The MM Talpur Story: Part I | VOICES

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur in 1987

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur in 1987

This is the first of a two-part interview of Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur. The second part launched two days later, on Wednesday, June 3, and can be found here.

In the fall of 1971, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur (MM Talpur) decided to leave his life as a student to go struggle for Baloch rights. Inspired by his understanding that injustice and neglect had alienated the Baloch people, he felt this was a time to stand alongside them. Little did he know that this could be the last time he would return home and see his family. He ended up staying with the Baloch for the greater part of his life, both in Balochistan and in exile in Afghanistan.

The question of the Baloch struggle is as relevant today as it was four decades ago, as state oppression and persecution continues unabated. As such, Talpur continues to speak out against the perceptions created by the state narrative on Balochistan, and works to promote a better understanding of the basis for the struggle in the area. I had the opportunity to interview MM Talpur in 2013 as part of a personal project documenting the struggles of activists and workers whose stories are rarely, if ever, told.

Sher Ali Khan (SK): Can you give some background information on how you found yourself involved with Baloch struggle?

Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur (MMT): My family, the old Talpur dynasty in Hyderabad, has an old relationship with the Baloch people. This is a historic relationship that goes back much earlier. On July 15, 1960, the two sons and five relatives and friends of Baloch leader Nawab Nauroz Khan were hung in Hyderabad and Sukkur. Nawab Nauroz Khan himself and his younger son, Jalal Khan, were given life sentences due to their age. Three of the relatives were hanged in Hyderabad and four, including his eldest son, Battay Khan, in Sukkur.

This was the time of martial rule under Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The times were such that no one dared to even retrieve their bodies and send them to Balochistan. My uncle, the late Mir Rasool Bakhsh Talpur, received the bodies of these Baloch activists, organized their funeral prayers and ensured the bodies reached home.

My uncle was a supporter of the Baloch people, and he would frequently visit Quetta and give speeches in favour Baloch rights. So there was always an old relationship with the Baloch people in my family. My uncle would regularly visit Nawab Nauroz and on each Eid would take a specially cooked meal for them. Since I was in Hyderabad on Eid in 1962, I had the chance to meet Nawab Nauroz, and during that time Ataullah Khan Mengal and Ghaus Bux Bizenjo were also in jail. So I had a chance to meet them, and in my youth this had big impact on me. They were involved in a struggle, and they had been defiant of such a big army and government. That was always inspiring for everyone. The same was true for us. I developed my interest in the struggle, but nothing really had come out of it at the time.

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SK: Can you set the context and frame the idea of revolutionary politics at that time?

MMT: Defying established power centers was considered honorable and the dream of an egalitarian society inspired those who had any political consciousness. My family had the glorious history of defying the British, which resulted in the Battle of Miani on February 17, 1843. My father was the deputy and acting head of Khaksar Tehreek when Allama Mashriqi was incarcerated in 1942. My father and my uncle opposed Ayub Khan as well. Fatima Jinnah stayed at our house while campaigning for presidential elections in 1964. Moreover, I suppose there are a lot of people who never lived through the decade of the sixties. They would not realize that the waves of revolution had spread all over the world: with the successes of Cuba and Che Guevara, Vietnam defying the United States, and then Mao Zedong, who was an inspirational-figure at the time. All these things motivated the secular and Left-oriented youth.

In the same way, the Left in Pakistan had a very big popular impact— everyone was talking about revolution. So as a student, when I was doing my masters in journalism at Karachi University, I was involved in the skirmishes with the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba. I was not in the National Students Federation, but I was definitely a supporter and maintained a relationship with all the NSF members and all the other Left-oriented student activists.

The times were different, witnessing and being involved with the Left, and I was also involved in the movement against Ayub Khan. When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto visited Hyderabad in 1967, he had left the government and was supposed to stay at Hotel Orient, but he was not allowed to stay there. So he stayed with our family, and as result Ayub Khan jailed my uncle, Rasul Baksh, for 9 months.

Mir Rasool Baksh Talpur with Miss Jinnah at a political rally.

My uncle was involved locally with trade union politics in Hyderabad, as well as with other associations related to labor and other sectors. He also engaged in activism with Suhrawardy. After Bhutto came, the beginnings of the Pakistan People’s Party unfolded in Mir Rasul Baksh’s orchard, who was also involved with the Left movement.

SK: Bhutto has been seen as populist leader who was for the first time able to connect with aspirations of the masses. There was also a perception amongst some of the activists that he was arrogant and authoritarian in nature. How did you view the movement and what Bhutto was representing during that period?

