London-based Baloch leader Mehran Marri has lived a roller coaster of a life. The son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri- who fought Pakistan over the exploitation of Baloch minerals and natural resources, the young Marri carries forward his father's onerous legacy as the leader who ignited Baloch insurgency.
Marri has elevated Baloch resistance to making presentations before UN organisations, speaking about self-determination globally and challenging Pakistan to hold a referendum.
He shifted from Dubai to London and immediately found himself caught in the swirl of the Covid-19 virus and Brexit issues. With entry to Geneva banned by the Swiss government, Marri conducts his human rights outreach from London. In an exclusive interview to India Narrative, Marri says that if India supports the Baloch movement for self-determination at the UN, it would be a golden moment in Balochistan's independence.
Excerpts from the interview:
IN: You were born in Afghanistan, spent time in various countries and are now based in the UK. You spent very little time in Balochistan. Do you miss your homeland?
Marri: I do miss Balochistan but what I really miss is my father (Khair Bakhsh Marri). Out of the almost 50 years, I probably saw my father for only five years. This is what I miss. This is my animosity with Pakistan that it denied me my basic rights of being with my dad.
When I was born, he was in prison. Soon after that we moved to Afghanistan and then to India where I went to a Kendriya Vidyala. I still remember my time in India. I saw very little of him and that is a feeling I cannot forget.
IN: If Pakistan offers to hold talks with you over Balochistan, will you accept that offer?
Marri: We do not trust Pakistan. If we do not trust Pakistan, how will I accept any offer of talks with that country? Pakistan is killing the Baloch people every day and we strongly resent it.
Once, me and Brahamdagh Bugti (brother-in-law) laid flowers at Gandhi ji's statue outside the old UN building in Geneva. That action hurt a lot of people. The immediate reaction from Pakistan was, 'yeh Hindustan ke pujari hain' (These people worship India). What I am trying to illustrate is that we have no faith in that country.
Pakistan has contacted me. I was reached out by loosely-knit people, informal channels at the UN human rights sessions in Geneva. I met these people and the only statement they had to make was 'come back'.
The Pakistan embassy or its officials never contacted me. Pakistan keeps playing tricks but I never fell for those.
IN: Does the Baloch movement have critical mass on ground? Does it have sympathy and support among the rural Baloch people for an independent country?
Marri: The people want independence. But they also want food. They also want their children not to be abducted. They also want water. We do not have these basic things in Balochistan.
My father had said that if the Baloch get equal rights and equal opportunities, we will not ask for independence. But when we see that we have nothing, then the calls for independence become stronger. But the Punjabi-Muslims do not give you even the basic rights. They want to erase us from the face of the earth.
I have been urging the UN for a referendum with international monitoring. Let Balochistan have a legally-acceptable referendum within the parameters of international law. It should not be like the Pakistani elections.
There has been no international response to this. I think we have been overestimating the UN and its powers. However, if India says �yes', it can open up many doors. It can become a golden opportunity for Baloch independence.
IN: There have been many attacks on the Pakistani military. Will such sporadic attacks help the Baloch gain independence?
Marri: A war is not a game. People are sacrificing themselves for Baloch independence. Why should we downplay their sacrifice? The Baloch-Pakistan war is like the Ukraine-Russia conflict where the smaller one is trying to fend off the bigger aggressor.
I think Pakistan had thought that 'yeh to mutthi bhar log hain' (these are just a handful of people) so we will be able to tackle them.
I agree we need mass public support, not just attacks. We need leaders like Mahatma Gandhi. We also need to have the world in our support.
IN: As a nation Pakistan is in a big mess politically and economically. Radical forces too are gaining ground. How do you view the situation in Pakistan?
Marri: Things are only going to get worse in that country. The new regime of Shehbaz Sharif is bending over backwards even without being asked to. Pakistan is going to be crippled further. Now that they are hungry, they will make more mistakes and trip.
Maybe it is wishful thinking but I hope Pakistan disintegrates and the Baloch get independence. The Baloch have suffered enough.
IN: There are a lot of infighting among Baloch organisations. Also, many organisations do not get along well with the others.
Marri: The Baloch movement has been infiltrated by the Pakistani intelligence service ISI. I noticed this at the UN Geneva office where I worked for 18 years. Suddenly, I find that we old-timers have been side lined and newcomers are streaming in.
How many nationalist tribal leaders are there currently? Just three of us- me, Brahamdagh Bugti and Hyrbyair Marri. The genesis of today's struggle was laid by the families of these leaders and we are together. The mindset of the tribal people is different from those not connected to the tribe. The combination of tribes and blood relations created a protracted and sustained struggle for independence.
Just look at the announcements made about the formation of a government-in-exile. This does not help us. Such gimmicks harm the Baloch cause.
The Baloch national movement has become a business now with people in the movement who have no commitment to the cause of Balochistan. Many new activists are fanned by ego or supported by money from Iran, Saudi Arabia and ISI. On the other hand, India is careful with money - it does not spend any.
IN: How do you see the role of India in the Baloch movement?
Marri: We want Indian support but India doesn't help us. India does not want to be seen as maligning its image. But I strongly feel that a country like India should take up big responsibilities.
There is one big change that I have seen for the first time. Indians in the UK are coming to me and asking me about the Baloch struggle. This had never happened earlier. They are very supportive towards our cause.