Profile: Pro-govt chief of Marri tribe

Updated June 21, 2014

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WHILE his detractors say that he had been estranged from his revolutionary father for most of the latter’s remarkable life, he was the only one of the scions who attended to Khair Bakhsh Marri in hospital before his death.

Changez Khan Marri, who replaced his father as the chieftain of the Marri tribe on Thursday, had around him the sardars of sub-tribes, who performed the ceremony and tied the knots of the dastar on the eldest Marri nawabzada. Only after the dastarbandi ceremony could he rightfully be referred to as the nawab.

The new nawab has visited all the countries that his father and younger brothers passed through, including Afghanistan where the late Khair Bakhsh prepared himself for another stint in his lifelong bid for a separate homeland, after his release from Hyderabad jail. He had been released after the Ziaul Haq takeover.

His critics say that Changez was in Afghanistan during the peaceful days of the early 1970s, and not when his father associated himself with the Afghan tumult. Unlike the rest of his brothers, Changez took up traditional politics in his home province. He joined a party that was perfectly compatible with the mainstream, a move many thought bizarre given his father’s political views.

Many in his area were angry when he chose a democratic setting — a move that kept him away from Baloch nationalism that has steadily grown in intensity since retired Gen Pervez Musharraf launched an operation to crush the uprising led by Nawab Akbar Bugti eight years ago.

It is not just his affiliation with mainstream political forces that has made Changez a stranger in his own backyard. From the outset, critics called him an adversary of his father’s politics even though he was a late-comer in active politics. Friends know him as never having been a political animal in his nearly 60 years, someone who was influenced by his family’s political culture and found a role for himself, albeit a safe one.

As a close associate of his put it, “By nature, he is a defensive individual who lives his life away from unnecessary hazards. But, at the same time, Changez Marri loves his family the most, particularly his father” — a reminder that Changez looked after his father during his last days.

The new nawab is the only one of his siblings who lives in Pakistan. Hyrbyair, who is known for his contribution to Baloch resistance, lives in London. Other brothers Meran, Gazain and Hunza are said to be living in Dubai while their sister is based in London. The fifth brother, Balaach, is believed to have been killed in a Nato strike in Afghanistan in 2007.

Many Baloch question Changez’s becoming the chieftain of the Marri tribe and see this as deviating from the character of the tribe based mainly in Kohlu district, and that has spearheaded earlier Baloch insurgencies. Some say it’s just a routine change at the top and will not affect the struggle the senior Marri headed.

“It is not going to affect the Baloch character of fighting for their rights,” said an activist close to the family. “This is just a normal change, and a just one, because the eldest son can replace the father.”

Another said: “There is a difference that we should understand. Changez has inherited Nawab Sahib’s legacy of leading the tribe, but not his political legacy. On this, Nawab Sahib had already declared Balaach — and no one else — the heir.”

Dr Jaffar Ahmad of the Pakistan Study Centre (PSC) in Karachi University said: “Changez’s nomination [as head of the Marri tribe] is legal under the tribal values, but we will have to see if it will cause any bickering in the family.”

Mir Hazar Khan, chief of the Bijarani sub-tribe who attended the dastarbandi in Quetta, told Dawn that Changez was the legal heir to his father. “He was unanimously made chief of the Marris.”

However, critics and close activists said that Khair Bakhsh distanced himself from Changez decades ago and was never in the loop when the latter joined the PML-N in the 1990s, contested and won a seat in the Balochistan Assembly, and became a minister for communications and works.

He won the same seat again in last year’s elections and is now a provincial minister for water and irrigation.

When Khair Bakhsh Marri was shifted to hospital, the fact that he was in coma meant he was unaware of the presence of his son whom he had forbidden from entering his house. But it was Changez who received condolences when his father died.

“The change of command in a single tribe may not affect Baloch militancy, which is spearheaded by at least six combatant groups,” said Dr Ahmad.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2014