In the shadow of the gun – I

By: Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

During the 1973-1977 army action in conflict zones, thousands of innocent people were killed, tens of thousands were internally displaced

Mr Ikram Sehgal’s “Of Empire and Army” (Newsline, March 2012) is a bundle of misinformation and bias against the Baloch. Perturbed that the media holds the security establishment solely responsible for the Balochistan crisis, he claims, “Most of our problems stem from jumping to conclusions that are based on misinformation, and then deliberately distorting those half-truths to suit mass perception.” He feels, “Disproportionate media projection of the separatist leaders encourages ethnic divisions and violence.” He probably thinks the Baloch struggle and the atrocities by the state are a figment of the media’s imagination.

The state’s brutal kill and dump policy seems justified to him. He half-heartedly admits, “No one denies the fact that targeted killings of the Baloch are taking place, that people are being picked up and that state actors are involved in the killing and the disappearances.” Then he offers a lame justification that “sons of the soil” are killing an equal number of settlers. Balochistan Home Department’s recent report said that the majority of the ones killed are ethnic Baloch.

Sehgal tells us that on December 29, 1973, as his son was being born in Karachi, his company came under heavy fire from Marri insurgents near Kahan, after the dismissal of Ataullah’s representative government. The Baloch considered them aggressors rightly, and could not be expected to throw a party. He then says, “Throughout that year, many soldiers were martyred and several injured,” and adds, “In one instance, the insurgents beheaded 19 of our soldiers.”

Well, I too was in the Marri area with the Baloch nationalists then and assuredly, the Marris never indulged in such abhorrent practices. His claim defies reason as no guerilla could possibly have time to ambush and behead soldiers. Ambushes invite response and with helicopters, jets and motorised transportation at the army’s disposal, only fools would linger after an ambush.

The columnist adds that the army could have retaliated against the Marris in kind but relented because they understood that their Sardar (tribal chief), who was living comfortably in Kabul, misguided the Marris. Incidentally, Sardar Khair Baksh Marri and other Baloch leaders, including Sardar Ataullah Mengal, were in jail until 1978. He blames the media for misinformation and distortion. During the 1973-1977 army action in conflict zones, thousands of innocent people were killed, tens of thousands were internally displaced, social and economic life was disrupted, flocks were stolen, crops destroyed, and the entire Balochistan was terrorised. Eight persons, whom I knew personally, including my dear friend, Daleep Dass, aka Johnny Dass, went missing, never to be heard of again. Sher Muhammad Aliani — a sept, an elder, a septuagenarian — was picked up because of an ambush in the vicinity of his settlement near Kahan; his brutally tortured corpse was later recovered. Murad Khan Ramkani of Tadri too was similarly killed. The valiant Asadullah Mengal and Ahmed Shah Kurd were abducted and killed in Karachi. The examples of the ‘consideration’ shown are too numerous to note.

Talking about population and tribes, Sehgal says that Punjab and Sindh have more Baloch than Balochistan. Let us not forget, Dera Ghazi Khan with its tribal areas was annexed to Punjab in 1950, hence the increase in Baloch population in Punjab. He seems very upset about the discontinuation of appointing of Pashtun governors. The imported ‘Viceroys’ only exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions. Owais Ghani reigned when Sardar Akbar Bugti was killed.

Sehgal shows his bias against the Baloch and sardars by repeating a patently fictitious story that some of the proud Baloch sardars of yesteryears carried Colonel Sandeman on a litter on their shoulders for many scores of miles from the Punjab into Balochistan. Oddly, neither a Sardar is named nor the place. The best way to malign someone is to spread unsubstantiated tales knowing that prejudices will do the rest and clearly, any lie about the Baloch is readily believed here. Moreover, this story would make you believe that the British had no horses to transport Sandeman; they were not like Pakistanis who would send a rundown ambulance, without a spare tyre, to bring a terminally sick Jinnah from the airport.

Exposing his ‘prejudice’ against the present nationalist leaders, Sehgal says, “It is ironic that a small militant minority, led by descendants of some cruel and despotic Sardars, speak about “democracy and independence”. His other grouse is, “The Baloch now protest against the presence of army cantonments but they did not protest when the British built the biggest cantonment in British India after Agra in Quetta in the early 1900s.” I wonder what he would say about those who loyally served the British and docilely submitted to a 50-year long Khalsa (Sikh) rule. No one resisted the sacrilege of Badshahi Masjid in Lahore being used as a stable by Ranjit Singh. Syed Ahmed Shaheed had to come from Bareli to resist Sikh rule. Ironically, the stuffed remains of Ranjit Singh’s favourite mare Alif Laila, sketched as Laili by Emily Eden, adorns the Lahore Museum. He remembers “cruel and despotic Sardars’” imagined lapses, but forgets the past of present defenders and leaders of the Ummah. He selectively remembers some and overlooks other inconvenient facts.

Sehgal says that the Baloch Sardars submitted to humiliating British terms regarding heirs, but he probably does not know that the Marris defeated the British in the Battle of Sartaaf and Nafusk in 1839; Mir Mehrab Khan, the Khan of Kalat, died defending Kalat. In 1917, the Marris refused recruits for World War I and chose to battle with their flintlocks and swords against British machine guns at Gumbaz and Harab; none except the Marris in the subcontinent refused. The Baloch have an illustrious history of resisting the British, while others except Tipu Sultan, submitted meekly.

‘Submission’ of some Sardars to Sandeman is an unpardonable and abhorrent crime for him but meek acquiescence of entire peoples and regions in the subcontinent to Khalsa Raj and British rule do not seem to ruffle his feathers. He alleges that, “There is now a very deliberate attempt to create a perception of non-Baloch hegemony. The fact remains that the present political and administrative leadership comprises of the native Baloch.” He fails to realise that this perception has solid reasons. The army and the Frontier Corps (FC) from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a complete disregard for Baloch sensitivities, and as far as the corrupt native Baloch political leadership is concerned, they have stated on record, repeatedly, that the FC runs a parallel government in Balochistan.

(To be continued)

Mr. Sehgal’s article 2012/03/of-empire-and-army-a-historical-understanding-of-balochistan/

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

Courtesy: Daily Times\22\story_22-4-2012_pg3_2

One thought on “In the shadow of the gun – I”

  1. Could you write an account of the army action which took place , as you were in Marri area at that time. That would be an eye witness account and historical record.

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