Monday, November 5, 2012

“The London Group” and Balochistan – A Little-Known Fact of the Pakistan History


Pakistani youth studying abroad has a long history of getting embroiled in anarchist and lawful politics at home. One of this was the “London Group” formed in London in 1969 by around 25 Marxist Pakistani male and female students studying in the United Kingdom.

The “London Group” used to publish a monthly magazine titled “Pakistani Nationalist,” which provided an alternative perspective to the insurgency in East Pakistan and was highly critical of the Pakistani security forces. During this process, the magazine also helped the Group to forge relationships with Baloch nationalists like Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and Sher Mohammad Marri (through Mohammad Bhabha alias Murad Khan and Ali Baksh Talpur) who invited the Group to travel to Balochistan and help the Baloch nationalists launch their own separatist movement on lines of the East Pakistan’s separatist movement. While the East Pakistan insurgency was still on, about five members of the “London Group” quit their studies in London, travelled back to Pakistan in March 1971 (initially hosted by Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani and his father Gula Khan) and launched an insurgency in the Marri tribal area. The five included Najam Sethi (now The Friday Times, Vanguard Books), Ahmed Rashid (now a well-known expert and writer on Afghanistan), Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan (lately Sungi Foundation) and his brother Rashid Rahman (now an editor of The Daily Times – both were sons of Justice S. A. Rahman who retired as Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1968), and Dalip Dass. None of them was Baloch; in fact they were from Punjab except Dalip who was Karachi-based.

Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan, Ahmed Rashid and Dalip Dass operated in the Marri and Bugti tribal areas, adopted Balochi names, learned the Balochi language and culture and actively participated in the insurgency against the state of Pakistan. Najam Sethi and Rashid Rahman established an incognito liaison cell in Karachi for raising funds, ensuring medical treatment of the injured, publishing a magazine titled “Jabal,” and leading the propaganda/media war for the Baloch insurgency and secession. It is reported that some other members of the London Group were also based in Karachi and assigned other tasks.

In 1973, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in his aims to centralize and maximize his powers, dismissed the NAP’s provinicial government of Balochistan which added fuel to the fire. In reaction, the Baloch tribesmen picked up arms and the insurgency spread to other parts of Balochistan. The Pakistani government only came to know of the London Group’s pivotal role in founding and shaping this insurgency in 1974.

Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan
Dalip Dass was later killed in an encounter with the Pakistani security forces while the rest were granted general amnesty when the insurgency ended under Zia-ul-Haq. Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan accompanied some Baloch sardars into self-exile to Afghanistan in 1979 where they were looked after well by the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. He returned in 1980 for a while before leaving for London, while his brother Rashid Rehman became a journalist and is now an editor of The Daily Times. Later, Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan remained associated with an NGO, Sungi Development Foundation, as its Executive Director for several years.

Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan first admitted his involvement in the insurgency of 1970s in an interview with The News on Sunday in June 2008 and later disclosed the names of five members of his group and their role in the insurgency in an interview with Malik Siraj Akbar in October 2009, much to the annoyance of his other comrades. Here are few interesting excerpts from that interview:

“.... MSA: How was Najam Sethi captured?
AR: He made a “very stupid” move –I call it a “stupid move”. As the cover we had in Karachi, Rashid was running an automobile workshop while Najam was with some architects and development consultants. Najam persuaded them to bid for some development projects in Marri area under Bhutto’s government. In the meanwhile, some people from the original London Group had been arrested from Karachi. They disclosed the names of all of us. He had at that time gone to Quetta and was flying in a military helicopter to go and see the site of a project that they wanted to build.

MSA: How did he get into a “military helicopter” as you people were already fighting against the military?
AR: Now that is the whole question. We don’t know. Maybe the government gave them the consultancy and asked the army to take him there. I don’t know. The benefit of doubt has to be given over there. In any case, the message was sent to the pilot of the helicopter that Najam was flying in. Hence, the pilot turned back to Quetta where they arrested Najam and took him to the Hyderabad jail. After that, he had no role whatsoever in the Balochistan movement of the 1970s.

MSA: What about Ahmed Rashid?
AR: Ahmed Rashid is maybe a good intellectual but physically he was not suited for guerrilla activity or living in mountains. He was never able to pick up the language very well and he stood out that he was not a Baloch. He was very fair; a scanty beard although he was much older than me. He was not able to keep up with our Marri comrades when we were moving in camps. He wore spectacles at that time which transformed into a disadvantage for him. Plus, he was flatfooted. He was falling all over especially at nights when we were moving around. He never developed good friendships the way I was able to do. Maybe I had learned the language, the traditions and customs much better than anyone. At the same time, because I was involved in fighting, when your life depends on somebody else’s actions then there develops an affiliation of comradeship which is much deeper than anything else. Unfortunately, Ahmed was not a good rifleman. He could not shoot very well. In the Baloch culture, they expect you to do all these things but when you are unable then you stand out as somebody who is alien to the culture and life style. There was a similar case as far as Dilip Dass was concerned.

MSA: What recommendations do you have for Islamabad to resolve the Balochistan crisis?
AR: The government should immediately take confidence building measures. The government needs to address these issues immediately. 1) Withdraw the FC from Balochistan as they are promoting ethnic conflict. 2) Withdraw the army to the positions of 2000. 3) Release and give information of all missing or killed Baloch people especially the 150 odd women. 4) Cancel all agreements with foreign companies who are exploiting the gold-copper from Balochistan and the Gwader port authority. 5) Hand over these projects to the provincial government. 6) Release all political prisoners and student activists. 7) Move complete provincial autonomy as the priority legislation to be made for all provinces allowing only 3 or 4 subjects to the Federal government. 8 ) Taxation should be provincial subject with a share given to federal for its expenses. 9) All natural resources belong to the people of the district, province and not the central government....”

Asad Rahman alias Chakar Khan died recently in Lahore on October 30, 2012. He was an active insurgent til his death.

Surprisingly, while the Baloch considered the London Group as the founder of their separatist movement and have mourned the death of Asad Rahman his old comrades-in-arms Najam Sethi and Ahmad Rashid have not publicly expressed a word of condolence. Did they switch sides and part ways down the road, or did/do they consider this a ‘sardars’ war’, or are they rooting for some other Che Guevara now?

Further Readings:
7. Baloch Hal; Daily Tawar; Baloch sarmachar

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