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An interview with a Baloch guerrilla commander

Interview by Karlos Zurutuza

"Pakistan is an irresponsible state that is putting the civilized world in danger" — Commander Allah Nazar

Amid a spike in sectarian violence in Pakistan controlled Balochistan, IPS speaks with Dr. Allah Nazar, one of the most prominent Baloch resistance leaders on the ground. Over the phone, the senior commander of the Balochistan Liberation Front speaks of the role the Baloch armed movements are playing in the ongoing war against Islamabad while he categorically denies his men have ever targeted civilians.

Divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Baloch have their own language, Balochi, and live in a land the size of France they call Balochistan. That rugged terrain under their feet boasts enormous reserves of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium as well as a thousand kilometers coast at the doors of the Strait of Hormuz. "Our children walk barefoot on a golden soil," says accurately an eloquent Baloch proverb. In fact, the Baloch happen to live in the three most underdeveloped regions in their respective countries, Afghanistan included.

Foreign correspondents are not allowed to travel to the "forbidden” Baloch regions in Iran and Pakistan. The few who have ever dared break this rule have paid the consequences. In December 2006, New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall was badly beaten in Quetta—southwest Pakistan—by men who identified themselves as members of a special branch of the Pakistan police, and who accused her of "being in Quetta without permission".

In 2009, I managed to visit Iran and Pakistan controlled Baloch areas where I interviewed several tribal and political leaders, intellectuals and even guerrilla commanders fighting for independence.

The Baloch insurgents in Pakistan are fragmented into several groups the main ones being the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and Lashkar-e-Balochistan (Balochistan's Army). Several analysts say this fragmentation reflects the tribal element among the Baloch. Despite the apparent fracture, all these groups are markedly secular movements—at odds with the Taliban—who share a common agenda focusing on the independence of Balochistan.

In 2010 I confirmed for myself that the most accessible Baloch region for a foreign journalist today is the one that lies within the borders of Afghanistan. I faced no obstacles nor any kind of threat from the Afghan government over traveling to the southern provinces of Helmand and Nimroz, which host a significant Baloch population. Unlike Tehran and Islamabad, Kabul did not threaten to deport me or prevent me from visiting Afghanistan again in the future in case I attempted to report on the situation of the Baloch in that country. And what's more important, none of the people I met will face any problem for speaking with a foreign reporter, at least not from Kabul.

Being one of the very few reporters to visit the three parts of Balochistan has granted me access to prominent leaders like Dr. Allah Nazar, a senior commander of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). Allah Nazar, now a guerrilla fighter, spoke on the phone about a conflict deeply rooted in yet another failed decolonization process—that of the partition of India in 1947.

You are a senior Commander of the Baloch Liberation Front. How would you describe the group you lead?

In the BLF there are Balochs from all walks of life, from peasants to doctors. There are more than 6,000 fighters in our ranks and the number is growing by the day. We operate in full coordination with all Baloch resistance movements and we are soon to form a united command. The BLF is waging a guerrilla war inside East Balochistan, which is under Pakistani control. Attacks are continuously conducted by our freedom fighters and early this month the Baloch Liberation Front killed twelve army men and eight proxies in Gidar, district Kalat.

Do you also coordinate yourselves with Jundullah – "the army of God" – the Baloch insurgent movement from neighbouring Iran?

We know that the people fighting in Jundullah are also Baloch but we have no relation with them. We don’t believe in religious extremism. Ours is a pure nationalist war, miles away from Jundullah's religious extremism.

Islamabad has always claimed that the Baloch resistance has been backed by India, its archenemy. Is any foreign body helping you at some point?

That´s just fake propaganda from Pakistani state media in order to show the world that the Baloch are proxies. India is not supporting us.

Pakistan controlled Balochistan has a provincial government. Why have you taken up the armed struggle and not parliamentary politics?

We had already been declared an independent state from Pakistan in August 1947, even before Pakistan started to exist. Seven months later, Pakistan occupied our land by force, marking the beginning of a colonial policies imposed by Islamabad. From the first day Baloch have not accepted the occupation of Pakistan so our struggle is a continuation of our forefathers. Why are we not supporting parliamentary politics? The Parliament plays a key role, it enacts laws that brutally suppress the Baloch national identity, our culture and language and our existence as a whole. Besides, the Supreme Court is legitimizing the brutality of the State so we do not believe in the Pakistani Supreme Court and we don't have any hope that the Pakistani Supreme Court can deliver justice to the Baloch people.

Some Baloch leaders say self-determination should be the main goal whereas you’ve always been vowing for independence. Why is this?

