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When the doves cry

February 02, 2012

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.

By 1976, Bhutto had installed almost up to 80,000 troops in Balochistan. The conflict finally came to a halt in 1977 when the Bhutto government was toppled in a military coup by General Ziaul Haq.

Although a right-wing Islamist, Zia released the arrested NAP leaders and soon agreed to withdraw troops from the war-torn province.

Hundreds of Baloch fighters and their leaders were allowed to flee to Afghanistan between 1978 and 1980. They were all accommodated by the pro-Soviet communist government in Kabul.

NAP-Wali that was banned by the Bhutto regime in 1973 now remerged in the shape of various parties but major disagreements between its Baloch, Sindhi and Pushtun leaders over the question of joining the PPP-led anti-Zia movement (the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy [MRD]), thwarted the formation of a strong NAP-like party.

BSO remained rooted as the leading student organisation on Balochistan’s campuses where it not only began a series of protests against the Zia dictatorship, but also denounced Pakistan’s US and Saudi backed Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan against Soviet troops.

In 1981, BSO joined the United Students Movement (USM) – an anti-Zia and anti-Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) electoral alliance of progressive and left-wing ethnic-nationalist student groups (at the University of Karachi [KU]).

In 1985, a NAP-like collaboration between progressive Baloch, Pushtun and Sindhi nationalists finally emerged and named itself the Awami National Party (ANP).

Abdul Wali Khan, the former chief of NAP-Wali, was elected president of ANP. ANP decided to join the MRD against the Zia dictatorship.

However, by the time of Zia’s assassination in 1988, much of ANP’s Sindhi and Baloch leadership had left the party to form their own outfits and ANP was left to become a Pushtun nationalist party.

Before the November 1988 elections, various Baloch leaders who’d been together in NAP could not unite themselves under a single political entity and as a result, a number of Baloch parties contested the elections.

The newest and youngest of them was the Balochistan National Party (BNP) that came into being with the help of various ex-BSO members. BNP was directly supported by the BSO during the 1988 elections.

BNP managed to win the most seats (compared to other Baloch nationalist parties) in the elections.

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the brand of communism and Marxist-Leninist movements that it was patronising, the Baloch nationalist movement went through further fragmentation (across the 1990s and 2000s).

BNP broke into various factions, a number of new Baloch nationalist parties emerged, and BSO too began to fracture into an assortment of splinter groups.

By the time the fourth Balochistan insurgency flared up in 2005 (during the Pervez Musharraf dictatorship), BSO was splintered into four major factions: BSO (Awami), BSO (Azad), BSO (Mengal) and BSO (Pajjar).

As the fourth insurgency (2005-present) intensified, BSO (Azad) stood out to be the most radical and militant of the BSO factions and was directly involved in the formation of new Baloch insurgency/separatist outfits such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army (BLA).

BSO (Azad) is not affiliated with any mainstream Baloch nationalist party and advocates an open armed struggle against the state of Pakistan for an independent Balochistan.

BSO (Awami) has roots in a split that BSO faced in the early 1970s and at the moment it is struggling for support among Baloch students.

BSO (M), though as radical in its orientation as BSO (Azad), has been more active in mainstream student and youth politics in Balochistan. It has also evolved into becoming the student-wing of BNP’s largest and most mainstream factions, the BNP (Mengal).

Among the splinter groups, BSO (Pajjar) has the largest following among Baloch students. It is also the most mainstream faction of the BSO and perhaps also the largest. It concentrates on the ideological and educational aspects of the Baloch nationalist movement, working to get as many Baloch people educated as possible. It also holds regular ‘study circles’ in which it imparts the ‘Baloch nationalist ideology and history’ to Baloch students.

All BSO factions define themselves as being socialist and strictly secular in orientation. One must also keep in mind that BSO (Paggar), BSO (Mengal) and sometimes even BSO (Azad) have been known to collaborate on a number of issues being faced by the Baloch during the ongoing insurgency.

Their collaboration is the strongest against the recent arrival of extremist Islamist groups such as the Taliban and the al Qaeda in certain areas of the province and especially against the right-wing Baloch Islamist outfit, the Jandullah.

BSO accuses the Pakistan military-establishment of backing Islamic extremists in Balochistan to neutralise the Baloch nationalist movement.

The rapid factionalisation witnessed in nationalist Baloch political parties and student groups from the mid-1980s onwards is also due to the relative increase in number of the Baloch middle-classes.

The splits in this respect first began to take shape when in the early 1980s sections of the BSO wanted to wrest the control of the Baloch nationalist movement away from Balochistan’s tribal chiefs.

By the late 1980s there was a clear split between Baloch nationalist parties led by middle-class leadership and those being led by the more traditional tribal elements.

However, both these tendencies share similar goals and ideology, even though most BSO factions have now galvanised towards the movement’s middle-class expressions.

Bibliography: Muhammad, Jan: Essays on Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan (Gosha-e-Adab, 2007); Akber, Malik Siraj: The Redefined Dimensions of the Baloch Nationalist Movement (Xlibris, 2011); Kundi, Akber: Balochistan-A Socio-Culture & Political Analysis (University of Michigan, 1993); Marginality & Modernity- Ethnicity & Change in Post-Colonial Balochistan (Oxford, 1996).

Baloch Students Organisation (Awami)

A faction of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) that broke away in 1972. Though it attracted widespread support from Baloch students in the 1980s, currently it has a small presence in Balochistan’s educational institutions.

Baloch Students Organisation (Azad)

Formed in the late 1990s by the most militant sections of the BSO. BSO (Azad) is an extremely radical youth organisation that is directly and unapologetically involved in the on-going Baloch insurgency and separatist movement against the Pakistani state and military.

Baloch Students Organisation (M)

BSO (M) was formed in the early 2000s as a faction of the BSO. Though it adheres to the radical Baloch nationalist ideology that advocates Balochistan’s succession from Pakistan, it works closely with mainstream Baloch nationalist parties, especially the Balochistan National Party (M).

Baloch Students Organisation (Pajjar)

The largest faction of the once united BSO. Formed in the late 1990s, BSO (Pajjar) claims to be contributing to the nationalist Baloch cause by working to get as many Baloch youth educated in schools and colleges as possible. It also holds regular ‘study circles’ in which its ideologues impart the history and ideology of the Balochistan nationalist movement to Baloch youth against what it calls, the ‘oppressive and exploitative state of Pakistan.’

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.