Dr. Jumma Marri Baloch was one of the most central leaders of the Baloch independence movement which for decades had sought to turn Pakistan’s large south-western province into an entity separate from the rest of Pakistan. Recently, at an event celebrating Pakistan’s Unity Day in Moscow, Dr. Jumma Marri Baloch formally renounced separatism and publicly embraced a mutually inclusive Baloch-Pakistani identity.
Dr. Jumma Marri Baloch spoke with Sputnik’s Andrew Korybko about his rationale for changing his stance on an issue that was clearly vital to most of his adult life. The entire interview can and should be read here, but below are the extracts I felt were most poignant from an international perspective:
Andrew Korybko: What does it mean to be a Baloch, and how would you describe your people and their culture to someone who has never heard about them before?
Jumma Marri Baloch: It’s an honor to be a Baloch: the Baloch are brave, hospitable and honest people. The Baloch have their own code of conduct, known as Balochimayar, that guides Balochs in their daily lives and social relations. It is a code of conduct written down for Balochs in their ancient history, which includes being generous in hospitality to guests and offering refuge to people who seek protection.
The Baloch nation consists of many different tribes; their tradition and common values are similar. They have a united civil society and they speak a common language, called Balochi. This language was driven from the ancient Indo-Iranian language.
Andrew Korybko: How do you balance being a proud Baloch and a patriotic Pakistani?
Jumma Marri Baloch: Patriotism is the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it. The Baloch love Balochistan and
Balochistan is a part of Pakistan. They love Pakistan and at the same time they are proud of being Balochs.
Andrew Korybko: Who is behind the so-called “Free Balochistan” Campaign, what are they aiming for, and how do they operate?
Jumma Marri Baloch: There are no doubts that India is squarely behind the unrest in Balochistan. I am a witness to it from within: India tries to counter Pakistan’s support for Kashmir and India wants to pay Pakistan in the same coin by supporting a few so-called Baloch leaders who are enjoying very luxurious lifestyles in such expensive cities as Geneva and London. These people are sending some money to create unrest in Balochistan like blowing electricity supplies, mining bridges and putting mines in the roadside to keep the money supplies open from Delhi.
Andrew Korybko: What can you tell us from your experiences about the differences between past and present struggle in Balochistan? What are the support levels for the current one?
Jumma Marri Baloch: The differences between the past and present are very clear: the past Baloch struggle was based on brotherhood and an ideology. The Baloch fighters who used to join the struggle used to come with their own weapons, money and supplies and were genuine and honest in their beliefs; the leadership was also honest and was with its people. But the current struggle has been covered with fakes and greed from the beginning: fighters fight for monthly salaries and leaders live luxurious lives in western countries. If India stops the money supplies the struggle will end the next day. Their leaders’ ideologies are personal ambitions, ego and greed for power and wealth.
Andrew Korybko: What is the reason why some international media have been repeating the claims of Baloch separatists and sometimes even lobbying on their behalf, and how does this relate to global fake news industry?
Jumma Marri Baloch: No international media pays any attention to these Baloch separatists except Indian media that are working closely with the Indian intelligence who are paid to cover their paid agents working as Baloch freedom fighters. These are all Indian attempts to silence the voices of the Kashmir struggle for freedom. I guarantee if Pakistan gives even the slightest hint to the Indians that they will stop supporting the Kashmiri, the Hindus will dump the Baloch next day down in a sewage canal”.
Disillusionment with being someone else’s proxy
The interview portrays a deeply sincere man who one must judge fairly in spite of one’s views on the conflict that he was so long a part of. The narrative arc of Dr. Jumma Marri Baloch’s personal journey from ‘rebel’ to patriot did not involve him abandoning his regional/personal identity, but rather it reveals a man who became disillusioned with the internationalised nature of what for he and his comrades began as an organic feeling which was then transformed into a localised armed struggle.
However, according to both Dr. Jumma Marri Baloch and many international observers outside of high Indian politics or Indian ultra-nationalism, the conflict had long since ceased to be anything organic. It instead became a proxy war/hybrid war in which India used Baloch separatists to advance its own dangerous anti-Pakistan agenda through the financing and arming of professionalised militants/terrorists. Thus, the conflict that Jumma Marri Baloch is one where India has turned Pakistanis against themselves rather than a genuine uprising of a regional group against a state.
From the USSR to modern Russia
According to Jumma Marri Baloch himself, Baloch leaders became the wealthy pawns in a wider Indian geopolitical game that saw Indian money pouring into the coffers of self-appointed Baloch leaders in exile, who were able to retain their position as effectively salaried Indian agents of chaos, so long as their men on the ground did the bidding of a neighbouring state.
