Baloch, Sindh, Pashtun nationalist dreams shattered after the arrest of Bangabandhu
While living in exile in Canada during the ultra-rightist government of Khaleda Zia and later 1/11 military-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh, I was curiously exploring the political agendas of the nationalist organizations spearheaded by Pakistan born Sindhi, Baloch, and Kashmiri leaders who were living in exile in the US and Canada.
In 2005, I was first invited by the Sindh Foundation, and again by Baloch International in 2007 in Washington DC. I also attended the World Sindhi Institute conference in Toronto, Canada in 2006.
I was requested to speak out about the genocide, war crimes, and rape committed by marauding Pakistan military in collaboration with their henchmen Jamaat-e-Islami during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
I deliberately took opportunities to participate in several protest rallies, mostly organized by Free Balochistan, United Kashmir, and Free Sindh movements in Washington DC, New York, and Toronto, and spoke on atrocities committed by the Pakistan army. The rallies were told that the Pakistan army was committing atrocities in Balochistan similar to the ones experienced in Bangladesh.
The thousands of Baloch nationalist leaders and activists living in North America and Europe dream to regain the independence of Balochistan, which they lost in March 1948 after the Pakistan army invaded the princely Kalat State and acceded the country. Balochistan became the largest province of Pakistan with rich mineral resources.
My story is centred on an elderly person, Rasool Bux Palijo, a Sindhi nationalist and a renowned lawyer. He was introduced to me in 2005 by my friend Munawar Laghari, founder of Sindh Foundation in Washington DC.
Rasool Bux Palijo was Pakistan’s Marxist leader, scholar, and writer. He was a leading human-rights lawyer and was the founder and chairman of Awami Tahreek, a progressive leftist party.
He and his party Awami Tahreek played a crucial role against the “illegal Pakistan Army crackdown” in Bangladesh and also in Balochistan.
Politician Rasool Bux Palijo dashed from Karachi to Dhanmondi Road 32 to hold crucial parleys with Bangabandhu during post-1970 elections. He stayed for two weeks in Dhaka and met the acclaimed leader Sheikh Mujib.
Bangabandhu passed extremely busy hours with party meetings and political leaders visiting the crowded residence overlooking Dhanmondi Lake. Palijo took the opportunity to talk to Bangabandhu during his break for tea, lunch, and dinner, at what is today Bangabandhu Bhaban.
After having words from Bangabandhu that he would ensure the political rights in the framework of provincial autonomy, based on the six-point mandate, he and others returned to Karachi with satisfaction to achieve political autonomy in the Sindh region.
In January 1972, the popular Sindhi leftist leader wrote his first-ever book on Bangladesh war crimes and organized a peasant protest in Sindh for the freedom of his political comrade Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also demanding trial of military officials accused of war crimes.
Another regional party Jeay Sindh, founded by charismatic leader GM Syed, was a nationalist political party in the Sindh province of Pakistan, demanding freedom of Sindhudesh from Pakistan.
Sindhudesh is an idea of a separate homeland for Sindhis who lived in the Indus basin centuries before Alexander the Great invaded Sindh in 326 BC.
The Sindhi nationalist dreamed of the creation of a Sindhi state, which would be either autonomous within Pakistan or independent from it. GM Syed’s movement collapsed after the bloody War of Independence of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh independence architect Sheikh Mujib promised the Baloch, Sindh, and Pasthun nationalist leaders that he would ensure their political autonomy if only he could lay his hands on the government after the 1970 elections.
Unfortunately, the Pakistan junta betrayed Bangabandhu and the dreams of Balochis, Sindhis, and Pasthuns were shattered after the “Operation Searchlight” crackdown. What followed were his subsequent arbitrary arrests and detention in Mianwali prison in Pakistan throughout the 1971 Liberation War.
Both GM Syed and Rasool Bux Palijo were imprisoned and tortured in 1971 for extending political support to Bangabandhu. Both Sindh nationalist leaders died, leaving behind a tumultuous political legacy for Sindh.
GM Syed was posthumously conferred a “Friends of Liberation War Honour” by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a recognition for his role in the independence of Bangladesh. Several other Baloch and Pasthuns leaders were also honoured for their contribution in 1971.
The new generation of Balochi, Sindhi, and Pasthun nationalists still admire Sheikh Mujib as a “role model” but regret that he could not be their savior.
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad.