A 29-year-old Aligarh-educated Baloch Marxist-nationalist representing the Kalat State National Party (KSNP) had stood up on December 14,1947 in the Kalat State Assembly to say: “we have a distinct culture like Afghanistan and Iran, and if the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to amalgamate with Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran should also be amalgamated with Pakistan ... They say we must join Pakistan for economic reasons. Yet we have minerals, we have petroleum and we have ports. The question is what would Pakistan be without us?” Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo was laying the foundation of the modern Baloch political struggle. His words, including a warning that if Pakistan did not treat the Baloch as sovereign “every Baloch will fight for his freedom”, were to become the de facto nationalist creed that is as valid today as it was in 1947.
His friends and peers called him Ghausi while to thousands of workers and comrades he was Mir Sahib, the quintessential politician who, were he not an upright Baloch, would have made it to the high office in Pakistan. Mir Sahib was born in village Shank Jhao, Khuzdar, in 1918 to Mir Safar Khan and belonged to the Himalani branch of the Bizenjo tribe. He had said that he was selected to study at the Aligarh Muslim University after he gave a stellar football performance when the Aligarians played his team in Karachi. It was at Aligarh that Mir Sahib cut both his Marxist and nationalist political teeth.
He was drawn to the Indian Congress and through that to the Communist Party of India (CPI). He remained a card-carrying member of the CPI and then of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) after the 1947 vivisection of India and the CPI. After the CPP was officially banned in July 1954 and the KSNP became rather irrelevant due to the Kalat state’s take-over by Pakistan, Mir Sahib was one of the prime movers in forming the Ustaman Gal (people’s party), the Pakistan National Party (PNP) and ultimately the National Awami Party (NAP). He briefly served as the governor of Balochistan as the NAP’s nominee before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed him, toppled the NAP chief minister Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal and unleashed a brutal military operation in Balochistan.
Despite Mr. Bhutto’s undemocratic actions and attitude, Mir Sahib worked with him as the NAP’s nominee to help draft the 1973 constitution and also took some flak from his colleagues for that. But that is how Mir Sahib worked. To him politics was the art of possible. Without compromising on the minimum core program he always seemed willing to give parleys a shot. While his admirers called him Baba-e-Balochistan (father of the Balochistan), his hardline detractors were not enthused with such flexibility and, as Selig Harrison notes, labeled him as the Baba-e-Muzakrat (father of the negotiations). Curiously, sometimes Mir Sahib would not budge when he was expected to be more accommodating. One such occasion was when he, along with Sardar Attaullah Mengal sahib, had briefly joined the National Democratic Party (NDP) that had been formed after the NAP was banned. Mir Sahib left the NDP and successfully leaned on Sardar Mengal sahib to do so too. The sticking point apparently was that the NDP was unwilling to incorporate in the manifesto Mir Sahib’s recommendation that Pakistan being a multinational state the nationalities therein must be allowed the twin rights to self-determination and secession.
The NDP under Khan Abdul Wali Khan, who had assumed its reigns by then, was a fully Pakistan-oriented party and did not concede this vintage Marxist principle. Mir Sahib parted ways and went on to revive the PNP. He also brought almost all the CPP factions, which were already used to working ‘underground’, inside the PNP tent. While he spoke and wrote about the quantum of provincial autonomy, Mir Sahib fastidiously kept such demands within the ambit of the federation unlike Sardar Mengal Sahib who by the mid-1980s spoke of a confederation and the late and much lamented Nawab Khair Bux Khan Marri who clearly espoused Baloch independence.
I was extremely fortunate to meet Mir Sahib a few times in Quetta and Peshawar circa 1985-87. He was a benevolent man who knew the Marxist theory well and was ever willing to chat about it in chaste Urdu. But his heart seemed set on the parliamentary, mainstream politics, the insistence on self-determination and secession notwithstanding. In a way he and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti Shaheed, who had endorsed Balochistan’s amalgamation into Pakistan, had a role reversal in their later years. From a firebrand Baloch nationalist in the Kalat State Assembly calling for independence, Mir Sahib went on to become an elder Pakistani statesman while the pro-Pakistan Nawab Bugti took to the hills and was martyred there.
A firm supporter of the Marxist Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, Mir Sahib kept one foot in the Islamabad door too. Around 10 years of imprisonment during various military and regimes from Ayub Khan and ZA Bhutto to General Zia-ul-Haq did not dampen Mir Sahib’s passion for politics. But going through any undemocratic channel was simply not Mir Sahib’s trait. He was one of the driving forces in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law. When the merger of the leftist forces was underway in 1986 the hope was that Mir Sahib would bless the new Awami National Party (ANP) but that sadly was not to be. A large faction of the PNP led by Abdul Lateef Afridi joined ANP but Mir Sahib opted not to make one compromise when the leftist, progressive forces needed it the most. He carried his political work through the PNP in his twilight years.
Mir Sahib had a knack for superb political analysis but perhaps he underestimated both the grievances of his people and the resilience of the Baloch national liberation movement when he chastised his former comrades for ‘poor understanding of objective realities’. Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo’s vision for the Baloch struggle competes with that of Nawab Khair Marri, while Sardar Attaullah Mengal is perched in the middle of the spectrum. Mir Sahib’s political heirs still look to Islamabad to give the Baloch their rights and a rightful place in Pakistan’s polity. Those who subscribe to Nawab Marri’s vision are waging an armed struggle for autonomy. The future shape and outcome of the Baloch nationalist struggle depends upon which view rallies more support. But regardless of the outcome Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo will remain one of the most towering politicians Balochistan and the region has ever produced. August 11 is his 25th death anniversary. RIP Mir Sahib!
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