WHOEVER wishes to understand Balochistan’s political travails, and the aspirations and frustrations of its long-suffering people, should read the history of their political awakening and the formation of their first broad-based political party, the Balochistan and All-India Baloch Conference, 87 years ago.
A well-researched account of this party has recently been published as the fourth volume of the history of the Baloch and Balochistan that Dr Shah Mohammad Marri has been compiling for many years.
The author traces signs of political awakening in Balochistan in 1917 when several Baloch supported the Red Army in its operations against the Basmachi in Turkmenistan while some others attended the Baku International Conference of Eastern Peoples. He quotes Abdul Qadir Nizamani who had claimed on the authority of P.C. Joshi, the long-time general secretary of the Communist Party of India, that several Baloch figured among the subcontinent’s first communists and one of them, Tara Chand, was a non-Muslim.
The first Baloch political group, called the Young Baloch, was formed in 1920 by Abdul Aziz Kurd. Soon afterwards the group was renamed Anjuman Ittehad-i-Balochan. According to Shah Muhammad the group was a political faction, a trade union and a literary association all rolled into one. It was an underground party and some of its members walked many miles after dusk to join its night-long meetings at Mastung. When the party decided to work openly, it elected as its president Yusuf Aziz Magsi, a poet, short-story writer, agitator and a charismatic character in the history of Balochistan.
Throughout the decades, Balochistan’s quislings and external forces have tried to suppress the 1932 agenda.
At its first open meeting in 1931, this party adopted the following objectives: 1) abolition of the sardari system; 2) unification of the various parts of Balochistan and inauguration of a constitutional and democratic system of governance; 3) increase in educational facilities in Balochistan; and 4) establishment of an Islamic society based on non-exploitative ideals.
When Yusuf Magsi met Muhammad Amin Khosa at Aligarh Muslim University, where the latter was studying, their discussions led to the idea of collecting Baloch notables from Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab. Thanks to the untiring efforts of Yusuf Magsi and his colleagues, the All-India Baloch Conference was held at Jacobabad on Dec 28-30.1932.
The following were some of the resolutions adopted by the conference on the first day.
The conference was named Balochistan and All-India Baloch Conference; Sindh’s separation from Bombay was welcomed; the custom of siah kari under which the culprit was punished by forcing his sister or daughter to marry into the victim family was condemned and its abolition demanded; and closure of all brothels was urged. The conference also demanded abolition of the custom of lab and vulvar and asked the authorities to enthusiastically promote the cause of women’s education. The authorities were also asked to prohibit handing over of the widows/ other women in the family of a deceased person to his heirs “as household wares”, and recognise women’s rights as given in Sharia. (The author emphasises the fact that ,out of the nine resolutions adopted on a single day, five were related to women’s rights.)
The other resolutions adopted later on included: a call for allotment of barrage lands to peasants from Makran; reduction in courts’ delays; withdrawal of the Frontier Regulation that was applied to the people in upper Sindh; formation of Balochistan as a governor’s province under a constitutional government; implementation of an eight-point programme to promote education; and choosing the members of the Quetta municipality through a free election.
Although the conference idea was initiated by Baloch leaders, they wanted to include all other ethnic communities in their political party. Special deference was shown to Abdus Samad Achakzai who was already in prison for his political struggle when Abdul Aziz Kurd had formed his underground group. The conference decided to function as a political party under the title ‘Balochistan and All-India Baloch Conference’. A party executive board was constituted with members representing the various districts of Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, and the states of Kalat, Khairpur and Bahawalpur. Abdus Samad Achakzai was appointed vice president of the party (the president was the Khairpur nawab) and he was also head of the subcommittee charged with framing the party constitution. The Pakhtuns named on the working committee and other committees also included Nawab Muhammad Khan Jogezai and Sardar Ghulam Muhammed Tareen.
When after the Jacobabad conference Yusuf Aziz became sardar of the Magsi tribe, he introduced in his area some of the reforms demanded by the conference.
The party held its second annual conference at Hyderabad on Dec 26-28, 1933. The political agent, Kalat, told Yusuf Aziz Magsi not to attend this conference but he ignored this diktat. The resolutions adopted by this conference included one moved by Abdus Samad Achakzai which called for constitutional reform in Balochistan and another demanded the end of the sardar system which denied women their share in inheritance. A scheme of constitutional reform in Balochistan was sent to the joint parliamentary committee under Achakzai’s signatures.
The Balochistan and Kalat authorities decided to crush the party. Abdul Aziz Kurd was jailed for five years, Abdus Samad Achakzai was confined to Machh jail and Yusuf Magsi was sent into forced exile in England. The conference became dormant. Yusuf Magsi perished in the May 1935 earthquake in Quetta. He was only 27 years old.
Throughout the past eight decades, Balochistan’s quislings and external forces opposed to the people’s interests have been engaged in suppressing the 1932 agenda but it has refused to die, thanks to the sacrifices of Abdus Samad Achakzai, Yusuf Aziz Magsi, Abdul Aziz Kurd, M. Amin Khosa and their colleagues. As politicians who called for the establishment of a democratic, constitutional order in Balochistan, abolition of sardari system and emancipation of women in the 1930s, they deserve to be acclaimed as the people’s heroes and installed as such in their dharti’s pantheon. At the same time, the much maligned people of Balochistan deserve to be saluted for saving their dream from dying.
(Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2020)