland for 17 years. Was that fair?

I want to make it clear here that we are not against Punjabis or any other ethnic groups. It is our rights to stand for our distinguished culture and rich heritage and say that we want equality and betterment for our people.

TNS: With so much grudge, why did you become a part of the government?

HM: I won vote and became minister. That is the proof that we wanted to give Pakistan a chance and thought things will improve but I was proven wrong. Later, Balach fought elections and won but gave up his seat.

TNS: What geography do you have in mind for a hypothetical independent Balochistan? Does it include Iran and Afghan parts as well?

HM: When I speak for Balochs, I speak for the Baloch people wherever they are. But when I speak for independence, it's for the part occupied by Pakistan. I do sympathise with the Iranian and Afghan parts as well and they should be given due rights. I would support them in their struggle.

It's a tragedy that Balochs have been divided in systematic way by the British. Their obsession with Russian influence and their own interests in the region led them to hand out Baloch land here and there.

TNS: Can an independent Balochistan survive as a viable state?

HM: I think its survival as an independent entity is beyond any doubt. We have got the natural resources, the sea; we can survive much better than any other country. It's our wealth which is driving the engine of Pakistan. Our wealth is being exploited by Pakistani elite to benefit Punjab. Almost 80 percent of Punjab's industry is being run on Sui gas from Balochistan. However, I am not sure if Pakistan will survive without Balochistan's wealth.

TNS: Tells us about the terrorism charges levelled against you and incarceration in UK's Belmarsh prison?

HM: There were altogether five charges against me and my friend Faiz Baloch. These were incitement to commit an act of terror; collecting information of a kind likely to be used to terrorist purpose; possession of an article for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism; and preparation of terrorist acts. An additional charge against me was for the possession of a prohibited weapon (basically it was a spray gas canister). These cases were fabricated.

I am aghast that Britain colluded so much with Pakistan. Only after I was arrested I knew the extent of surveillance and investigation that not only my movements were being recorded but my friends all over the world were stopped and asked about me on airports. One of my friends was kidnapped in Dubai and taken to Pakistan for interrogation and held there for three months. He was asked to sack me from his consultancy firm.

I know that Pakistan was using the war on terror to ask Britain to extradite me, my brother Mehran Baloch and four other exiled Balochs. In exchange Pakistan was to extradite Rashid Rauf, wanted in connection with the airline terror plot but now believed to be killed in a US drone attack.

That I was persecuted in world's oldest democracy in this manner is astonishing. I am glad that the British courts threw out all charges due to lack of evidence. We knew through our friends in Islamabad that high level delegations, including Aftab Sherpao and few others, were visiting Britain to negotiate the arrest and deportation of myself and Mehran.

The prison strengthened our resolve. I got more time to reflect on my life and work and I hope my resolve has become stronger and I will never go back on my position of an independent Balochistan.

TNS: How do you see the future of non-Balochs in Balochistan, especially Pashtuns and Punjabis?

HM: First of all, we are not an ethnic group. We are a nation with centuries-old history, culture and traditions. It is to tarnish our name that we are called an ethnic group. We believe everybody should be treated as equal citizens of Balochistan. We are not against any nationality. We are against those who are diluting our culture.

TNS: Some reports say the recent killings of three nationalist Baloch leaders (Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch) have something to do with the spoils as a result of the release of UN official John Solecki?

HM: Look who is spreading these news. There is no evidence to support this claim. No bounty was paid to anyone. This is a blatant lie and it's a [character] assassination campaign against 'Proud Baloch' character. Security agencies are behind such rumours to divert attention from the brutal murders. I believe they were killed because of their political beliefs.

TNS: Rehman Malik said on television your role was crucial in the release of John Solecki?

HM: My role was to get John released unharmed. Any harm to him would have served no one, especially the cause of Baloch people. I didn't do so for any benefit but to get a good name for Baloch people. The fact that John was released unharmed and that Ghulam Muhammad had a big role in his release didn't go down well with the Pakistani security establishment because they wanted to portray us as brutal and radical terrorists. They were not expecting John to come out in one piece.

TNS: And then there are the targeted killings of Punjabis and Kashmiri workers?

HM: All killings are regrettable but I am not in a position to condone or condemn these. What about the targeted killings of Balochs for decades by Pakistani security forces -- from leadership down to shepherds? They have killed anyone who came in their way. Till only a few years back, there was no problem with non-Balochs living and working in Balochistan. Ours has always been a civil protest against the attitude of military's attitude towards us.

Things changed drastically after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and it came as a rude shock to all. Youth have become frustrated and they don't have any hope left. You cannot talk Gandhian peace to them when they are being bombed with cluster and phosphorous bombs. Whole villages have been displaced. Many have become so angry that it's not possible for anyone to ask them to put the weapons down. The weapons they have picked up in self-defence.