Leaders such as Akhtar Mengal—leader of the Baloch National Movement (BNP)—are calling for "national self-determination", but it's a vague term. Although the UN charter accepts the principle of self-determination, we are fighting for independence. Self-determination has a broad meaning and it can imply that we will remain inside the state. We have our own history, our own language, our own geography and we have our own, you can say, national identity, so we want our freedom. According to Pakistani media and according to Akhtar Mengal's close fellows and colleagues, they have planned to participate in the forthcoming elections [the date of which has not been officially announced]. So he is back just to clear the path towards them.

What do you think, on the other hand, about the Freedom Charter—a road map for Balochistan's independence—supported by leaders like Hyrbyair Marri, London based tribal and political leader?

The Freedom Charter is a very good step as taken by Hyrbyair Marri. We support the liberation charter but it is important to take into account the views of all Baloch friends and the nation. We have given our proposals. After national liberation every Baloch wishes to have a peaceful and prosperous life.

Islamabad claims that projects such as Gwadar's deep water harbour would boost the economy of Balochistan but you are is against it. Why is that?

Gwadar is a project that has been planned in the interest of Punjabi and colonial powers and not for the welfare of Baloch people. It´s meant to bring demographic change in Balochistan, they want to change our majority into a minority by bringing the Muhajirs—immigrants—and other people to Balochistan in order to unbalance the demography in the region. Gwadar is a death warrant for Baloch people.

Prominent Baloch leaders have often expressed their concern over the so called "settlers", something that has reportedly led to the killing of civilians from other regions in your area. On September the 13th, ten laborers were shot in Mastung and the group that claimed responsibility was called Baloch United Liberation Army, BULA. Is that an offshoot of the BLF?

I know they are Baloch and I have seen in the newspapers that they are also fighting for freedom. Nonetheless, I want to make clear that the said laborers were not but agents in disguise working for the Frontier Work Organization [FWO], a section of the army that is constructing the roads throughout Pakistan and particularly in Balochistan to deploy their army. According to my knowledge, Baloch militants had warned them twice because they were constructing this road leading to mountainous areas where the freedom fighters take shelter.

But the BLF also claimed responsibility for the deaths of three journalists, didn't you?

That's also false. The BLF has not killed any journalist. The Baloch Liberation Front has always honored journalism and respected the freedom of speech. It is an expression of honor that I am talking with you. We believe in freedom of speech, the freedom to write and the freedom of journalism. Unfortunately, there is a media blackout throughout Balochistan while the free media is not allowed to come to Balochistan to see and observe things. So mostly the state sponsored media is not publishing or telecasting the real situation in Balochistan.

Last August, BBC correspondent in Quetta, Ayub Tarim, was threatened by the BLF. Can you confirm this?

Absolutely not. I know Ayub Tarim from since I was a student in Bolan Medical College and I was chairman of the Baloch Student Organization. We know each other personally. The Balochistan Liberation Front did not threaten Ayub Tarim, we just complained about the insufficient and often biased coverage of the BBC in Balochistan. The BBC is not double-checking the situation from impartial sources as it mostly relies on government sources. Balochistan is a vast area. Why does the BBC have only one representative in Quetta? The BBC should have two or three correspondents in Balochistan.

Baloch have continuously denounced that Islamabad is trying to Talibanize Balochistan in order to quell the Baloch nationalist movement. What do you think?

That's true. Balochs are basically secular, by their culture, by their tradition, by their historical background so the Pakistani regime is trying to Talibanize the Baloch society. Just where I am right now, the ISI—Pakistani secret services—have set up two religious militant groups against the Baloch national struggle: one is Ansar-al-Islam and the other is Tahafuz-e-Hadoodullah (Protectors of God's Rule). The man who is the head of the Pakistani death squads here in Balochistan is Shafiq Mengal—the son of former federal minister Naseer Mengal. Another one is Siraj Raisani, the brother of Aslam Raisani—current Chief Minister of Balochistan region—while the third man is Zaib, the nephew of Balochistan provincial minister Sanaullah Zehri. They have formed these groups in the name of Islam but their real aim is to crush the Baloch freedom movement. Pakistan is the cradle of the Taliban and the breeding ground of the Taliban. Pakistan is nourishing and funneling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists into Afghanistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Yemen... Pakistan is an irresponsible state that is putting the civilized world in danger. A free Baloch state would therefore be in the interest of the whole civilized world.

Washington is recently reconsidering their pull out from Afghanistan in due for 2014. How will this affect the whole Af-Pak region?

If America and NATO pull out from Afghanistan that will cause a big turbulence and bigger destabilization in the region. A weak Afghanistan will destabilize not only the region but it will be harmful for the whole civilized world.

Under the scenario you've depicted, do you hope that you will go back to medicine one day?

It depends on our struggle. If we ever get a free Balochistan I'd like to be a medical teacher.

Karlos Zurutuza is a regular contributor to IPS. He was awarded the Nawab Bugti Reporting Award 2009 for his reporting on the Baloch areas in Pakistan and Iran.