COMMENT: Friend of the Baloch and Balochistan
It was a shocking news when I heard Asad Rahman, alias Chakar Khan, 62, a prominent human rights activist, journalist and guerrilla leader of the 1973-77 resistance movement in Balochistan passed away on October 29, 2012. Asad Rahman was a frontline campaigner for Baloch rights. As a guerrilla commander, he played a leading role in the Baloch resistance movement of the 1970s.
In his journalistic writings, he advocated Baloch rights. As programme organiser/director of Sungi, he provided a platform for the Baloch nationalists, journalists and human rights activists to raise voice for their rights. Asad Rahman was given the name ‘Chakar Khan’, after the legendary 15th century Baloch statesman, during his sojourn among the political workers in Balochistan.
I met Mr Rahman in June 2010 during an amplified conference about Balochistan in Islamabad, conducted by Sungi Development Foundation, where he was the director of programmes. It was one of those remarkable programmes in which he had invited Baloch nationalists, activists, journalists and influential persons like the governor of Balochistan, Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and Senator Raza Rabbani to deliver to them that the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan Package was not a panacea for the Baloch ailment.
Along with Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, Senator Raza Rabbani, Habib Jalib (BNP-Mengal), Tahir Bizenjo (National Party), Hamdan Bugti, Mahbat Khan Marri, Deputy Chairman Senate Jan Muhammad Jamali, I was also one of the participants. I delivered a speech as a Baloch journalist and human rights activist in the conference.
In the first meeting, I was surprised that Mr Rahman had command and fluency over the Balochi language. How could a western dressed man with a French-style beard speak Balochi fluently? That is where I was introduced to him — Asad Rahman, alias Chakar Khan. Once he admired me for one of my articles, published in Baloch Hal, about the ‘kill and dump’ routine against Baloch journalists. He even wrote a comment on my blog: “Good article, Ajab, I will circulate it.” Since 2010, I was yearning to read about him. He was interviewed candidly by Malik Siraj Akbar, a well-known Baloch journalist, and the editor-in-chief of the first Baloch online English newspaper, Baloch Hal.
Asad Rahman was the son of the late Justice S A Rahman, who retired as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1968. Asad was born in Murree on August 11, 1950, and educated at Lahore. As a student and campaigner at the Government College, Lahore, he participated in the 1968-69 anti-Ayub movement. When he completed his intermediate in 1969, he left for London to study architecture. One of his brothers, Rashed Rahman, is a well-known journalist and political analyst (and currently the Editor of Daily Times).
During the period of his studies in London, Asad joined a study group of Pakistani workers and students. The group would study the literature of different schools of political thought, eventually verging towards Marxism. According to Asad, these studies propelled him to go to Balochistan and educate the masses about their rights while highlighting the exploitation by the rulers of the common man.
The study group was publishing a monthly magazine with the title Pakistan Zindabad. When the mentioned group felt reservations about the military crackdown and civil war in East Pakistan in 1971, the magazine focused on topics such as a nation’s rights, minorities’ rights and fundamental human rights. The magazine identified the main causes of East Pakistan’s rebellion, particularly a colonial-style economic exploitation. Through the magazine, Pakistanis in London, Manchester and Birmingham were notified about the country’s misfortune. Similarly, through the magazine, Pakistan’s indigenous, left-inclined masses were brought into focus.
This magazine created an interaction bridge between the group and the Baloch nationalist struggle. After long discussions, members of the group decided to go to Balochistan and participate practically in the Baloch movement for rights, while keeping an eye on the possibilities of a broader movement throughout Pakistan for the rights of the nationalities and socialism.
In March 1971, Asad Rahman was the first and the youngest one of the group to return with the intention of joining the Baloch guerrillas.
In an interview to Malik Siraj Akbar, Asad Rahman revealed that he was hosted by Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, whose father Gula Khan, who died in 1975 at the age of 105, would tell him about Baloch history, folklore, customs, traditions, the do’s and don’t’s and the administration of tribal society. Mir Gula Khan had fought at a young age against the British when they invaded the Marri area and the war he financed lasted four years.
