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India unwitting party to demonising Baloch struggle

July 20, 2009 12:42 IST

Dear Ms Sonia Gandhi 
 
No other section of the people of Pakistan have stood by India and the Pakistani Hindus as lovingly, as loyally and as courageously as the Balochs have done. Of all the people of Pakistan, the Balochs were the closest to the hearts of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and other leaders of the Congress of pre-2004 vintage.
 
When India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, in the riots that preceded and followed Partition, practically all Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims were driven out of Pakistani Punjab and many of them from Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province, despite the protection given to non-Muslims in the NWFP by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, and his brave followers. The only area of Pakistan from which the non-Muslims were not driven out was Balochistan.
 
When Babri Masjid was demolished by a Hindu mob in December 1992, mobs in Pakistani Punjab encouraged by the local officials retaliated by demolishing Hindu places of worship. There were acts of retaliation in Sindh and the NWFP too -- but not on the same scale as in Pakistani Punjab. Balochistan was one province which did not see such horrendous acts of retaliation as one saw in Punjab.
 
Baloch leaders such as Khair Bux Marri, Ataullah Khan Mengal, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and many others took the Hindus and their places of worship under their protection and saw to it that no harm came to them from the Punjabi settlers in Balochistan.
 
The Hindu population of Balochistan has considerably come down in recent years due to their forcible ejection from there by the Army after it launched the project for the construction of the Gwadar port with Chinese assistance. The Inter-Services Intelligence looked upon them as potential Research and Analysis Wing agents and forced them to shift.
 
But the Hindus who have managed to remain, have continued to enjoy the protection of the Baloch leaders and people. When Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed by the Pervez Musharraf government in a military operation in August 2006, among those who died with him were Baloch Hindus whom he had taken under his protection.
 
When Indira Gandhi was the prime minister in the early 1980s, one of the Baloch leaders who had great love and admiration for her, wanted to celebrate the wedding of his daughter in New Delhi so that she could attend the event and bless the couple. She had happily agreed to the idea, but then had second thoughts and persuaded him not to do so. She was worried that the ISI might project him as an Indian agent.
 
When Narasimha Rao was prime minister in the early 1990s, another Baloch leader, who had played a legendary role in the first war of Baloch independence and who was very ill, chose to come to India and die in its soil as a mark of his admiration and gratitude for India. As desired by him, after his death, his body was sent to his home village in Balochistan for burial.
 
Secularism is in the blood of most Balochs -- whether young or old, rural or urban, educated or illiterate. There are exceptions. Some have joined the fundamentalist parties. But have you ever heard of a Baloch member of any jihadi terrorist organisation? Have you ever heard of the involvement of Balochs in jihadi terrorism in India? Have you ever heard of any Baloch sympathy for Al Qaeda or the Taliban? Have you ever heard of any Baloch member of the Pakistani diaspora abroad involved in extremism or terrorism? Have you ever heard of suicide terrorism by Balochs?
 
Yes, there have been instances of Yemeni-Balochs joining the Al Qaeda and participating in brutal acts of terrorism. Some of the suspects responsible for the kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in January-February 2002, were Yemeni-Balochs. These were the offspring of mixed marriages between Baloch men and Yemeni women. But such instances were an exception. By and large, the Balochs have kept out of jihadi terrorism.
 
The Balochs have been ferociously fighting for their independence again and again. They fought their first war of independence in the early 1970s immediately after Bangladesh was born. They thought they could emulate the Bangladeshis, but Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, then in power, ruthlessly crushed them with his air force. The Balochs sent out frantic appeals for help to Indira Gandhi. Despite her love for the Balochs, she decided not to take any action. She felt it would be neither advisable nor feasible. Moreover, she was aware of the concerns of the Shah of Iran over the freedom struggle of the Balochs of Pakistan. Iran has a large Baloch population on its side of the border with Pakistan.
 
The Balochs were totally suppressed by the Punabi-dominated Pakistani army till 2004. But their desire for independence has remained as strong as ever. They started a second war of independence in December 2005, which continues till now despite the ruthless actions taken to suppress them by the previous government of Musharraf and the present government of Asif Ali Zardari.

Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed by the Musharraf government. Many of the young leaders of the Balochistan Liberation Army were subsequently killed. Despite this, the freedom struggle continues.
 
When the second freedom struggle started in December,2005, I wrote as follows in an article
: 'The second Baloch war of independence poses a moral dilemma for India. The Balochs had stood by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress party during the independence struggle against the British. They had opposed the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. If India had to be partitioned, they would have preferred an independent Balochistan. The Balochs were the closest to Gandhi's heart. Due to reasons of realpolitik, we let them down during their first war of independence. The same realpolitik would dictate painful inaction by us now too. But that does not mean that we should hesitate to draw the attention of the international community to the ruthless massacre of the Baloch nationalists by the Pakistan army. We owe our moral support to them. The struggle for an independent Balochistan is part of the unfinished agenda of the Partition.' 
 
I was gratified subsequently when the government of Dr Manmohan Singh publicly expressed its concern over the developments in Balochistan. But, subsequently, for understandable reasons, it chose to observe a silence. It would not have been in the interests of the Balochs and their freedom struggle to give the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment an opportunity and a pretext to project them as Indian surrogates, which they definitely are not.
 
Initially, the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment started projecting them as 'miscreants'. When it was not able to suppress them, it started calling them terrorists, no different from Al Qaeda, and their freedom struggle was termed a terrorist movement. It also started alleging Indian support for them, which is totally baseless.
 
As I had pointed out in my previous articles, the Pakistani army has been misusing some of the military equipment, such as helicopter gunships received by it from the United States for use against the Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, to suppress the Balochs. Despite the most brutal acts of suppression, the brave Balochs have continued with their freedom struggle.
 
Just as the Chinese have been demonising the followers of the Dalai Lama, who have opposed the Chinese rule in Tibet, as terrorists no different from the Al Qaeda, the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has been demonising the Baloch freedom-fighters as terrorists.
 
By failing to reject any reference to Balochistan in his joint statement with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Dr Manmohan Singh has unwittingly made India a party to the Pakistani exercise of demonising the Baloch freedom struggle as a terrorist movement. As the president of the Congress, which has always enjoyed bonds of strong love and sympathy with the Baloch leaders and people, you should repair the damage done to the interests of the nation and the image of your party by Dr Singh, by his unwise action, by clarifying the position of your party.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com

B Raman