By Zia Ur Rehman
09 May 2014
Since April 22, a young student Johar Latif has camped outside the Karachi Press Club. He is on a hunger strike. Johar demands the recovery of his leader, Zahid Baloch, who is the chairman of the Baloch Students Organization’s Azad faction (BSO-A). “I am on a hunger strike till death,” he says. “If I die, another member of the BSO-A will take my place.”
Banuk Kareema Baloch, acting chairwoman of the BSO-A, said she and other members of the organization had seen a law enforcement agency pick up Zahid Baloch from the Satellite Town locality of Quetta on March 18. “Since then, we have no information about him,” she says.
In April 2013, the federal interior ministry banned BSO-A, calling it a terrorist organization. But Banuk Kareema Baloch says her group believes in peaceful politics. “Therefore, the organization’s central executive committee has decided to protest for the release their leader with a hunger strike.”
Naghma Shiekh, Karachi president of Democratic Students Federation (DSF), said various left groups, students and organizations, and Baloch elders, have formed a ‘Release Zahid Baloch Committee’ and organized several protest rallies. “We are trying to compel Latif Johar to end his hunger strike because his condition is worsening,” she said.
Analysts who monitor the insurgency in Balochistan say the BSO-A is the most influential political group in the province. The group has influence in all Baloch districts, and colleges and universities in the province’s urban areas are its stronghold. The BSO-A had appealed to the Baloch people not to participate in the general and local elections last year. Earlier, the organization had carried out a boycott campaign against Urdu newspapers and TV channels in Balochistan, over the lack of coverage of the opinions of Baloch political groups on the province’s problems.
The BSO was formed in 1967. In its early days, the organization was heavily influenced by socialist ideology and secessionist leaders. Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur, a columnist who regularly writes on Balochistan, says the BSO-A is a mature political force. “The organization has worked for the promotion of education among the community, especially encouraging women’s education, and against tribalism and feudalism in the province,” Talpur said.
“We saw polarization in the BSO several times, usually when Baloch nationalist parties tried to use the organization for their own political agendas and personal interests,” said a Karachi-based Baloch journalist, who was active in student politics in the 1980s. “Because of the BSO, the lower middle-class political activists challenged and wrested the control of Baloch national politics from powerful tribal chiefs of the province,” he said.
There are three major factions of the BSO. BSO-Pajar is a sister organization of National Party (NP), Balochistan’s ruling party, while the Akhter Mengal-led Balochistan National Party (BNP) has its own BSO wing. The BSO-A is not associated with any political party, but is part of the Baloch National Front, an alliance of eight Baloch political groups, including Baloch National Movement (BNM), which does not believe in parliamentary politics.
The Baloch Republican Party (BRP), formed after Brahmadagh Bugti broke away from the Jamhoori Watan Party founded by his grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti, also has a student group called the Baloch Republican Students Organization (BRSO).
In 2006, the three factions of BSO – headed by Dr Imdad Baloch, Amanullah Baloch and Asif Baloch – decided to disassociate themselves from parliamentary politics and formed BSO-A. The NP and the BNP did not agree with them, and established their own student wings.
Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, who is now leading the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) – a key insurgent group that advocates full secession of Balochistan from Pakistan – also served as the chairman of BSO-A.
In 2005, he and other BSO-A leaders, including Dr Imdad Baloch and his brother Ali Nawaz Gohar Baloch, were also picked up by intelligence agencies from a flat in the Gulistan-e-Johar area of Karachi. After having gone missing for about a year, Allah Nazar resurfaced in August 2006, and was jailed in Quetta for several months. After his release on bail, he went into hiding again. He said in an interview that he had “witnessed slavery and oppression very closely in those torture cells”.
Johar Latif alleged that many of the organization’s leaders and members, including central secretary general Zakir Majeed, Shafi Kurd, Raza Jahangir, and Qamar Chakar, had been abducted and murdered.
Security officials believe that the group is recruiting young people for the BLF. BSO-A leaders deny the allegations. They say students and young people belonging to the organization express their concerns through peaceful protests.
Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and a researcher