The MM Talpur Story: Part II | VOICES

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur in 1987

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur in 1987

This is the second of a two-part interview with activist and Balochi advocate, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur. The first part lauched two days earlier, on Monday, June 1, and can be found here.

Sher Ali Khan (SK): This was a time in your life that an accident would take place that would affect you for the rest of your life. How did this occur?

Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur (MMT): Yes, a freak accident happened, in which I lost my hands and Muhammad Bhabha lost one of his eyes completely. There was an experimentation with explosives, with perfunctory knowledge regarding it. As they say, little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This proved to be the truth in our case. An experiment went badly wrong and, though it was not my area of interest, I happened to be the one nearest to the experiment and consequently lost my hands.

Cordoning off had begun to intensify in November or December 1972. The militia was coming to various areas, and the cordoning off of the Marri area had begun to such an extent that basic rations were increasingly difficult to bring into the area. Marri was not very self-sufficient, so things such as wheat, brown sugar and tea were all being cracked down upon. This process made it difficult for caravans, which came on camels, and we had to sneak them into the area to bring in goods.

Rafi Raza, who was a close confidante of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s and a minister at the time, said the government knew about what was happening. He told us that when the supplies reached Karachi, they knew that the supplies had arrived, they saw them and even gave permission so that they could be transferred to Islamabad. They were in the know that the supplies had come, where they were going and how they had reached the Iraqi military attaché’s house in Islamabad. They knew about everything.

A raid took place on the 12th of February on the attache’s house, and the media was taken along. Rafi Raza said that when he learned the media was taken along, he realized they had busted their own job. The next day the Mengal government was dismissed, and my uncle, Rasool Bakhsh Talpur, resigned as governor of Sindh after allegations were made that my father had been involved in the arms scandal. By then everyone knew I was in the mountains.

SK: As the government cracks down, many reports and accounts of this period say that this was the closest that the state ever got to replicating fascist concentration camps.

MMT: As I said, since the government was dismissed in February, the blockade intensified. I am not sure how bad it was in the Mengal area, but I know it happened there as well because the government feared Ataullah Mengal and Ali Mohammed Mengal. I can’t vouch for that personally, how intense it was, but I can tell you a blockade did exist.

Mir Rasool Bakhsh and Ali Mohammad Mengal.

Mir Rasool Bakhsh and Ali Mohammad Mengal with Baloch fighters.

There were attempts for talks. The government tried to deceive the Baloch leadership, but the cordoning off of the Marri area intensified. On May 18,1973, forty-one years ago, eight personnel members of the Sibi scouts, who monitored the railway track and movements of people so that they did not cross-over into Marri area, were ambushed near Tandoori at the foothills of Marri and all eight were killed.

We were part of the crackdown on the Marri area. All of us who were there in the Hyderabad Conspiracy tribunal which formed, were on the wanted list, including my younger brother, Mir Haider Ali, who had spent some time in the Mengal area. We were undoubtedly targets in the Marri area.


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Within 3 days of the May 18th incident in Tandoori, helicopters ferried the Pakistan Army into Mawand, the center of the Marri area. Going by road would have been difficult, so the troops were ferried in by helicopter.

Tikka Khan gave a statement, saying, “We will get the culprits in 72 hours and finish this off.” But months would pass and it seemed it would not end for them. I suppose anyone who goes to fight with the local people always say this. For instance, in Mali when the French invaded they also said that they would go for two weeks. They always say this and never learn.

After May 21, there were large-scale operations across the Marri area, with widespread sweeps, as the armed forces were looking to search and destroy. But the people who live there have a very good knowledge of the terrain and are very resilient.

The Baloch survives on very little. He doesn’t have elaborate logistics. He picks up his small water bag of goat skin and an anbam (a sheep-skin bag in which he carries his flour), and his tea leaves, and they have their team. The roti they made on rocks is called kaak. Once the fire is merrily blazing, round stones from the dry riverbed the size of a shot put are placed in the fire to heat up to make the kaak. The dough has the same consistency as pizza bread, and is kneaded on a clean piece of cloth. Then, depending on the size of the stones, the kneaded flour is broken off and shaped into thick small bread. Now comes the most difficult part, which is not only a test of skill, but also masculinity, because the blazing hot stone is plucked from the fire with bare hands and placed on the dough. This dough is then slowly wrapped around it making sure that the steam emitted from it doesn’t scorch the hand.

With dough wrapped around it. Then it is placed on the embers near fire and is slowly rotated to ensure that it is fully baked. Mind you, the inside is being constantly baked with the heat of the stone and by the time the sajji is cooked the kaak too is ready and as piping hot as the sajji. A blow breaks open the kaak and the is stone discarded. The kaak is usually made when people are on the move. They then break the roti into pieces and eat it. That’s how they survive.


