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Pakistan: Baloch people march for justice

 

By Shahzad Arshad

On Friday 28 February, after 2,500 kilometres the Long March of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, VBMP, finally reached its destination of Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. The 20 marchers are relatives of just some of the 18,400 people who are missing and believed to have been abducted by Pakistan’s security forces in Baluchistan. The march was the culmination of their campaign demanding that the government release information on who is being held captive by the army and publicising the extra-judicial killing of Baloch people. According to Human Rights Watch, 300 bodies of Balochi activists have been found dumped by roadsides over the past three years.

Mama Abdul Qadeer Baloch, 70, and Banuk Farzana Majeed are leading the march, and it is the longest political campaign march in Pakistan’s history. In November 2011, Mama was handed the mutilated body of his son, who was the information secretary of the Baloch Republican Party, Jalil Reiki. The courageous Banuk is a sister of Zakir Majeed, a student leader who has been missing since 2009. The rest of the small group consists of other women and children whose brothers, fathers and husbands are “guilty” of struggling for their rights and standing up against the state. Balochi are systematically marginalised by the Pakistan state in order to make their suppression easier and the exploitation of their resources justifiable.

The marchers left Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, in October and crossed the mountains to the coast near Karachi before making their way across the vast province of Sindh to the Punjab. Their march has angered those in power because this small group of Balochi have shone a spotlight on the oppression of Baluchistan for the whole country to see, and especially in Punjab, the home province of the ruling elite of Pakistan. Their refusal to be silenced has made the establishment nervous and the marchers were repeatedly subjected to threats and intimidation en route. For example, on 8 February, two marchers, Shahshan Baloch and Irfan Ali, a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, were injured when a truck ploughed into them – later explained away as a result of brake failure.

Similar bullying tactics have been used against those who had the courage to host the marchers – or even greet them – in the towns along their route. In Lahore, death threats were made against members of the Awami Workers’ Party, who organised support for the Long March on its arrival. Mama was told to expect “the worst consequences” if the march attempted to continue on to Islamabad. For several days the marchers’ progress was physically prevented but they refused to be intimidated and their determination attracted increasing support, particularly from students. In the end, they were allowed to proceed.

Missing persons and mass graves

On 25 January, a shepherd discovered a mass grave in Tootak (Khuzdar district) after which the locals converged there to recover the bodies. According to the “progressive and nationalist” government representatives, 13 bodies were found, but the truth is over 100. The Asian Human Rights Commission has counted 103 dead bodies, whereas local people estimate the body count is 169 and believe there are more graves in the area. The security forces have cordoned off the gravesite and are not allowing anyone in.

The Long March has become even more important with the discovery of the mass graves. The participants’ determination was doubly strengthened by this horrific discovery. Their march is an entirely new dawn in the struggle of the Baloch people and other oppressed and working class people for their rights and against the injustices of capitalism and the Pakistan state. A newly imposed law, the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO), shows exactly how the policy of repression is entrenched in the country’s rule of law. The PPO sanctions enforced disappearances by removing the legal requirement to produce detainees before a court of law within 48 hours of arrest – and now extends this period to 90 days.

The War on Terror and Baluchistan

The “War on Terror” is used to justify destruction and state operations in Baluchistan. Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf launched military operations in 2005 and the preceding governments of the Pakistan People’s Party and now of Nawaz continued them. Their current offensives in the Panjgur, Khuzdar and Mastung districts of Balochistan began after an attack on Hazara Shia in Mastung, for which Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility. Yet, military attacks have been launched against the strongholds of the Balochi national movement, not the networks of LeJ.

Balochi men, women and children have been arrested, tortured and killed during the systematic persecution against anyone suspected of sympathising with the Balochi national movement. What is clear is that the state is using the climate of fear to justify operations in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and in Balochistan. These will bring nothing but hatred, racism, war mongering and the displacement of population – and ultimately encourage terrorism.

The Left and liberal democracy

Many on the left welcomed the appointment of Dr Malik (left nationalist and pro-federation) as Chief Minister of Baluchistan and said it was a wise decision of the Nawaz Government. They hoped that he would solve the real issues affecting people, such as the disappeared persons, the ongoing military operations and the need for industrial and social infrastructure. Instead, Malik’s National Party has capitulated and made it easier for the state to crush the national movement. After all, as chief minister, Dr Malik is now supervising all military operations.

National self-determination and socialism

The important question now is what should be the attitude of revolutionary socialists in the current situation. The Balochi national movement is an important question of class struggle in Pakistan.

Firstly, socialists should support the Long March and the demands for the release of missing persons. We should fight for an end to military operations and try to spread resistance across the working class and youth in all the provinces of Pakistan.

In addition, we must oppose the PPO and build a movement against it. This is a law that will not only be used against the Balochi but also in every issue deemed by the ruling elite to relate to the “War on Terror”. It will certainly be used against the working class who are facing tremendous hardship in Pakistan and fighting back through industrial action.

Secondly, socialists must provide unconditional, yet critical, support the right of national self-determination. Russian revolutionary Lenin rightly argued that support for the self-determination of oppressed peoples by the workers of the oppressor nation creates better conditions for working class struggle. Instead of the workers of the different nations fighting each other, they can unite to fight against the capitalists.

As socialists, we want a voluntary federation of nations, not a forced one. We want to abolish borders and boundaries instead of creating them. National self-determination (including the right of oppressed nations to form their own states, if they wish) has to be understood as a step towards this unity. It increases the forces of socialist revolution. Why? Because the workers and all progressive forces of the oppressor nation and state can only win the trust of the oppressed if they support their democratic rights without hesitation.

The achievement of self-determination, with the support of the workers and peasants of the former oppressor nation, is the best way to weaken reactionary forces in both nations. It would create the best situation in which to fight the exploitative classes in both nations. As soon as the system of class exploitation is overcome, the basis for the exploitation of one nation by other nations will be overcome, too.

In these circumstances, revolutionary socialists should support the Balochi national movement. At the same time, we must also point out the class differences within the national liberation movement and the dangerous misleadership of bourgeois forces. We need to fight for the working class and socialist forces to become the leadership of the national liberation movement.

The working class needs to build its own organs of struggle that will link their struggles with those of the whole Pakistani working class, as well as with workers worldwide. The working class movement would use the methods of class struggle, including strikes, occupations and the general strike, culminating in a mass political uprising. In this way, the national liberation of Balochistan and the struggle for socialism can move forward.

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