This appears to be one of the central motivations for Jumma Marri Baloch’s renunciation of separatism and his reconciliation with Pakistan. While I have no doubt that his decision was independently made, the fact that for decades he had lived in Moscow rather than London or Geneva, where according to him, several of his former compatriots live, may have played a critical part in shaping his thought process.
When Jumma Marri Baloch arrived in Moscow in the year 2000, Russia had no real foreign policy to speak of. The days of the USSR pursuing policies that were one part idealist, another part pragmatic and a third part a mix of both idealism and pragmatism, within the context of Cold War rivalries, had given way to something that was not clearly defined due to the domestic chaos of the 1990s.
2000 however, was the first year that Vlaidimir Putin served as Russia’s President and during his time in power, he and his colleagues fashioned a new Russian foreign policy that has become as geopolitically prominent as it is analytically misunderstood.
The contemporary Russia foreign policy rejects pursuing ideological struggles in the way that the USSR tended to support anti-colonial and anti-reactionary liberation movements throughout the world. It more importantly rejects policies that are purely designed to thwart the interests of a geopolitical rival as an end in itself. Instead, today’s Russia seeks to retain historic friendships while pursuing pragmatic partnerships with countries that had either little contact with the USSR, were enemies of the USSR or were part of geopolitical blocs that were antagonistic towards the USSR.
While some have called this policy “mercenary” or lacking in the morality of the USSR’s policy, this is not necessarily true. The ultimate goal of Russia’s contemporary policy is to avoid conflict and resolve existing global conflicts while balancing the interests of various medium and small nations through offering the prospect of peace through prosperity as opposed to zero-sum victory at the cost of blood and material. In this sense, a policy predicated on material enrichment and security cooperation among former rivals which rejects violence as a geopolitical tool, could actually be described as more moral than a Soviet policy which however well meaning, did mean prioritising struggle over peaceful win-win compromises.
This is not to say that the USSR’s foreign policy was immoral. Of every major superpower in modern history, no country gave so much to the developing and anti-colonial world as did the USSR. But in the 21st century, the goal is not anti-colonial liberation so much as it is about asserting the financial and diplomatic independence of small and medium sized nations, against the old imperialist/reactionary guard, which today, as it was in the Cold War, is still represented by the United States.
Thus, as Russia pivoted from “controversial” idealism to a pragmatism which is aimed at replacing conflict and distrust with commerce and better multilateral understandings, so too did Jumma Marri Baloch pivot in that same way as his host nation, whether consciously or otherwise.
A lesson for Syria and beyond
Jumma Marri Baloch has gone from being an international liability to an asset to peace, not only for his own Pakistani nation, but well beyond. The example he set must be examined thoroughly by all nations struggling with conflicts which have an external/proxy/hybrid war element. Of course, when one thinks of such a conflict in 2018, Syria is naturally the first place that comes to mind.
In Syria, Russia along with Iran have helped the country to rid itself of foreign funded and armed terrorist groups including Daesh and Al-Qaeda. While the battle is far from over, considerable successes on the battlefield have seen Russia pivot its attention to brokering a penultimate political solution to the crisis, which Moscow has already begun to attempt and broker, even as Russian fighter jets continue to aid Syria in neutralising the last terrorist hot spots in the country.
While the foreign terrorist fighters on Syria’s soil can only logically be eliminated on the battlefield or else captured and jailed in the appropriate jurisdiction, when it comes to neighbouring states and homegrown fighters, a different solution is required, according to Moscow.
In an ideal world, Syria would have already picked up the phone to Ankara and with Russian assistance, developed an understanding for how to gradually heal the wounds of a war which has made Turkey deeply unpopular in Syria (for understandable physical reasons), while Syria remains unpopular with supporters of the Turkish President (for unavoidable political reasons).
At this point, Turkey and Syria, while still at each other’s political throats, face a common enemy in the form of secessionist ethno-nationalist Kurds who seek to create their own statelte on legal Syrian territory while their PKK brethren in Turkey have long sought and continue to seek the same in respect of legal Turkish territory. While many Syrians understandably don’t want to hear the following, the fact of the matter is that in recent months, Turkish diplomats have been very reasonable in their offers to jointly cooperate against the YPG/PKK, while working to segregate moderate Kurdish factions from those under the direct control of the USA and the wider control of “Israel”. The fact that Turkey named its anti-YPG/PKK battle ‘Operation Olive Branch’ is an overt sign of how this operation difference from its previous incursion into Syria, ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’
Sadly, Turkey’s offer has fallen on deaf ears in Damascus, as pro-government National Defence Force volunteers have travelled to Afrin in order to fight Turkey and its proxies. That being said, the Syrian Arab Army has not gone to Afrin and according to a recent unverified report (which follows the logic of existing geopolitical/strategic dynamics), the Syrian Arab Army will not do so any time soon based on an understanding with Russia.
