November Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Books | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

The publication of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo’s autobiographical fragments has not come a day too soon. The slim volume, edited with loving care by B.M. Kutty, an authority on Balochistan’s politics in his own right, should considerably improve the readers’ understanding of the many-sided crisis in the most neglected federating unit of Pakistan.

Bizenjo wrote the notes for In Search of Solutions in the last phase of his eventful career. Whether fortuitously or by design, he chose to write less about himself (except for his time in prisons) than about the events he witnessed or in which he took part as a key actor. Such accounts often suffer from attempts at self-justification, but Bizenjo deserves credit for avoiding this pitfall to a considerable extent. His narration of his own transformation, from an advocate of Kalat’s independence to a proponent of his people’s active role in building up an egalitarian Pakistan based on the unity of the country’s have-nots, has the ring of sincerity. One cannot help wishing that the counsel of the incorrigible negotiator, as he was called, had been heeded.

Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo was a poor orphaned child who could not have liked the sardari system because of the rough treatment and drain on his resources he suffered at the hands of his tribe’s chief. As a young man he was quite happy playing football in different parts of India till he was sucked into the politics of the Kalat State National Party (KSNP) and was able to move into all-India politics as KSNP’s representative on the working committee of the All-India State People’s Conference.

The account of Kalat’s bid for independence and the Muslim League leaders’ acceptance of its claim throws ample light on the beginning of Balochistan’s grievances against Pakistan. Bizenjo offers a candid excerpt from his own speech opposing Kalat’s merger with Pakistan and criticises the Khan of Kalat for signing the agreement of accession to Pakistan “in gross violation of the will of the people of Kalat-Balochistan as expressed unanimously by members of both Houses of Parliament.”

Bizenjo offers no indication as to when and how he was converted to viewing Balochistan’s future as a unit of Pakistan, except for the disclosure that he and his fellow nationalist leaders decided to join the Muslim League, much to the discomfiture of the League leaders, and eventually the Balochistan leaders were obliged to form their own party.

Following the Kalat state’s merger with Pakistan, its relations with the centre slid downhill. The formation of the one-unit, the betrayal of the pledge given to Nawab Nauroze Khan, Iskander Mirza’s manoeuvrings resulting in the military expedition against Kalat, the crackdown against the nationalists during the early phase of Ayub’s rule (Bizenjo was arrested several times and convicted twice), and the removal of Sardar Ataullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri from the leadership of their tribes drove a wedge between the two. These incidents should be borne in mind by anyone who wishes to understand the Baloch reaction to the centre’s high-handedness.

Bizenjo also recalls the formation of the National Awami Party, its activities and the emergence of the Bhashani and Wali Khan factions after the party split and Bhutto’s wish to join it. Though brief, this account is useful as today’s readers know very little about the country’s leading democratic party in the ’60s.

The election of 1970 created possibilities for giving Balochistan a fresh start, but it was not to be. Bizenjo’s account of agreement with the PPP, the formation of Ataullah Mengal’s ministry and his own appointment as governor, the sacking of the ministry and Bizenjo’s dismissal substantiates Baloch charges of bad faith against the centre, especially against Bhutto. Despite all this, Bizenjo disagreed with the Baloch politicians (especially the youth) who said the smaller nationalities had no future in Pakistan.

Bizenjo talks of his last attempt between 1979-89, to persuade Punjab to read the writing on the wall and take the lead in “winning the confidence of the smaller nationalities by acknowledging their rights without any reservation.”  Failure in this mission made Bizenjo wonder whether he was a victim “of a flawed line of thinking” and that his comrades who had been alienated from Pakistan, after all, were right.

The final lines of Bizenjo’s reflections are as relevant today as they were at the time of writing two decades ago: “the intelligentsia and the thinking segment of the smaller nationalities are finding it increasingly difficult to bear the burden of persistent denial and suppression of their rights by the dominant ruling nationality by force of its sheer numerical majority and its predominant position in the bureaucracy and armed forces. They argue, and I cannot but agree with them, that no one can or will tolerate a life of slavery for all times.” Here you have the core of the Balochistan crisis.

Apart from offering us an essential reading in Pakistan’s history, the book provides an endearing portrait of a politician who bore imprisonment and other hardships without losing his humanism, and strove all his life to secure for his people freedom from oppression and violence. By publishing this book, Mr Kutty and the publishers have done Pakistan a good turn, in a spirit Bizenjo would have heartily approved.

Mr. I.A. Rehman is a writer and activist living in Pakistan. He is the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretariat.