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Islam and Politics ( 17 Nov 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Balochistan’s relentless quest for freedom

By Lal Khan

Passing through the streets of Quetta, one is struck by the escalating chaos, crumbling infrastructure, declining writ of the state and a malaise that hangs in the air. Even after a gap of a few months, the decline is glaringly evident. The fear of state terrorism and target killings on national and ethnic lines is very palpable. And the misery, poverty and deprivation are much worse in the rest of Balochistan.

After more than 60 years of its annexation, the Pakistani state and its local surrogates have further exacerbated the destitution and agony of the oppressed peoples of this rugged hinterland. Life has become harsher and more harrowing.

Because of its historical belatedness, economic inability, lack of technological development and fragile financial base, the Pakistani ruling class has failed to develop and integrate Balochistan into its newfound state. They have miserably failed to create and complete the formation of a viable modern nation state. The ‘nation’ as it stands today is far from being a united entity and is more of a half-baked or raw product as compared to the nation states of the West created by the industrial revolutions after the Renaissance.

This has led to extremes of class and nationalist exploitation on the part of the fragile state defending the interests of an obsolete and redundant ruling elite. This ruling elite has had to rely on the remnants of feudalism on the one hand and the crumbs of its imperialist masters on the other. These factors determine its reactionary character and its despotic role in the brutalisation of the toiling classes and the oppressed nationalities.

The conflict between the state and the oppressed nationalities has been most severe and bloody in Balochistan. The resistance of the Baloch throughout the country’s history has been astonishing and valiant. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the national struggle in Balochistan had a strong socialist content. There was an armed resistance against which the army had sometimes to resort to aid from the Iranian monarchy and the Pentagon.

The overtones of revolutionary socialism in this nationalist movement had attracted not just the Baloch youth but also inspired young students from the Punjab and other areas who travelled from far and wide to join this résistance. Most of them have now capitulated to neo-liberal capitalism and so-called pragmatism, while there remain those few who still cherish their revolutionary ideals.

One of the most prominent and legendary commanders of the armed resistance, Sher Mohammad Marri, popularly known as General Sheroff, had clearly elaborated the aims of the struggle at a clandestine meeting at Kohlu in 1978: “Our struggle is for a socialist Balochistan, but that is only a prelude to a socialist Pakistan and beyond.”

However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the situation changed. Not only did the movement recede but also the ideological content of the nationalist movement tilted towards the right. But it never died down completely, nor were the problems of Balochistan ever resolved. Subsequent regimes in Islamabad, whether military or civilian, continued to exploit the mineral wealth and strategic location of Balochistan. The imperialist aggression in Afghanistan also had a deep impact; the warring factions spread the conflict into Balochistan.

The mad rush for the huge mineral resources and the route to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the strategic Gulf began yet again. It has involved the multinational corporations, the Chinese state that had begun to export capital and other imperialist forces. A covert proxy war, with the continuously changing and trading of loyalties, between the Chinese and US interests, has ensued. Those sections of the nationalist movement that had degenerated along bourgeois lines have been penetrated by these conflicting interests of finance capital.

The Pakistan Army is also a major player in this great game. As the insurgency refuses to relent, the repression and killings by the army are going on unabated. Almost the whole provincial assembly of Balochistan is in its cabinet. This government has proved to be impotent in stopping the brutalities of the army and the agencies against the Baloch people. Most of the causalities are among the poor sections of society.

In some cases, the state tries to exploit the ethnic, tribal, clan and national rivalries to maintain its stranglehold. The ruling elites try to use Pashtun and Baloch national chauvinism to fabricate a bloody conflict whenever their despotism is threatened. The Pashtuns are a substantial part of the population in Balochistan. The vast majority of them are as impoverished as the Baloch toilers. They have lived in harmony for centuries and up till now, in spite of the tensions that have been whipped up, they have defied these evil designs. But the situation continues to get worse with the intensifying socio-economic crisis. This has now become a war of attrition without end in sight. All the ‘packages’ for Balochistan brought up by the regimes in Islamabad have become meaningless. They are seen as mere ploys and loathed by the impoverished masses.

A new generation of youth has now risen through all this carnage that is looking for a radical solution. There are currents emerging amongst the resistance that are trying to return to the revolutionary traditions of the past with a greater understanding of Marxist internationalism. These youth are prominent in the traditional Baloch and also to some extent in the Pashtun organisations. The literature and press statements of important sections of the resistance are a clear proof of this. The strike in the Merk marker factory and struggles of the workers in railways, postal service, telecommunications, etc, have added a class dimension to the movement.

The national oppression of the Baloch masses must be brought to an end. Their right of self-determination has to be recognised and accepted. However, genuine national liberation can only be achieved together with socio-economic emancipation. To attain this, the existing exploitative system has to be overthrown and the dictatorship of the financial oligarchy has to be abolished. The task is the convergence of the rivers of the national struggle into the ocean of the class struggle. Lenin, in his The National Programme of the RSDLP (Collected Works, Vol. 19, page 544) meticulously explained this: “The recognition of the right [to self-determination] does not exclude either propaganda and agitation against separation or the exposure of bourgeois nationalism.”

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, Pakistan