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After 'Baloch Fidel Castro', political heir Hyrbyair faces daunting challenges

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The grand old man of Balochistan independence, Baba-i-Azadi ,Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri -- the Baloch Fidel Castro--, is no more.

Born February 28, 1928 in Kahan in Kohlu, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri breathed his last at the Liaquat National Hospital in Karachi on June 11, 2014. The government of Pakistan did not grant permission to the family to transport the doyen of the Baloch liberation movement to London for treatment, according to his youngest son Mehran Baluch.

Nawab Marri was a towering personality whose death has created a vacuum in Balochistan that will be difficult to fill.

For more than four decades, Nawab Marri remained irreconcilable on the question of independence of Balochistan. He was one of the main leaders of the 1973 uprising against Pakistan and was the main inspiration of the current uprising that is more than a decade long.

The departure of Nawab Marri is indeed a big blow for those who revered the elderly politician and looked upon him as the chief architect of the Baloch armed resistance against Pakistan. “Had Nawab Marri not been in human form, he was worthy of being worshipped,” says prominent Baloch pro-independence writer, playwright and intellectual Hafeez Hassanabadi, who has worked closely with the late Nawab Marri and his son Hyrbyair Marri. A young Baloch in Quetta captured the mood of the freedom-loving youths of Balochistan post-Nawab Marri. “If you think Nawab Marri lived in his body you are wrong. He lives in our hearts and souls,” he said from Quetta.

Nawab Marri had total control over the destiny of more than quarter million Marris nestled in 3,300 square miles of oil rich territory in northeastern Balochistan but wanted the liberation of Balochistan instead. In spite of being a powerful fedual lord, he was a Marxist-Leninist like Fidel Castro. He paid a heavy for his political conviction early on: he saw his fertile lands destroyedby the Pakistani state right from the days of the General Ayub Khan military regime, when he was in his thirties.

U.S. scholar Selig S. Harrison in his epic book In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baluch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations says that Pakistan officials make no secret of their belief that Marri is the most “dangerous” of the Baloch leaders; Harrison described Nawab Marri as “the most influential theoretician of the nationalist movement.”

Selig Harrison, who is now retired, did his first seven hour long interview with Nawab Marri on August 1, 1978. “Our people have slowly sensed that they (Pakistan) would destroy us as a nation if we did not fight back,” Nawab Marri told Selig Harrison. Harrison, who traditionally favored Baloch autonomy within Pakistan had a change of heart in his final years at the Center for International Peace in Washington D.C. and became an advocate for an independent Balochistan.

In his chapter on Marri entitled “Khair Bux Marri: Marxism and Cockfights” – the late leader was a cock fighting enthusiast from his childhood until the very end of his life--, Selig Harrison wrote, “It is not an accident that the sardar of the Marri tribe has been the most consistent advocate of a militant Baloch nationalism. Khair Bux II, lives in the shadow of his grandfather, Khair Bux the Great, who led Marri resistance against the British in the nineteenth century, and his father Meherullah Khan Marri, who spearheaded an underground anti-British movement in the decades immediately preceding the 1947 transfer of power. Marris are proud of the key role they played in past Baloch struggles against foreign rule, too proud in the eyes of some other Baloch tribes who accuse them of having a “master race” complex.”

Nawab Marri never liked the idea of superpower meddling in the affairs of Balochistan society. Some of his critics accuse him of wasting a golden opportunity when at least four nations the U.S.S.R., India, Afghanistan and Cuba were willing to move into Balochistan during the hey days of the communist regime in Afghanistan. Nawab Marri had shot down the idea of Soviet movement further south into Balochistan. He made statements that the Baloch should win their freedom on their own muscles or zor-i-bazoo as is said in Urdu. He was a fierce critic of U.S. help to Pakistani military, however. Selig Harrison writes, while appealing for a sympathetic attitude towards Baloch aspirations Nawab Marri said the U.S. support for military regimes in Pakistan has been “part of our problem. People think that Americans aid the Punjabis and therefore our only alternative is the other camp.” At one point, Nawab Marri said “Why is it that the United States always works through the established structure? If the Americans pump weapons into the Punjabis, obviously we have to stretch our hand to another superpower.”