The group Asad belonged to modernised the thoughts and techniques of the resistance movement regarding guerilla warfare that was fought in Balochistan, because they had studied the ideas of Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and even non-communist generals of Cyprus. About the resistance, Mr Rahman revealed in his interview that he purchased a Dara-made 303 rifle in 1972, and had not owned sophisticated weapons. They would capture weapons from the forces, since there was a shortage of weapons and ammunition. Pashtun traders would sell ammunition to them.
In 1973, after the NAP government’s dismissal, the paramilitary forces were surrounding the Marri and Bugti as well as the Mengal and Bizenjo areas. The forces launched an operation in Balochistan and killed many Baloch, mainly from the Marri tribe. Then Mir Hazar Khan deputised Mr Rahman as a commander of the Marri tribal units, having about 1,500 guerillas.
“When the forces invaded the Baloch areas, the Shah of Iran provided helicopters to the belligerent Pakistani forces because at that time the Pakistan army did not have helicopters, especially the Chinook, which the Iranians possessed. They also gave gunship helicopters to Pakistan and provided the entire war disbursement because the Shah of Iran was afraid that if a NAP government in Balochistan was established and strengthened, it would support the Iranian-Balochistan movement. The Shah wanted the NAP government to be immediately sacked. Mr Bhutto looked at his personal interests based on his relationship with the Shah of Iran rather than considering the national interest of Pakistan. The Bhutto-Reza Shah alliance actually started the war. It was the bloodiest war Balochistan has ever seen. Even today, that kind of fighting is not taking place. Nearly 5,000 casualties were suffered by the army, out of which 1,500 were killed and 3,500 injured. On the Baloch guerrilla side, we only lost about 70 guerillas but 15,000 Baloch old men, women and children were killed or wounded,” revealed Asad Rahman in his interview with Malik Siraj Akbar.
Asad Rahman commanded right from Pie Slaman down to Marri tribal areas and Dera Gazi Khan, while Meharullah Khan Mengal, the brother of Sardar Attaullah Mengal, had a group in the Mengal area. Aslam Gichki led a group in Lasbela and Mir Safar Khan Zarakzai was operating in Sarawan. The resistance movement continued until September 1977, until General Ziaul Haq withdrew the Hyderabad Conspiracy case and announced a general amnesty for the Baloch and Pashtun leaders.
The huge and indiscriminate operations against the Baloch women, men, children in 1974 compelled the Baloch tribes to go to Afghanistan to take refuge. When the general amnesty was given to the Baloch, the members of the group were denied it. In January 1979, Asad Rahman went to Afghanistan after Mir Hazar Khan called him for assistance in establishing and managing the refugee camps of 10,000 families from Balochistan.
Being in Afghanistan, he could not participate in the funeral ritual of his father when he passed away in February 1979. From Afghanistan, he flew to London in May 1980. He came back to Pakistan in June 1980.
Asad Rahman played a significant role in the resistance movement in Balochistan. He ambushed military convoys and took away ammunition from them to sustain the movement. He was one of the eyewitnesses of the Baloch genocide in the 1970s. Mr Rahman, alias Chakar Khan, was once arrested in 1975 when he had fallen seriously ill. He went to Karachi for treatment and was arrested there, but fortunately, he was not identified.
After returning in 1980, Mr Rehman adopted the human rights line of work, got associated with the Aurat Foundation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and more recently, as an executive director of Sungi.
About his death Daily Times reported that Mr Rahman, along with his 30-year-old son, were manhandled by Punjab Police in front of their residence in Lahore, after they had tried to save the life of a rickshaw driver who had sustained injuries in a road accident. Both father and son were beaten up badly by the Punjab Police. It is said that Mr Rahman could not bear the humiliation and ill treatment by the Punjab Police and had fallen ill in the wake of the police beating and eventually passed away on October 29, 2012. May his soul rest in peace.
The writer is a Baloch author and human rights activist. Currently, he is a sub-editor at monthly Bolan Voice Quetta, a staff writer at The Baloch Hal and a freelance online columnist.
Reproduced by The Baloch Hal on November 30, 2012