TNS: What is your position on Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)? Any idea who is rolling it?

HM: I cannot speak for BLA. I have got no idea who funds BLA. Someone belonging to that organisation will comment better on that. UK Police made me subject to investigation worth millions of pounds and found no evidence that I was behind acts of violence, so I don't know. I have no contact with any foreign country or agency to fund our national liberation movement. But as a Baloch representative, I will go to the whole world. If they are willing to give us fund for Baloch people, I will be willing to talk to them. I will ask them to open our embassies and recognise us. I want the world to recognise the problem of Balochistan. We need recognition. The organisations involved in armed fight are fighting a fascist army that is killing Balochs day and night, indiscriminately.

TNS: Is there any way out for reconciliation at some level? What will be your conditions?

HM: It's simple. Pakistan army should pull out from Balochistan and give us back our statehood. Otherwise, there will be bloodshed. We are ready to live with Pakistan as good neighbours but that's it. When Americans occupied Iraq, they gave a timetable of pullout; Balochs want a timetable from Pakistan army. Occupation should end now. Finish the cantonments and garrisons. After massacres and plundering of our wealth, there can be no patch-up. I know we are facing the world's fifth largest and one of the most powerful army but let's not forget mighty powers crumble. I was a student in Soviet Union when the unbelievable USSR crumbled in front of our eyes. Our resolve is stronger and we will stay the course.

TNS: Would you support autonomy against independence in accordance with the 1973 constitution?

HM: Majority of Baloch representatives didn't even sign the 1973 constitution. It should not be applied to Balochistan. Our consent was not involved. It's not for us. It has not done anything to protect us.

TNS: How do you view the current insurgency/unrest?

HM: I will not call it insurgency. People are defending themselves because they are on the brink of extinction. They are defending their motherland. Ten years ago they were looking for jobs and were not bothered much with the national question; today the question of their motherland tops all priorities. Now everyone knows the importance of sacrifice for freedom of the land.

TNS: How do you view the role of various Baloch tribes and sardars?

HM: Everyone is pursuing his own agenda. Some sardars are patriotic and working for the interests of Baloch nation while others are working for their own. Generally I am happy with Baloch public. They are more conscious today than before.

Hyrbyair Marri

"Our demand: Greater Balochistan"

Noordin Mengal, Baloch representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, is the grandson of Baloch leaders Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Baksh Marri. He lives in exile and divides his time mainly between London and Dubai. The young Mengal, like many of his nationalist elders, says the current insurgency in some parts of Balochistan is being led by the Baloch youth. "It's the youth who are now leading the Baloch movement for independence and are greatly sacrificing to sustain and protect our national identity and ensure the prosperity of our future generations."

Noordin Mengal has been seen speaking at any available forum in the west to spread awareness about gross human rights violations in Balochistan.

"We are the masters of our own destiny now. Our demand is no less than independence, and the formation of a Greater Baloch state that comprises of the Baloch areas occupied by Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan."

"The current unrest is not a new one, although Pakistan and its despotic army have made all efforts to keep the Baloch matter obfuscated. However, this war goes back to the day when Pakistani forces entered Kalat and forcefully annexed our country and amalgamated our identity under their cursed national flag. Since then, there have been five full-fledged military operations against the Baloch people, each one more brutal and intense than the other.

The Baloch have been oppressed and deprived of their basic rights, and attempts have been made to systematically obliterate the Baloch nation by carrying out a cultural, social, economic, political and physical genocide. The Pakistani state is a threat to the Baloch national identity. The targeting of Baloch leaders Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Nawabzada Balach Marri, and the recent martyrdom of Baloch leaders Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, Sher Muhammad Baloch and Lala Munir Baloch, has only strengthened the Baloch nation's resolve to break free from the shackles that have kept it from peace, happiness, prosperity and freedom for over six decades," said the young leader while speaking to TNS.

He blames military operations for bringing things to this stage and doesn't think a relationship of trust between the nationalist tribes and "Pakistani-Punjabi" establishment can ever be built again.

He believes the mega development plans including Gwadar are a conspiracy to convert the Baloch into a minority in their own homeland by encouraging the migration of Punjabis and other non-Baloch by providing them with economic opportunities, thus causing a demographic imbalance.

The young radical says spy agencies have been patronising radical Islamist elements in Balochistan "in order to weaken the secular Baloch".

Peace? "We will only be at peace either when we have perished for our country or at the moment of triumph, when the Baloch flag shall wave in the sky before us."

-- Murtaza Ali Shah


Noordin Mengal

"It is not a regional problem"

The Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleiman Daud Khan, is determined to take the case of Balochistan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Hague at any cost.

