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Baloch insurgency

May 11, 2012

In the wake of the first anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's killing by American elite troops, DW takes a closer look at Pakistan's "other" war in a rare interview with a prominent Baloch leader.

Pro Baloch demonstrators
Image: DW/K.Zurutuza

Hyrbyar Marri is the fifth son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, a veteran national leader and the head of the largest Baloch clan. In the late 1990s Hyrbar Marri went into exile in Britain. In 2007, he was arrested under a warrant issued by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and held in Belmarsh - a maximum security prison in southeast London. Prominent British human rights advocates such as Peter Thatchell campaigned for Marri and accused the British executive of collaborating with Musharraf's regime. Marri was eventually acquitted in 2008 by a British jury and remains in Britain where he has recently been granted asylum.

DW: What's the current situation in Pakistani-controlled Balochistan?

Hyrbyar Marri: Islamabad wants access to the Baloch land to fill it with settlers and steal our resources. In the meantime, our people are being picked up by the Pakistani secret services and their dead bodies appear a few days later, bearing torture marks, cigarette burns and slogans -"long live Pakistan"- carved on their bodies with knives by the intelligence agencies. East Balochistan (under Pakistan control) was an independent state for nine months until it was occupied by Pakistan in March 1948. Since then we've been subjected to a genocide in slow motion under Islamabad's boot, a process of extermination that has left our language, culture and identity on the brink of extinction.

Some Baloch are asking for self-determination but you've demanded independence. Why is that?

Asking for self-determination equals to accepting that we've been part of Pakistan on a legal base and that we now want to decide whether we want to remain or leave. In my opinion, that's like denying the fact that we've been occupied for over 60 years. We declared our independence even before Pakistan did so today many Baloch are asking for independence because that was actually our status before we were occupied.

You reject parliamentary politics and many people argue that you support the armed struggle, and even lead it. What's your stance on that?

I reject parliamentary politics as they are understood today, As an occupied land, Balochistan's regional parliament endorses occupation. As for the armed struggle, I'm a man of peace but I also think that every nation has the right to defend themselves from any aggression, a right which is actually recognized by the United Nations. The International community should intervene and help us solve the issue through peaceful means instead of forcing us to fight against the invaders.

Why is the international community doing nothing about this issue?

Because the international community has been historically blackmailed by Pakistan and Iran by calling us "terrorists" and even "religious extremists." Nonetheless, I think that the West is now beginning to understand that it's very much the other way round: The Baloch are historically a secular people and it's actually Pakistan that's been backing religious extremists in the whole area to fulfil their agenda in the whole region, including Afghanistan. The paradox is that these fanatic groups were initially backed by Western powers and, today such groups have become a nightmare for everybody and especially for the Baloch.

Baloch leader Hyrbyar Marri
Hyrbyar Marri is demanding independence for BalochistanImage: DW/K.Zurutuza

A British Red Cross worker was killed in Balochistan by the Taliban recently. How do you feel about this?

The Taliban are basically Pakistani military without uniform. They started beheading westerners after 9/11 but we were being beheaded by these religious butchers long ago. We have informed the International community about the evil intentions of the ISI - the Pakistani secret services - but our plea has been stubbornly ignored. There is still time for the West to support the Baloch freedom movement if they want to stop the spread of religious madness in the region.

How would an eventual American withdrawal from Afghanistan affect Balochistan?

I have no doubt that the levels of violence against us will increase when the Americans leave Afghanistan. There'll be even less space for secular people as ourselves. This is one of the reasons why an independent Balochistan would not only be good for us but also for the rest of the world. As we are secular people we would not allow extremism coming from Pakistan, Iran or Afghanistan.

You ask for a foreign intervention but is such a move plausible in a nuclear country like Pakistan?

The Geneva Convention doesn't mention any exception should be made if a country has nuclear weapons or not. If a nuclear power occupies a country, there should be a resolution for their pullout. Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani has even spoken about conducting a referendum in Balochistan but, tell me, when the French, the English, etc pulled out from their colonies, was there any referendum whatsoever? We're also a colony so Islamabad should leave without any pre-conditions. The only point to negotiate with Pakistan is the unconditional withdrawal of its occupation forces.

The Baloch are historically divided due to their tribal nature but you say you're trying to bring forces together through the so-called Liberation Charter. What is this initiative about?

It's a document which has over 80 articles but it's still in progress. It's main goal is to draw the lines of the country we want before we get our independence. I have presented the charter to other prominent Baloch leaders such as Brahumdagh Bugti, Suleman Daud Khan and Akhtar Mengal. We are still waiting for their feedback. It's both a road map and a contract with the people of Balochistan. Many nations have historically talked about independence but without previously setting the bases of the kind of country they want. Accordingly, we want to have our homework done beforehand.

Der Anführer der Aufständigen in Belutschistan Hyrbyar Marri kämpft für die Unabhängigkeit. Baloch fighters at an undisclosed location in southern Pakistan. Copyright: Karlos Zurutuza, DW Mitarbeiter, London, April 2012 Bildzulieferer: Robert Mudge
A new charter will attempt to bring the various Baloch factions togetherImage: DW/K.Zurutuza

So what are the basic lines so far?

Two of the basis points in Charter cannot be changed or compromised and the others are open to suggestions and amendments if necessary. Those two first points are the independence of Balochistan and the parliamentary system after independence. Basically, we want a country whose leaders are elected democratically, where religion is a private issue which doesn't play a role in the state affairs and where women, every creed and ethnicity share equal rights.

But you are also a tribal leader of the Marri, the biggest Baloch clan. Can the tribal system be integrated into the democratic society you mention?

The tribes or clans are part of our identity but they should not prevail over a legal judiciary system. Maximum power should be given to the state judiciary and state administration. The tribes should remain as a cultural aspect of our society as we are already in the 21st century.

A tiny part of Balochistan lies in southern Afghanistan but Iran hosts a significant Baloch community. Is there any coordination between the Baloch from Pakistan and Iran?

Yes, there is understanding between us and we do coordinate at an international level. We have also presented the Balochistan Liberation Charter to two main parties of Western Occupied Balochistan. They already gave their suggestions and feedback which we've found positive and encouraging. Needless to say that we fully support the Independence of Western-occupied Balochistan from Iran.

Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, London
Editor: Rob Mudge