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Friday, April 30, 2010

Winning the Battle of Algiers —Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Winning the Battle of Algiers —Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

If brutal crackdowns and search operations of suspected areas had any success in deterring people from struggling for their national, political, social and economic rights, Algeria would still have been a French colony

Jeehamd Shahija Marri was a notorious cattle rustler in the Pat Feeder area in the 1950s and 60s; he used to narrate his exploits about the risks they had to take and the distances they had to walk. He would recount that after reaching a relatively safe place after a continuous quick walk of 10 to 12 hours, they would rest but be unable to sit as their knees refused to bend and they had to drop themselves on the ground and massage their muscles back to life.

It was in 1963 that a bulldozer constructing a road from Talli to Kahan was attacked and he was picked up as a suspect and severely tortured. He was hung from his hair — as the Marris sport long hair — but he resisted the torture and refused to wrongly admit to the alleged crime. On release he joined the Farrars (Rebels). He was above 70 years of age when the army action began in the Marri area in May 1973 and led guerrilla units surpassing the younger lot in endurance and tenacity. He was a role model for his bravery and toughness.

On February 27, 2005, when Musharraf ruled the roost, the New Kahan camp — where the Marris after their return from Afghanistan in 1992 had been settled — was raided by 1,500 policemen under the supervision of the Quetta DIG Pervez Rafi Bhatti. Many innocent people were arrested and claims of weapons recovery made, but to top it all off the Pakistani flag was hoisted on what the police termed as the ‘fort’ of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, an easy alternative to Delhi’s ‘Lal Qilla’, which they have always yearned for. I do not know the exact numbers but after the raid many decided to throw in their lot with the Farrars. It was raided again in March 2006, then once more in November, each time adding recruits to the Farrars.

The meek and ineffective provincial governments by implication connive with the brutalities perpetrated against the Baloch population and the present incumbents have often openly admitted that the FC runs a ‘parallel government’. The law and order situation is bad in Karachi but one does not see the crackdowns, except in Lyari, that Balochistan suffers.

When in mid-June 2007 seven army men were killed in an ambush in Quetta, a search operation was carried out in which a lot of people were arrested from Qilli Qambarani, Qilli Ismail and other places. Hundreds of search operations have been carried out in Quetta and its environs and numerous other places in Balochistan but they have not improved the law and order situation by an iota.

These searches should not be thought of as ones where the rights of the suspects are read out and they are given the benefit of being ‘innocent until proven guilty’. These search operations are violent, brutish and rough in the extreme, aimed at intimidating and humiliating the people in order to deter them from supporting the struggle for rights, but this aim is never achieved.

The residents are presumed guilty and the ferocity and brutality of the execution of searches is inversely proportional to the resistance and resentment displayed by the people. Those, mostly the young, on whom the axe invariably falls, are manhandled if they resist and bundled into waiting vehicles and driven away to camps and prisons; needless to say without due process of law and without recourse to justice.

On April 20, a massive crackdown was carried out by the LEAs in Quetta and environs, Qilli Ismail, Kechi Baig, Qilli Qambarani, Sariab, Qilli Sarday and Wali Jat. All day long the homes belonging to the Baloch were searched, people taken into custody blindfolded and whisked away. Naturally the people resisted and there were scuffles and fights during which a lady, Shahnaz Bibi, mother of BNP activist Sanaullah Mengal, was killed. Women too are fair game for harsh treatment. Eyewitnesses say that around 300 people were taken into custody though the mainstream media reported only 100 arrests.

They were suspected of bomb blasts, kidnappings, target killings and other violent crimes that occur frequently in Quetta in spite of hundreds of search operations that have taken place in the past. Incidentally, the same Qilli Qambarani, Qilli Ismail and other places were searched after the killings of seven army men in June 2007 but apparently that crackdown failed to eliminate the suspected ‘troublemakers’. Each subsequent crackdown is more brutal than the last one.

If brutal crackdowns and search operations of suspected areas had any success in deterring people from struggling for their national, political, social and economic rights, then dear readers, Algeria would still have been a French colony because the French forces there were brutal, ruthless and unforgiving. They picked up people, kept them in custody and tortured them as long as they wanted but in the end they had to pack up and leave because neither the resistance nor the will of the people could be broken.

It is said that the French with ruthless disregard for Algerian lives won the Battle of Algiers by destroying the FLN there in 1957, but lost the War for Algeria when the people rose up as a whole in 1960, proving the futility of repression. During the February 29, 1980 people’s opposition to the Soviet forces in Kabul, I was stranded outside the city during the night but entered the city next morning, which is also an example. Eventually, repression makes the people fearless and compels them to utterly disregard their own safety.

Such crackdowns are counter-productive and carrying them out adds fuel to the fire. A suspect or two may be nabbed but when hundreds are antagonised in the process, the likes of Jeehamd Shahija, Dr Allah Nazar and others willingly join the Farrars. The term ‘Farrar’ may be seen with distaste by others but for a Baloch it conjures glorifying images and is the ultimate dream of many a Baloch youth.

I spent 20 years with the Marri tribe and have contacts with a cross-section of Baloch people from different tribes and areas and can say with authority that this senseless brutality cannot and will not be able to break the will and resilience of the Baloch people. The Battle for Algiers may have been won but more and more Baloch, both old and young, as a result of repression will join up with the Farrars or work clandestinely to help them succeed.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

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