MMT: Personally, I did not get inspired, as the issues in Balochistan continued. It was not until Yayha Khan came and dissolved the One Unit that things started to cool over there. I was disillusioned with Bhutto’s politics even before the East Pakistan issue came to the forefront.

Our politics was more Left-leaning, and he was not passing our criteria. I thought that assumption was made rightly so, and it turns out I was not wrong. My father, the late Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur, was an MNA in 1971, who tried very hard to tell Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that some sort of compromise should be reached with the people of Bengal and that they should have the right to form the government. Bhutto was not convinced and did not accept that.

SK: In terms of activism, how were you involved with the Baloch struggle?

MMT: Some of my friends, such as Muhammed Bhabha and Ali Baksh Talpur of Mirpurkhas, Mir Munawar’s father, also had deep connections with Baloch people. Bhabha met Sher Muhammed Khan Marri, who has over the years become known as General Shroff, through them. Amongst the Baloch he is actually known more commonly as Babu, which is used for an elder uncle.

Bhabha would meet with Sher Muhammed Khan with the intent that some work should be done in Balochistan. We were all there and had a connection. He also had relationships with Najam Sethi, Ahmed Rashid, Asad Rehman, Rashed Rehman, and Duleep Das, who were all studying in London at the time. It is wrongly assumed, that I was part of the London group, though I was never part of it and have never to this day never been to London.

Before going to Balochistan I did not know them; my only connection was through Muhammed Bhabha. Well before the movement for Bangladesh had begun, I had made up my mind that I would quit my studies. This was because Yayha Khan had sent my father to jail for six to seven months. My father was a very good orator and had made many speeches against the regime.

Ayub Khan had sent my uncle to jail and then it was my father, so when these things occur it affects you and your attitude. I suppose you harden up, and your point of view becomes filled with passion.

This was also the point that Balochistan was very close and near at hand. If you look anywhere, whether it was the Palestinian struggle or Vietnam, I suppose it was a matter of getting the opportunity. Personally, I think if I had been given the opportunity to go to one of those places as well I would have.

So in that pursuit, I left my studies in 1971 and went to stay with my brother-in-law, Ghulam Qadir, who was a government doctor. I went in March just before the Bangladesh crackdown had started. I stayed with him for six months, where I would learn medicine. This was something I learned practically, and he taught me some of theoretical aspects as well.

In October 1971, I received a message from Muhammed Bhabha saying I am needed in Balochistan. So I left.

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Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur addressing a public meeting. Miss Jinnah seen seated. Hyderabad 1964.

 

SK: How was the decision to go organized? Were you going for your friend or was it some sort of local organization that called you to come?

MMT: They were already there beforehand. There was resistance amongst the Baloch people there, and fighting had to be a part of it. So I went and some friends were already there, and I ended up stationing in the Marri area. When I got there, my friends Ahmed Rashid, Asad Rehman, and Muhammed Bhabha were already there. My duties were those of a doctor.

SK: What was the build-up taking place in Balochistan during the period when you arrived?

MMT: Until the One Unit was not dissolved, in the Marri and Mengal areas, army operations continued and people would fight. The conditions had become extreme and there was massive discontent with the government since they had begun to politically intervene, depriving Nawab Khair Bakhsh Khan Marri of his ruling powers and dislodging him. The government placed Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri’s uncle, Doda Khan, as the tribal sardar. Due to the resentment towards the government’s decision in 1965, a few weeks later Doda Khan was ambushed and killed.

So in the Marri and Mengal areas, people were extremely disillusioned by the government. It is well-known that there are oil reserves in the Marri areas. An AMOCO (American Oil Company) survey suggested the existence of a huge magnificent structure in the Bhambore-Jandran-Tadri area. An OGDCL (Oil and Gas Development Corporation Limited) survey of 1978 said that a vast area enclosed by Bhambore, Pirkoh and Dhodak form “the golden triangle,” due to the amount of gas and oil within the area. The Baloch were resisting the exploitation of the reserves, and we as the Left or the conscious element of society felt we should help.

SK: During that time, the Left parties had, on many levels, lost their relevance in the political mainstream. In the sixties, the National Awami Party (NAP), an alliance between the communists and the nationalists, was experiencing a lot of splits. How did the struggle cope with that?

MMT: The biggest party was Pakistan People’s Party, which had advertised themselves as the Left, and we did not have a relationship with NAP. We were sort of an independent or freelancing group aligned with Leftist ideologies.

SK: So you reached Balochistan with a commitment to struggle with Baloch people. When you initially arrived, what was your task and what did you do?