Selig Harrison recalls his third interview with Nawab Marri in 1981 and writes, “When I suggested that a settlement with Pakistan would be preferable to achieving independence under superpower tutelage, he responded after a brief pause that “if the Punjabis or the Pakistani state are prepared to talk with us in a mature way with some kind of realism and some understanding hoe our people feel, we are prepared for a settlement, as we have always been. But there is no use wasting time talking of minor matters. They must be prepared to talk in terms of a national status for us, of a relationship with us based on that status. I must confess that I cannot ever remember a Punjabi talking in such terms.”

The interviews with Selig Harrison took place in 1980s. Nawab Marri did agree to return to Pakistan as the fall of the Najibullah government was imminent in Afghanistan in early 1990s and returned to Pakistan on a C-130 aircraft, provided by the Pakistan military. At the time, Pakistan was propping up the Taliban in Afghanistan.

During the 1990s three out of his six sons took part in elections and became government ministers in Balochistan, notwithstanding his stated position against parliamentary politics. Even during the Musharraf regime, one of his sons Balach Marri returned from London to take part in elections and got elected in the provincial legislature. However, after the killing of Balach Marri, the elderly politician hardened his political stance. “I can co-exist with a pig, but not a Punjabi,” Nawab Marri said during an interview.

But the key question today is what next after Nawab Marri?

One writer has painted a bleak picture for the future of Balochistan after the exit of Nawab Marri. Malik Siraj Akbar, a young journalist who fled Pakistan couple of years ago writes, “There are clear political differences between Jangyz Marri and his pro-free-Balochistan brothers Hyrbyair Marri and Mehran Marri. Those supporting the nationalist movement may call for Hyrbyair to replace his father but that does not seem to dim Jangyz Marri’s chances because the rest of his brothers currently reside outside Balochistan and Pakistan. If they want to return to Pakistan and control their tribe and its affairs, they will have no option but to reach a compromise with Islamabad. Otherwise, Hyrbyair Marri will not be acceptable to the Pakistani establishment whom they have often accused of leading the Baloch armed groups and having alleged connections with foreign countries. Nawab Marri served as the head of the Marri tribe for a few decades and it will not be easy for any new chief to fully control the tribesmen in today’s chaotic and violent Balochistan.”

The young writer continues, “Nawab Marri’s death has not only closed a significant political epoch of Balochistan’s politics and nationalism but it will also open a new chapter for which some of us may not be fully prepared. At this point, it is still too early to predict how Balochistan will look after Nawab Marri. One thing is certain. Balochistan will change, either for good or for bad, after Mr. Marri’s departure.”

Notwithstanding such scenarios of uncertainty, all eyes are set on Hyrbyair Marri, who from an early age had helped his father run tribal affairs when the family was in Afghanistan. Now exiled in London, Hyrbyair Marri is the first-ever Baloch leader to stand trial in a Western court. He was also jailed in the Belmarsh Prison after military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf succeeded in convincing the U.K. government to have terrorism charges instituted against him. Prior to that, he was arrested and deported by the government of Dubai for his pro-Balochistan political activities.The Musharraf regime also succeeded in getting the Baloch Liberation Army that he heads outlawed in the U.K. Hyrbyair Marri along with his comrade Faiz Baluch were exonerated after President Asif Ali Zardari came into power in Pakistan.

Hyrbyair Marri had developed differences with his father on tactical issues during his lifetime. For example, Nawab Marri was extremely suspicious of the role of the present Khan of Kalat, Agha Suleman Daud, but Hyrbyair Marri did not follow his father’s command and made a tactical alliance with the Baloch tribal supremo. He has been working jointly with Daud in Western parliaments, much to the chagrin of Islamabad. Likewise, Nawab Marri was soft on his own family members when it came to financial discipline but Hyrbyair Marri has insisted that everyone should be equally accountable when it comes to funding for the liberation struggle.