Currently living in South Wales after having arrived in England following the Aug 2006 murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the Khan of Kalat applied for asylum and still awaits the outcome of his application. Until a decision is made, he cannot travel abroad to present the case of his homeland to the world. He would like to tell the world that Pakistan has violated the 1948 treaty and 1973 constitution that promised autonomy to the four provinces.

Khan says he has been on the hit-list of Pakistani security agencies after he uniquely unified the warring tribes, following the death of Nawab Bugti, convincing them of the power of unity and joint struggle for an autonomous Balochistan. This jirga was held after nearly 130 years and attended by 85 sardars and 300 tribal elders. He says his initiative was a resounding success and that worried the power brokers in Islamabad.

"I would take Pakistan to the ICJ and make its establishment answerable for the slow-motion genocide of my people. The random and targeted killings, the torture and total disregard for the rights of Baloch people is a scandal and it needs world's attention. It is no more a local or regional problem," the 35th Khan of Kalat told TNS.

"Due to its wealth and strategic location, Balochistan is of high strategic importance to the world. West should take interest in what's going on there."

On the question of alleged foreign funding, the Khan of Kalat candidly said "We will not mind taking help from Satan, let alone US, Britain or India. That distinction finished long time ago. Unlike many other Muslim conflict zones, Muslims are killings Muslims in Pakistan and it has boiled down to staying alive in Balochistan."

Like many other Baloch nationalist leaders, he has lost faith in dialogue and sees no point in even discussing the possibilities of reconciliation. "That time is not with us anymore. Dialogue with Pakistani establishment is a waste of time. Talks didn't yield anything for us. Period."

This king without a kingdom says those Baloch sardars who don't support the on-going "fight in pure self-defence against Pakistan army's aggression" are cowards and traitors and history will not treat them kindly.

Sitting 4,000 miles away from his people, Khan's solution to the Balochistan problem is simple: rise up in unity in whatever way you can to obtain your rights and independence. For now, Khan is in a limbo and will have to wait and see what asylum and immigrations courts decide about his asylum case. The struggle in the meanwhile, he says, will continue.

-- M. Ali. Shah


Khan of Kalat Suleiman Daud Ahmadzai

"The Baloch youth is infuriated"

Rauf Khan Sassoli, secretary general of late Nawaz Akbar Khan Bugti's Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), interviewed in Lahore

The News on Sunday: How did we come to this alarming situation?

Rauf Khan Sassoli: During the 1990s when Nawaz Khair Bux Marri had returned from Afghanistan, there was hope for reconciliation but then Justice Nawaz Marri was killed in January 2000 which led to the agitation that still continues.

Musharraf was infuriated when, during his visit to Kohlu area, he was attacked with rocket launchers by "certain elements". As a result, a military operation was carried out to kill Akbar Bugti in August 2006. Musharraf formed a parliamentary committee whose recommendations are still to be implemented.

Now the situation is worse. Especially the Baloch youth is infuriated while their leaders are under pressure by the federal government. If five percent of the Balochs supported the demand for an independent Balochistan, say a few years ago, the number has risen to forty percent. Personally, I believe the assassination of Akbar Bugti and then killing of Benazir Bhutto led to what can be called a practical destabilisation of the country.

TNS: What is the possible role of JWP and other Baloch political parties in resolving the conflict?

RS: JWP thinks there is an immediate need to bring all mainstream parties on board including Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Balochistan National Party and other groups. Negotiations should lead to full provincial autonomy guaranteed in the 1973 Constitution. We are also in contact with some of the dissident groups and other national political parties urging them to resolve the issue.

TNS: Do you think re-election in Balochistan can bring down the rising temperature?

RS: This can be one of the major steps to restore the confidence of Baloch leaders into the system. But for this, I repeat, all Baloch leaders should be consulted and urged to return to Pakistan.

TNS: What is the possible role of Punjab in resolving the issue?

RS: Punjab is certainly not doing what it did in 1971. There is much realisation among the Punjab's leadership. The sitting Punjab government is doing a lot. Shahbaz Sharif visited Balochistan and assured full support. Jamat-e-Islami has also done some efforts. I also believe that the national leadership must visit Balochistan something they haven't done as yet.

TNS: What about the view that the tribal leaders are responsible for the backwardness of the province?

RS: The nexus of Baloch sardars and establishment is an open secret. Establishment has always been supporting these feudal or Nawabs. Even now, one Nawab is the chief minister while the other is the governor. Both establishment and sardars are responsible for this situation. I personally believe that if 2.5 million people of Balochistan had education, the situation would have been quite different.

TNS: What about allegations that India is supporting the separatist movement in Balochistan?

RS: Indian intervention cannot be ruled out. But it doesn't mean we should start blaming India instead of putting our house in order. It will be unrealistic to think that our enemy will not try to take advantage of this chaos

--Waqar Gillani