MMT: Basically, my main emphasis was on education and awareness for the people, and providing medical treatment. I would go to the people and treat them and some friends would teach and help with schooling. We were getting acclimatized to living there. It was not that difficult for me, but for other friends it was culturally very difficult because it involved moving backwards from one millennium to another millennium.

We were getting used to the mountain life as well as culturally adapting to being there. Our friend Asad Rehman, who sadly expired last year, until the end would only speak in Balochi. For me this was a lot easier, as I said, because Talpur are Baloch— despite having lived in the cities, we have many of the customs and traditions prevalent in the Marri area.

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SK: In Nawab Sher Baz Khan Mazari’s book A Journey to Disillusionment, he resents the sardar system and suggests that it has hindered the Baloch resistance. Do you feel that is the case?

MMT: One clarification would be that Nawab Khair Buksh Khan Marri has been unequivocally opposing the state. He was never in and out. The rest were wavering, but Khair Bakhsh Khan Marri never did.

Let me give you an example of an incident that took place in 1953. There was a political agent by the name of Davies in Marri area. He told Khair Bakhsh that the government wanted to make roads and had dreams of progress and development, as the conversation usually goes. But in reality they mean exploitation, under the guise of progress and development.

The political agent asked, “Khair Bakhsh, why don’t you help your wretched people to develop?”

Khair Bakhsh was reported to have responded by saying, “Davies, if Hitler had conquered Britain during the Second World War, and somebody came to you and asked why you don’t allow Hitler to develop your wretched people, what would you have said?”

Davies then responded by saying, “Khair Bakhsh, I will be damned if I ever speak of this to you.”

So Khair Bakhsh unequivocally opposed the state exploiting the Baloch and their resources. The rest… Well, Akbar Khan Bugti joined Bhutto in 1973. Then, in NAP, while in jail, differences started to brew between Pashtun and Baloch nationalists. Then there were differences amongst Baloch leaders themselves. Ghaus Bux Khan Bizenjo had decided to go against this way of fighting. Ataullah Khan Mengal was quite ambiguous about it. In this sense, Khair Buksh has remained unambiguous to the state’s exploitation of the Baloch resources.

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Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo in jail.

SK: Moving forward, Bhutto is now in power. How was the situation changing on the ground, as many people at the time thought of Bhutto as progressive symbol?

MMT: The Baloch people, as I said, were living in a different way, in every manner of the term, except for their national consciousness and their Baloch identity. There was poverty, sardari, no education, but they were conscious about their Baloch identity. They recognized that, and Sher Muhammed Khan Marri went into exile in the Marri area from 1963 to 1969.

Remember, he had been jailed in Hyderabad in 1963, and my uncle, Mir Rasul Baksh, had paid his bail. I don’t remember the exact time, but he would end up jumping bail and started a struggle over there. This is what we called going to the mountains. The authorities had asked my uncle to return him, but my uncle said that I can tell you where he is and you can get him. After that the authorities stayed quiet.

Sher Muhammed Khan Marri played a pivotal role during that period in raising the consciousness of the Baloch struggle. In the same manner, in 1947 to 1948 when Kalat was annexed with Balochistan, Shahzada Abdul Karim’s personality played that role. Then in 1958, when the martial law was imposed, and after rumors that Khan of Khalat was thinking about secession, an assault took place. Because of that Nawab Nauroz Khan went to the mountains.

After that the most important role was played by Sher Muhammed Khan Marri, in organizing the resistance and consciousness of the Baloch identity. He was always a member of the Left and tribal at the same time. You could call him a leftist-tribal. Around the same time, Ali Mohammed Mengal was resisting in the Mengal area.

SK: During your stay, initially your were getting acclimated to your surroundings and you meet the famed members of the London group. On the ground, were you simply activists or were you also involved in terms of leadership?

MMT: It was kind of a dual role, of both leadership and participating. When I had arrived, Asad Rehman, Ahmed Rashid, and Muhammed Baba were already there. Another one of our friends and comrades, Duleep Das, who was referred to as Johnny Das, had also come from London. It was not that we were staying as a group separately, we lived along with the people. We were naturally not staying with the families, rather we had a separate camp.

There was Mir Hazar Khan Ramkani, who was known as military commander, but later also as political commander. Political because they had arrested Khair Buksh Khan, Sher Muhammed Khan had been arrested, and pretty much all the Baloch leadership was in jail. So he was leading the struggle in 1973.

SK: How do you feel Bhutto made a mistake of Balochistan, and caused a turning point in the struggle on the ground, which meant an increase of the insurgency?

