Books

Finally, a Book on South Asia's Most Under-Researched, Under-Reported Conflict

Naseer Dashti’s The Baloch Conlict with Iran and Pakistan: Aspects of a National Liberation Struggle offers a radically distinct outlook from an ethnic Baloch.

On August 15, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nod to Pakistan’s festering insurgency revived nascent activism on Balochistan. This included rejuvenated campaigns on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, human rights violations/resource exploitation, the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, and a larger self-determination movement.

The prime minister’s response to Nawaz Sharif’s Burhan Wani reference at the United Nations has since jump-started activism even in Washington D.C. and Geneva.

Recently, the World Baloch Organization also managed to irk the Pakistani High Commission in England through its Free Balochistan advertisements on London cabs.

With respect to Kashmir, mainstream media has always curtailed, but not fully censored, dissenting opinions via bellicose nationalism. However, alternative avenues still exist to further these voices, (both inside and outside the Valley) such as literature and independent filmmaking.

Naseer Dashti
The Baloch Conlict with Iran and Pakistan: Aspects of a National Liberation Struggle
Independently published, 2017

At the same time, one question arises from the whataboutery and genuine comparisons surrounding these two conflicts.

How many Indians understand Balochistan outside the contours of the India-Pakistan rivalry?

In light of Pakistani inaction on Hafiz Saeed and the Swiss government’s rejection of Brahamdagh Bugti’s application for political asylum, there is a call for India to grant the latter sanctuary.

Hence, Naseer Dashti’s independently published The Baloch Conlict with Iran and Pakistan: Aspects of a National Liberation Struggle, is timely.

Until now, literature on Balochistan has constantly been viewed through the prisms of imperial cartography, historical ethnography, precursory nationalism, the Pakistani state, or journalistic memoir. In his first book, Dashti touched on the province’s dubious merger with Pakistan. Preceding this accession is a lengthy oppression-ridden history that included a sovereign nation-state referred to as the Khanate of Kalat. That is until Britain trifurcated the Khanate into portions held by present-day Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Rarely do South Asia policy enthusiasts get acquainted with a radically distinct outlook from an ethnic Baloch. After all, subsequent to Nawab Akbar Bugti’s murder in 2006, the author left Pakistan for the UK to escape persecution. Though according to past establishment leaders like Senator Mushahid Hussain, Bugti was not pro-independence.

Outside the Pakistani High Commission in the Knightsbridge area of London. Credit: Daneesh Majid

The dissident author also gives long-overdue attention to the more under-reported Baloch persecution in Iran. Fair-weather Indian ‘supporters’ and the general public are unaware of this important facet. In 1973, the Iranian Shah did not take kindly to eastern Balcohistan movements spearheaded by early nationalist figures Ataullah Mengal, Ghous Baksh Bizenjo, and Khair Baksh Marri.

In his book, Dashti endorses the secessionist line. But he does so while remaining cognisant of broader geopolitical realities that hold implications for external support towards the Baloch cause. Such pragmatism is usually absent among others who extol separatist narratives.

After elaborating on Iran, Dashti devotes the lion’s share of the book to a much-neglected era.

This epoch succeeded the short-lived independence of the Baloch nation-state that possessed its own bicameral tribal parliament.

Bhakt keyboard warriors and armchair activists alike project solidarity through hashtags that project human rights violations and/or commemorate any prominent ideologue’s martyrdom.

But can those far from ground realities truly have an informed opinion on that often-ignored and disregarded period?

Luckily the follow-up to The Baloch and Balochistan comprehensively narrates the peaks and troughs of a 70-year long resistance that initially emerged under a confederation of leftist parties, the National Awami Party. During the early years, the elite chieftains of the Bugti, Marri, Mengal, and Bizenjo tribes emerged as the faces of the struggle. Dashti relies on extensive research when recapping the nationalists’ post-accession trajectory that saw strides and schisms.

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He then smoothly transitions into more recent stages of the resistance after the first four insurgencies. Readers are introduced to other key stakeholders like militant groups (although all but one of political parties deny affiliation with them), student organisations, and the exiled Europe-based leadership. Dashti does not just delve into these groups’ ideological leanings, he divulges fascinating details about their socio-economic and tribal demographics as well.

Naseer Dashti. Credit: Youtube

The wealth of information regarding contemporary history that preceded the 21st century era can get a bit overwhelming for those new to the Balochistan issue. Nevertheless, the book’s all encompassing content maintains a flow by headings and sub-headings within chapters.

Most intriguing are the final parts of this account. Dashti applies relevant clauses and articles of international treaties and human rights covenants to make a case for a UN supervised referendum. This makes for provocative reading since debate around the UN’s role in South Asian conflicts has been Kashmir centric. Despite championing a liberation movement on a political and militant level, the last chapter is a testament to Dashti’s acumen in considering both internal and external obstacles to the cause. A recurring theme within the former is a lack of unity among nationalist forces in eastern Balochistan. As for external support, his realistic assessment of India’s and the United States’ current and future involvement can be summed up in six words.

(C)overt assistance alongside strategic policy paralysis.

The present-day discourse on the Baloch question is shrouded in censorship. Consequently, the only recourse to disseminate this excessively silenced narrative was an independent US-based publishing company. Therefore, the unfortunate lack of buzz around this book and minor grammatical lapses can be overlooked.

Plus, perspectives regarding Pakistan Administered Kashmir or and Balochistan that slightly deviate from those of the establishment are not simply discouraged in Pakistan. They are crushed.

And if civil society members give a platform to crushed voices, a certain fate awaits them. This is exactly why Dashti’s book deserves to be read.

Daneesh Majid is a freelance writer with a masters in South Asian Area Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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