Last week, The Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), threatened that it will suspend transmission of private television channels across the province to protest the media’s ‘failure to properly highlight the plight of the people of Balochistan’.
What or who is the Baloch Students Organisation?
BSO has been around since 1967 and has continued to be an active and important player in the topsy-turvy sphere of Baloch nationalist politics. And even though over the decades it has experienced its share of splintering, almost all of its factions remain to be perhaps the most articulate and consistent factors in the volatile politics of Balochistan, as well as, within the series of Baloch nationalist uprisings that this province has (and is still) witnessing in the last many decades.
Nevertheless, it can be quite perplexing for an outsider to figure out the rather complex nature of Baloch politics, what with all the competing, cooperating and then competing again Baloch nationalist parties and organisations and their many factions and splinter groups.
That’s why an isolated study of BSO and its factions can help one understand just what has made the Baloch nationalist sentiment to continue simmering for more than 40 years, despite the fact that violent action from the Pakistan military, in-fighting within the Baloch movement, and (ever since the 1980s), the ‘state-sponsored’ introduction of radical Islamist groups in Balochistan, have left the long-running Baloch nationalist movement a tough and multifaceted thing to comprehend.
Baloch Students Organisation (BSO)
Left-wing Student organisation formed in 1967 as a reaction to the government of Pakistan’s armed action against the second Baloch insurgency in the early 1960s.
BSO was conceived as an independent student outfit to look after the academic and political interests of Baloch students in the educational institutions of the Balochistan province and in Karachi.
BSO’s rapid growth and its leftist orientation saw it working closely with the Baloch leadership in the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP).
By 1969-70, BSO was sweeping student union elections in the Baloch majority areas in Balochistan and got into successful electoral alliances with the pro-Soviet factions of the National Students Federation (NSF) in Karachi’s universities and colleges.
Though it positioned itself as a separatist organisation working to carve out Balochistan as an independent state, its politics remained largely peaceful till the eruption of the third Balochistan insurgency in 1973.
In 1967, NAP broke into two factions. The pro-China faction broke away and became NAP-Bhshani. It was led by veteran Maoist figurehead, Abdul Hamid Bhashani (a Bengali from East Pakistan).
The pro-Soviet faction was led by the Pushtun, Abdul Wali Khan, and became NAP-Wali. NAP’s Baloch leadership decided to side with and join NAP-Wali. BSO too decided to support NAP-Wali.
During the 1970 general elections, NAP-Wali performed well in Balochistan and Khyber Paktunkhwa (KP) in former West Pakistan. West Pakistan’s other two provinces, Sindh and Punjab, voted overwhelmingly for the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led leftist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Elections in East Pakistan were swept by the Bangali nationalist party the Awami League (AL).
After East Pakistan (due to a Bengali ‘war of liberation’ against the military-led state of Pakistan) separated to become Bangladesh (in 1972), the PPP formed the government at the centre and in the Sindh and Punjab provinces, whereas NAP-Wali presided over non-PPP ruling coalition governments in the KP and Balochistan provinces.
The relations between the PPP-led federal government and NAP-led provincial governments in KP and Balochistan were never cordial in spite of the fact that both the parties were leftist and secular.
In 1973, police raided the Iraqi Embassy in the federal capital, Islamabad, and recovered a shipment of sophisticated weapons (Russian rifles and missiles).
The government claimed that the weapons were smuggled in by the Iraqis and were to be handed over to the provincial government of Balochistan.
The government further claimed that the Iraqis wanted to arm Baloch nationalists so they could start an insurgency in Balochistan and separate the province not only from Pakistan but also drag in the Baloch populated areas of Iran. Iraq and Iran were at loggerheads.
Bhutto dismissed the NAP-led government in Balochistan and arrested NAP’s senior leadership. The NAP coalition government in KP resigned in protest.
Bhutto’s action triggered the third Balochistan insurgency in which hundreds of young Baloch men escaped into the hills and mountains of the rugged province and began a guerrilla war against the Pakistan army.
The scenario also galvanised BSO. In a two-pronged strategy, a majority of BSO leaders stayed put in Balochistan and Karachi’s college and university campuses to propagate the ‘Baloch struggle,’ while its most militant members helped revive the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) – a Baloch separatist guerrilla outfit that had been active during the 1962 Baloch insurgency.
BLF professed to be a Marxist-Leninist ‘liberation army.’ As the conflict intensified, another similar outfit emerged from within the BSO called Baloch Peoples Liberation Front (BPLF).
Both BLF and BPLF were alleged to have been funded by the Soviet Union and Iraq and some BPLF men were also said to have been trained by Palestinian fighters belonging to Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Beirut. Among the fighters included Baloch tribesmen, Baloch students and some sympathetic non-Baloch youth.