Why you should care
Baloch pro-independence leader Hyrbyair Marri discusses how the US president can foster positive change in his region.
Hyrbyair Marri, the fifth son of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, a former national leader and head of one of the largest Baloch tribes in Pakistan, was elected in 1996 to the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan and appointed minister but was later forced to flee Pakistan for Great Britain. Accused of leading the Balochistan Liberation Army — which he denies — Marri was charged and later acquitted of terrorism charges in the U.K. Today, he helms the Free Balochistan Movement, a pro-freedom political party.
OZY sat down with Marri to discuss Pakistani and world politics. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This summer’s elections in Pakistan marked the second-ever democratic transition of power in the country, but you called for a boycott. Why?
Hyrbyair Marri: It is an open secret that the elections were rigged and manipulated by the army, who, at the same time, backs Imran Khan [elected prime minister]. Khan has denounced the suffering of the Baloch people on more than one occasion. It is his opportunity to deliver on his promises that he made about Balochistan, but I doubt he will do anything about it. The army needs instability, a volatile scenario, which is key to keep receiving aid and funds from abroad. That is how Islamabad blackmails the West, fostering the same instability that makes the people back the government in search of protection. They will blame India, Afghanistan or Washington, and at the same time, they will keep asking for money.
Stateless peoples, such as the Baloch, the Pashtun, the Sindhi or the Kurds, should join forces to actively fight against oppression.
What is the current situation of your people in Pakistan?
Marri: Pakistan has occupied Balochistan for 70 years, and we are subjected to complete and utter poverty so that we concentrate only on survival and do not think of concepts like freedom or independence. Our land is rich, we have massive reserves of gas, oil, uranium and even more gold than South Africa. There are billions of dollars under our feet, but most of them end up in the pockets of the army and the Pakistani elite while many among our people are still cooking with dung. Adding to the plundering of our land, there are over 20,000 forcibly disappeared Baloch due to a “kill and dump” campaign that has been systematically enforced since the 1950s.
You aim for an independent Baloch state of your own. What kind of country would that be?
Marri: We have witnessed all sorts of attempts to import or export something called “democracy” to Africa, Latin America or the Middle East, as well as communism, socialism … but none of them worked as expected. We need a model that roots on the most basic premise of “one person, one vote,” but that also fits within our own social structure, that respects cultural and religious differences, ecology, individual and collective freedoms, human rights and the wishes of its citizens.
But how would such a revolutionary model for the region harmonize with someone who is a political and tribal leader at the same time as you?
Marri: The power of the sirdars [tribal leaders] has to be reduced to zero. We must respect them for what they did for our people, but if they want to participate in politics, they must renounce their privileges. Otherwise we would be building a state like those Gulf monarchies, and we wouldn´t move forward.
Could a Cold War between Washington and Beijing precipitate events in Balochistan?
Marri: China’s presence in Pakistan is increasingly overwhelming. I will never support anyone who backs the exploiters of my land. Stateless peoples, such as the Baloch, the Pashtun, the Sindhi or the Kurds, should join forces to actively fight against oppression. We cannot be just bystanders. On the other hand, how can the United States trust Pakistan? We all know Islamabad is behind the deaths of thousands of NATO troops in Afghanistan, they fund and train jihadis, and they even hosted Osama bin Laden near a military garrison in Abbottabad. Washington needs a reliable ally, [which] we are. Our nation might be small and even weak, but we do not want a new master — just a relationship between partners.
Can Trump be a reliable partner?
Marri: Trump has a clear vision of things in the international arena. His speech is clear, and he sees Pakistan as it really is: a country that always ends up betraying its allies. Trump speaks from a position of strength and in a language that Pakistan can understand. I want to think that he will bring changes to the region.