The fact that the Baloch too have widely mourned his sad demise is a credit to him and his idealism. His was a life worth celebrating
Taimur Rahman, nephew of my friend Chakar Khan, broke the news: “Asad chachu has passed away. I thought you should know. Love, Taimur.” Stunned, I recalled October 29, 1971 when I first met Chakar Khan in the Marri Hills. I had reached camp late in the evening with Batay Khan Marri, now deceased, and Shafi Mohammad Marri, who was disappeared in 1975, and is among the first ones to be disappeared by the Pakistani state. Had he not spoken to me in English, I would have assumed he was a Marri. He in his few months’ stay had learnt the Balochi language well and merged perfectly with the Baloch people. Ahmed Rashed (Balaach) too I met for the first time there; Duleep Dass aka Dali came a month later. Mohammad Bhabha (Murad) was the only one I knew.
It would be an understatement to say that life in the mountains is difficult. It demands a robust, rugged physique and an indomitable mental frame of mind. Mountains rigorously test them both individually and jointly. Terrain, a literal obstacle course, is as varied and taxing as it can get uphill, downhill with precipices and dry riverbeds. Then there is a near total isolation; moreover, there are stark cultural differences and if you are not mentally and physically up to that, you succumb to defeatism and abandon ship. The outsiders who survive in the mountains for a month should be given credit; staying and struggling for years speaks for itself.
Baloch tribesmen are not easily impressed; you have to be either as good as them or possess skills they find useful. Chakar Khan — CK for us — was as good as any Baloch in the difficult terrain and had an absolutely wonderful sense of orientation. Finding your way in the mountains is never easy; moonless nights make it doubly difficult and these problems are compounded in the unmarked plains. Once there was a rendezvous with urban friends near Talli on the Sibi plains; the meeting over, we started back but it soon became apparent we were off the track. The group’s old hands and experienced persons too seemed clueless; it was Chakar who told us to follow him and after a paced 90-minute march, we reached the camp and were deservedly applauded. More importantly, he never lost his ideological orientation, and till the very end remained committed to the cause of the downtrodden whereas I have seen many a person bid ideologies goodbye for a meagre material advantage.
CK’s leadership of Baloch guerrilla groups was inspirational; they trusted him with their lives. The fighters had the utmost confidence in his abilities and accepted his instructions willingly, which in fact meant placing their lives in his hands because a wrong decision meant annihilation of the group. He led up front in the most dangerous of situations, and once in a skirmish, a bullet grazed his forehead but he was undaunted. Once while his group was in the Shak area of the Marri hills, the army conducted a huge sweep to net them. The only option was to seek refuge in the out of the way caves and they remained there for two days. Out of food and water, they decided to make a break at night. Knowing the terrain well, they safely left the danger zone.
There were numerous dangerous close calls but CK remained undeterred and continued fighting for the rights of the oppressed, which he considered as his prime duty to humanity. His trait of fearlessness and dedication, a hallmark of exceptional persons, never deserted him and even after returning he continually fought for the rights of all those who did not stand a chance in this dog-eat-dog world. He was an intrepid leader who inspired confidence even in circumstances where the spectre of death always followed you. His intrinsic leadership qualities saw him become the executive director of Sungi later.
During the 1973 insurgency, the state persistently sought the educated cadre connected to the Baloch struggle. After Najam Sethi’s arrest in Mawand in 1975, vigilance in Karachi was mounted and one day some operatives from the intelligence agency held CK near a car that was under surveillance. Knowing if he fumbled, he would suffer the fate of our friend Dali who along with Sher Ali Marri was picked up from Temple Dera never to be heard of again, his presence of mind helped him bluff them.
It is always difficult to remain focused on goals when the circumstances are trying and dangers abound. It was in just such conditions that CK and other friends not only persisted but made a positive difference in the lives of people and in the course of the struggle. People who have never been through even the mildest of adverse situations that the Sarmachars face tend to be dismissive not realising that these circumstances are the greatest test of human courage, perseverance, will and determination. Chakar Khan passed these tests admirably, and it was his tenacity and humanity that stood him in good stead, as he fought for all the oppressed, regardless of artificially created barriers.
I have to acknowledge the unrepayable debt I owe CK and Dali. They carefully and tenderly bandaged my injured hands for a long time and never complained or shirked from the stink and pus that exuded from the wounds. He and I lived together in the trying circumstances of the mountains, military operations, underground in Karachi and rural Sindh and, of course, Afghanistan. We never got to meet much after our return, him in 1980 and me in 1991, from Afghanistan. In 1994, while taking two young Marri men for training at the Orangi Pilot Project, he stayed at my place in Hyderabad. We always spoke to each other in Balochi; it was, along with our commitment to the cause of the oppressed, the common denominator between us. I used to call to wish him on Eid and the last time I spoke to him was after the senseless police brutality incident against him and his son, Mahmood Rahman. He never forsook his connection with the Baloch and Balochi because of his deep and sincere attachment to them and their cause.
Chakar Khan was an intrepid and indefatigable warrior for justice and just causes. His perseverance and ideological correctness distinguished him from run-of-the-mill revolutionaries. The fact that the Baloch too have widely mourned his sad demise is a credit to him and his idealism. His was a life worth celebrating. This Chakar Khan too leaves an ineradicable mark on Baloch history.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org