From independent accounts, Hyrbyair Marri seems to have made some big mistakes. Though Nawab Marri was arrested for the killing of his political opponent Justice Nawaz Marri, many Marri insiders accuse Hyrbyair Marri of being the main accomplice, who acted without the consent of his late father and other brothers. On the brighter side, it is an open secret Hyrbyair Marri is the operational commander of the Baloch Liberation Army that has carried out dare devil heroic actions against Pakistan military in Balochistan. The B.L.A. demolition of the Ziarat Residency, where Pakistan’s tuberculosis ridden founder M.A. Jinnah rested during his final days, last summer was widely hailed not only by Baloch but also Pashtun nationalists. The Ziarat Residency had come to symbolize Pakistan’s colonial hold over Balochistan. However, some actions of the B.L.A. were utterly cowardly in Baloch eyes. One such action that stands out is the B.L.A. killing of Professor Nazima Talib in tit-for-tat action arising out of the heart failure of a Baloch woman during an army raid on her home.

Hyrbyair Marri believes in responding to Pakistani brutalities in the same coin, but this may gravely undermine the legality of the Baloch struggle in Western eyes, whose help he is seeking to overthrow Pakistan’s colonial control of Balochistan.

Hyrbyair Marri seems to have inherited political rigidity from his late father. Though he is looked upon as a hero for openly opposing his eldest brother and Islamabad’s tout Nawabzada Jangyz Marri, whom his father called “a son of the I.S.I.”, at times he has taken a hard-line stance against his close relatives who are with him in the independence camp, including his younger brother Mehran Baluch and his nephew Noordin Mengal. While none of them is willing to publicly admit, Mehran Baluch is leader of the militant United Baluch Army, while Noordin Mengal is leader of the equally militant Lashkar-i-Balochistan. Hyrbyair Marri has more or less treated these adult men, who are both Britons, as if they were kids who should simply follow an elder’s command.They deserve to be treated as adults, instead of "Dinky Toy" commanders. Like many patriarchal societies Baloch society is also a top-down society and many respect Mehran Baluch as a son of late Nawab Marri and Noordin Mengal as a grandson of Nawab Marri and Sardar Ataullah Mengal. It will serve Hyrbyair Marri well to understand that already some Pakistani agents in the West, including former communists, are busy pumping his younger family members against him.

Hyrbyair Marri has to make peace with his immediate family members and also his extended family, including former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who heads the Balochistan National Party.

During the last many years since the death of Balach Marri in November 2007, the Baloch resistance outfits have totally shunned popular and street politics and even rejected the supporting hands of friendly organizations such as B.N.P., insisting they too join the armed struggle. If the resistance groups believe they do not want to take part in street politics out of strategic and tactical concerns, they must reach a tactical and operational understanding with the B.N.P. to counter the political influence of other groups such as the National Party which they accuse of being sponsored by the Inter Services Intelligence. Such a charge of being an I.S.I. front can never be leveled against Mengal's B.N.P.

An important agenda before Hrybayir Marri is to forge close ties with two equally important stakeholders in the resistance movement: the Baloch Liberation Front of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch and Baloch Republican Army of Brahumdagh Bugti.

Unilateral announcements of claiming sole leadership of the liberation movement, like the one made in fall of 2010 by the Hyrbyair camp, must never be repeated. That juvenile announcement led to huge embarrassment as all other resistance groups publicly condemned it and refused to acknowledge Hyrbyair Marri as their leader.

In this context, a major contradiction Hyrbyair Marri faces is refusal to owning up the leadership the Baloch Liberation Army, which he heads. Among the different resistance outfits, only the chief of the Baloch Liberation Front, Dr. Allah Nazar, who is from the middle class, has openly owned his organization. If the Baloch resistance has to gain legitimacy and recognition, Hyrbyair Marri must work towards having the ban on the B.L.A. lifted in London and avoid horrific blunders of the past. If the B.L.A. and other Baloch resistance groups make a solemn pledge that they will adhere to the Law of the War and would never touch any civilian non-combatant, it would give a great moral boost to the Baloch struggle for an independent homeland.

All said and done, it is clear that Hyrbyair Marri will never compromise on the issue of independence of Balochistan. He is heavily invested in the movement. In fact, he may prove to be a better leader than his father Nawab Marri but he has to play his cards very well. Unlike his late father, who like many revolutionaries believed all power flows from the barrel of the gun, he has to come up with new ideas and maybe settle for slogans such as all powers flow through the button of the Internet, notwithstanding Islamabad poking fun at him for being a member of the so-called Sardar dot com -- exiled members of sardar or chieftain families who politically exist in cyberspace rather than the hills and plains of Balochistan.

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