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So elaborate logistics are not really needed by the Baloch to survive. I am speaking about the Marri area in particular because three quarters of all armed action has taken place there. And despite that, we survived. We would move undercover and knew that we had to survive in difficult circumstances.

They had spotter planes and Iranian helicopter gunships, which were used for ambushes. These were flown by Irani pilots, and my friend Asad Rehman went to Kahan, and nobody could recognize that he is not a Marri. He himself saw the Irani pilots there.

SK: What sort of action did you face?

MMT: All of us remained safe. They would use the planes to keep searching. The helicopter gunships allowed them to carry out attacks, plus had the ability to ferry the troops wherever they wanted to with ease.

The circumstances were such that me and Ahmed Rashid came down to Sindh in October 1974. Rashid would go back and forth to the mountains. I didn’t go back to the mountains. Asad Rehman and Duleep Das remained, but Muhammad Bhabha had a disability with his eye, so he also left early.

Johnny Das,aka,Dali

Duleep (Johnny) Das, who had joined Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur in Balochistan’s Marri areas during the 1973 uprising.

This was the time our friend Duleep Das was coming back to Sindh. Marri tribesman, Sher Ali Marri, came with him, as well as another person who was a double-agent working for us as well as the state. The guy who was bringing them had informed the intelligence, and their car was stopped at Belpat in early 1975.

Duleep Das and Sher Ali were taken out of the car and have not been heard from ever again. This is similar to what had happened with Asadullah Mengal‘s brother, Akhtar Mengal, who was picked up from his house in Gulistan-e-Johar, Karachi on February 6, 1974. The agencies picked he and Ahmed Shah up and their bodies have not been found to this day.

In the same manner, the bodies of Duleep Das and Sher Ali were never found. Duleep Das’ mother is still alive. She is 92 years-old. And whenever I visit Karachi, I make a point to meet her. His father died and the last time I saw her was in February of last year.

Imagine, for her, Duleep was lost in 1971 since they lost touch when he came into the Marri area. The first question his mother asks me is, “How is Johnny?” She still believes he is alive, so there is no closure for someone who has lost a loved one. The thousands of people who are now missing, and the thousands of bodies that have been found–imagine the pain the families feel.

SK: How common were such abductions when you were living in the Marri areas?

MMT: If you asked me personally, from the people I knew, Duleep Das and Sher Ali. Then there were other friends Bahar Khan, Ali Dost, Allah Bakhsh, Shafi Muhammed, and there were two or three more people who disappeared and were never heard from again.

There were some people who were picked up and then let go, but there were 8-10 people who I knew were never heard from again. It’s become more vicious, its basically an abduct and kill strategy. Before they used to pick up people, torture them, and then let them go, but now they don’t let them go.

SK: During the mid-1970s, Bhutto decides to crackdown and put many of the Baloch activists into jail. From the immediate group that you were associated with, did any of you go to jail?

MMT: Only Najam Sethi ended up going to jail. We were fortunate enough not to be caught. What happened was Sethi had a consulting firm based in Karachi. The Army people had been interested in setting up agro wheels to make villages self-sufficient, similar to what the American government used in Vietnam. They would take him to Mawan in a helicopter, and on the second trip they learned that he was part of the organization.


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SK: What do you feel is the overall backlash of that period? Do you feel that something different could have been done? And in terms of Baloch culture, what do you feel stands out?

Baloch refugees in Afghanistan. 1978.

Baloch refugees in Afghanistan. 1978

MMT: There is a lot of poetry in the Baloch culture. From that period, there are poems that mention Asad Rehman and this fakeer. There is resistance poetry as well, and we had different names over there. Asad was known as Chakkar, Ahmed Rashid was Balach, Duleep Das was Dali, and I was Arshoo. We had our own names over there, and people still remember. And me personally, I ended up living with with the Marri people for twenty years. In 1978, I ended up going to Afghanistan, where I spent another thirteen years with the Marri refugees. Three years in the Zabul province and ten in Helmand province near Lashkargah.

SK: From the perspective of Pakistan history, when you view the torture and the state’s cruelty against the Baloch people, do you feel people realize the extent of what has happened in Balochistan?

MMT: People don’t realize it at all over here. The common man does not understand these things, and the history has shown that even if they do learn a little bit, they assume that these are foreign agents and this is the fate they deserve. That’s what they say.

No we are not foreign agents in any way or form. The truth is when the state is so cruel to the people and then they expect slogans in the government’s favor, that is impossible. As I have emphasized, these myths have been spewed.

The truth is, I spent thirteen years in Afghanistan. We would only receive the bare minimum for survival to survive difficulty. At that time, Russians and everyone was there– we never worked for them, although they would have liked if we had.

We were not just a few people there, we were twelve to thirteen thousand Marri people and other Baloch. There were more Marris than other Baloch. This lasted until 1992, when Najibullah was removed from power, and the refugees returned. In all, I stayed away from home for twenty years. I left in 1971 and finally returned in 1991.

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

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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