The radical elements of the YPG, like the Al-Qaeda elements which operate in Balochistan, can and should be viewed as a common enemy by the Syrian Arab Republic, the Republic of Turkey, moderate Kurdish factions in Syria, as well as all Arabs and minorities alike in northern Syria. Forming a unite front against the YPG would require, moderate Kurds to segregate themselves (with the possibly help of Syria and/or Turkey) from a YPG that is tainted beyond redemption, not least because of its closeness with the US and “Israel”. Such a cooperative strategy would also require Syria taking the pragmatic decision to work with Turkey with the clear understanding that Russia will help to moderate the emotions which run high on both sides.
Additionally, Russia wants Syria and “Israel” to both refrain from military engagement so that the other fronts of the conflict, including the one with the US in eastern Syria can be settled. Russia’s neutral position in the long standing Syria-“Israel” conflict is merely reflective of the fact that because one cannot fight 5 wars at once, the long standing issue with the “Israeli” occupation of Syria is a fight best left for another day from the patriotic Syrian perspective. Of course, Syria can and should defend itself against “Israeli” aggression, but ideally pursuing a direct conflict with a hated occupier is best saved for a time when all the other fronts of the current conflict are pacified.
The Baloch example
When Jumma Marri Baloch went to a Pakistani event to celebrate Pakistan’s unity, he was not arrested, spat upon or pummelled with abuse. He was embraced. While many Pakistanis clearly have strong feelings about the Baloch separatist movement and everything it has done to harm Pakistan, the decision to receive Jumma Marri Baloch’s olive branch was one taken with grace, dignity and wisdom.
Turkey’s olive branch to Syria to unite against radical Kurds, along with Russia’s insistence that moderate Kurdish factions be brought into the existing political process via the Astana format, can and should also be embraced by Syria and Turkey for the same reasons.
It is true that Syria wants to rid a Turkish presence from its soil, but this is not going to be accomplished by drawing Turkey into a deeper a war against Syria. This can only be done by clearing the air and allowing a ready, able and willing partner in the form of Russia, to give both sides the assurances they require. This is also the best way to turn the Kurdish issue from one that mutually antagonises Syria and Turkey, into a settled issue which the US will no longer be able to exploit to its own greedy advantage against both Syria and Turkey.
As for Arab militants with Syrian citizenship who have received money and arms from foreign powers, there is also the Baloch example. Syria has already opted to give an amnesty to any Syrian who puts down his weapons and returns to a peaceful civilian life, or otherwise joins the Syrian Arab Army. The Syrian Arab identity is one that is necessarily based upon the principles of unity and President Bashar al-Assad is an eloquent speaker on this matter. According to the guiding principles of Syria’s Arab Nationalism, patriotic Syrians are Syrians first and any other sub identity whether religious, ethnic or regional comes second. What is most important is that people with a shared history, in a shared geographical space, with related religious traditions and a common language, ought to unite against external enemies for the greater good of the people as a whole.
It has been foreign powers that have used money to exploit latent sectarianism in Syria, but the example of Jumma Marri Baloch will be an instructive one to Sunni militants in particular. It must be conveyed through intense talks in the Astana format, that by fighting under the banner of a Sunni Takfiri militia, they are not embracing a uniquely Sunni identity, they are actually embracing an American, “Israeli” or Saudi proxy identity, just as Jumma Marri Baloch realised that his former compatriots weren’t embracing a Baloch identity, irrespective of the flag they held – they were embracing the lowest form of an Indian identity – that ‘caste’ of foreign proxies that can be chewed up and spit out at a moment’s notice, just as the proxies of the US, “Israel” Saudi Arabia and others can and in some cases already have been chewed up and spat out.
Hearts and minds take a longer time to heal than it does for the ink on a treaty to dry. That being said, with Syria on the verge of victory, it cannot allow emotions to guide political calculations that could undo all the previously good work that has been accomplished in the fight against terrorism on the battle field. The example of Baloch fighters accepting their Pakistani identity shows that such a precedent can be used to separate wayward Syrians from militants who must be defeated along with their gepolitical masters. If Syria can take the pragmatic decisions that will reduce current conflict, ridding itself of those who refuse to disarm will be a far easier task, whether it is accomplished on the battle field, the negotiation table or in all likelihood, a combination of both.