MMT: When they gave the government to Ataullah Mengal, first Ghulam Mustafa Khar ordered a recall of all the Punjabi bureaucrats in police and civil bureaucracy. This had been a long-standing demand of the Baloch, that the bureaucrats in the province be from Balochistan. But Khar and the federal government knew that at the time the capacity of the province would be limited, since they would not have enough qualified people to run the government.

Then there was Jam Ghulam Qadir, the Jam of Lasbela, who started to cut the telephone lines in Lasbela and also created unrest by saying that injustice was happening and we will resist. This was the consent of the federal government. It had effectively isolated the province.

This may not be well-known, but even in Sindh, if you look at Sukkur, Guddu and Ghulam Mohammad barrages, research shows that fifty-five percent of that land went to non-Sindhis. Similarly in 1972, the Pat-feeder area saw Punjabi settlers, which increased resentment. There were some minor clashes but this was blown out of proportion through the media and the central government.

All these things were done to undermine the Mengal government. Ataullah Khan once said that they would question even why you are wearing this watch, meaning that they were so particular about everything and wanted to dictate everything.

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There was another factor as well, Iran. They have and still repress Baloch. They have tried to label Baloch as fundamentalists, and Reza Shah said several times that if Baloch over here were given the government, then Baloch in Iran would demand it as well.

So from day one they were undermining the Balochistan government. I think that Mengal formed the government in May 1972, but by September or October the Frontier Corps and Sibi Scouts had started to cordon off the Marri areas.

SK: How was communication insured in the mountains and how were you getting news from the outside?

MMT: Radio was available and once in a while we would get newspapers. It was very primitive by today’s standards, where there so many different outlets such as social media, mobile phones, satellite phones and other things. During those times it was very primitive; letters would be written, and it would take a while before they arrived. Marri didn’t have any roads, and even today they hardly have any.

A person would have to walk to, say, Sibi and then take a bus. Since Najam Sethi and Rashed Rehman were looking at the supplies, funds and other things such as medicine, these two were looking at the urban aspect of the struggle.

SK: Being inspired by Leftist ideologies, what were the types of discussions you would engage in?

MMT: There were many things. I suppose it was motivation for each other and about getting used to the terrain so that we could walk at night. In the mountains it is very difficult to have a sense of direction, and physically keeping ready. I suppose now motorcycles may have access in the mountains, but during those times, it was your two good feet, and your two good legs and a good pair of shoes as well.

Getting to talking, we would discuss what would be the possibilities, and then gathering and organizing some study circles about Marxism. I would also try to keep up-to-date with my medicine. Our friends had taken a lot of books with them, which we would read and discuss. There was this book by this author, Pehrson, on the Marri area, which was very useful. He and his wife had compiled the book after staying in the area, so that was an important read to help us understand the Marri society.

Then there was All Men are Brothers, Engels, Marx and that’s what we would do to motivate ourselves while there. At the same time, we did not have much free time.

SK: There must have been a lot of tension, since you had given up your old lives in the cities and privileged lifestyles to struggle.

MMT: All of us had sacrificed a lot, and we had burned our boats to our past lives. We had gone there to become a part of that society and help the best we could. There is one thing you should remember, the Baloch is very particular of who he follows, it is not as if he would join hands with anyone. You had to prove yourself in some way, whether it was physically, mentally, in your ability and skills… Only then will they join or follow you. They are very tough judges, I would say. We had to remain physically fit, and our skills had to be refined. This was in October 1971. By 1972, as the government changed, issues started to arise. These tensions started to slowly build-up, and the authorities had started to cordon-off the areas.

Part II of MM Talpur’s story launches on Wednesday, June 3.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur is a writer and has been associated with the Baloch rights movement since the early 1970s. He tweets at @mmatalpur and can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com.

Sher Ali Khan is a member of the Tanqeed family and is a journalist who has written for several leading publications in Pakistan.

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2 Responses to The MM Talpur Story: Part I | VOICES

  1. Masood on Aug 2016 at 10:41 AM

    Very informative interview, but I am wondering and I want to know that from which route the Talpurs migrated to sindh, I mean which route they took in Balochistan, and I also want to know if there are still Talpurs residing in Balochistan? If yes in which part of Balochistan.

    Waiting for a timely reply.

    Regards

    • Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur on Jun 2017 at 2:54 AM

      Dear Masood Sahib, The Talpurs came to Sindh from Dera Ghazi Khan around 1680 AD.
      Yes Talpurs still reside in Dera Ghazi Khan region.
      Dera Ghazi Khan was always a part of Balochistan but was incorporated into Punjab in 1950.
      Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

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