By Babar Mirza
Mujahid Barelvi remembers a forgotten hero of the Baloch struggle. Translated from the Urdu by Babar Mirza.
It is a great tragedy for this country in general and Balochistan in particular that Sher Muhammad Marri – who fought an armed struggle in the mountains during the 1950s and ‘60s and was imprisoned in different jails during the ‘70s – is hardly ever remembered in Baloch politics. Even most of the Baloch wouldn’t know where he is buried, for Sher Muhammad Marri was not a sardar or nawab whose politics and legacy had to be kept alive by his sons.
The day my lamenting eyes run out of tears
The eyes of the night of sorrow shall lose all light
My first meeting with Sher Muhammad Marri was entirely by accident. In Karachi, when Mir Bazan (the eldest son of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bazinjo) heard that I was going to Lahore to participate in an inter-collegiate debate, he asked me to carry a message for BSO’s central leader Raziq Bugti who was then studying at the Animal Husbandry College. This was my first meeting with Raziq but he greeted me with such warmth as if we had known each other for years. He asked me to sit behind him on his bike and said, “You have reached here at a good time. I am going to Kot Lakhpat Jail to meet Sher Muhammad Mari,” adding, with a smile, “the same Sher Muhammad Marri nicknamed General Sherof by your Leader of the People to paint him as a Russian agent and keep him in jail for life.”
No wonder Bhutto Sahib called him General Sherof
Sitting in the reception area at Kot Lakhpat Jail, I was about to doze off when suddenly I heard a noise. Sher Muhammad Marri made an appearance that was much more impressive and imposing than I had heard. A stocky build with medium height, his long, golden-white-and-black hair was well-kept, his red-and-white face carrying a set of fiery eyes. No wonder Bhutto Sahib called him General Sherof. I for one did not have the courage to look him in the eye. Sher Muhammad Marri had a hurried chat with Raziq Bugti and left. Shortly after that, Sher Muhammad Marri was transferred to Hyderabad Jail. I used to exchange greetings with him in the visitors’ room on my trips to the jail to cover the Hyderabad Conspiracy case. But his authoritative outlook took away my courage to strike a conversation with him.
In 1978, after the Hyderabad Conspiracy case had been closed and the Baloch and Pakhtun leaders released, I went to Quetta as a journalist and had my first detailed interview with Sher Muhammad Marri. This interview proved how wrong my first impression of him was. In the Marri house, after Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri retired for the night, I felt that Sher Muhammad Marri had relaxed as well. He remembered our first meeting in the Kot Lakhpat Jail. He had also read my interview with Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bazinjo published that very week in the weekly Me’yaar. In contrast to his imposing personality, he had a very slow and soft voice. I had learnt from my Baloch friends that Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Sher Muhammad Marri were not only angry with Wali Khan but also with the moderate Baloch leader Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bazinjo. This estrangement became so bad in Hyderabad Jail that, upon their release, they left for Quetta in separate processions of their supporters. Balochistan would have looked very different today if the four pillars of Baloch nationalism during the ‘70s – Marri, Bugti, Mengal and Bazinjo – had put their differences aside. Faiz sahib penned a beautiful couplet about the myriad splits and divisions in secular and progressive movements during the ‘70s:
Yaan ahl-e-junoon yak-be-digar dast-o-girebaan
Waan jaish-e-hawas taigh-bakaf dar-pay jaan hai
[Here the intellectuals are fighting with each other
There the army of greed, with swords unsheathed, is threatening to kill]
This interview with Sher Muhammad Marri in Quetta turned out to be quite spirited and it was very well received on its publication in my magazine.
Next, I met him in Karachi at Meraj Muhammad Khan’s residence. My book on Afghanistan “Torkham Ke Uss Taraf” [‘The Other Side of Torkham’] had just been published. I invited Sher Muhammad Marri as the chief guest at the book launch. He accepted the invitation on the condition that he would not make a speech. This was probably because he had already decided to go abroad. There was a dinner at the Press Club after the book launch. It was a private gathering in which Sher Muhammad Marri openly discussed his politics in the foreseeable future. But this was also the time when the political scene was changing rapidly. Military dictator General Ziaul Haq had succeeded in trapping the NAP leadership, particularly Khan Abdul Wali Khan. Rightist parties including Jamaat-e-Islami had vowed, even before the 1977 general elections, to make Bhutto pay for his transgressions, and now they were joined by esteemed national democratic leaders like Wali Khan. The Baloch leadership had already begun to scatter. Ataullah Mengal and Akbar Bugti moved to London while Khair Bakhsh Marri and Sher Muhammad Marri went to Europe before settling in Kabul. Only Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bazinjo remained, and he joined the People’s Party despite the atrocities committed by it on the Baloch during its stint in power.
My next meeting with Sher Muhammad Marri took place in November 1989 when I went to Kabul with a group of journalists. The Soviet-backed government of Dr Najib was doing fairly well in Kabul and it was a pleasant experience to meet Sher Muhammad Marri there. A decade of imprisonment and exile had broken the man who was the epitome of grace and authority. However, his traditional humour and hospitality were still very much there.
On 14th August 1947, Sher Muhammad Marri was in Quetta Jail
At the demise of Dr Najib’s government, Khair Bakhsh Marri and Sher Muhammad Marri returned to Pakistan in the most tragic manner, for the aging Sher Muhammad Marri now parted ways with even his mentor and tribal chief Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri. When I met him at a very average hotel at the Cantt Station, it was quite obvious that he was planning to go far away not only from tumultuous Baloch politics but also from this world. Sher Muhammad Marri was now deeply conscious of the fact he would not be able to inherit the politics of the tribal chief under whom he had spent it his entire youth fighting in the mountains, struggling in politics and sulking in jails. He also found it disappointing that his name was not mentioned along with the four elders of Balochistan, that is, Bazinjo, Mengal, Marri and Bugti, even though his sacrifices were no less than theirs. At the time of Partition, that is, 14th August 1947, Sher Muhammad Marri was in Quetta Jail. For four decades, away from his family and friends, he fought an armed struggle in the mountains and suffered hardships in open camps and jails. Sher Muhammad Marri strongly felt that despite playing the role of a general in the long struggle of the Baloch people, the coming generations of Baloch would remember him no more than as an anonymous soldier.