I read this insightful comment by Imtiaz Baloch on an internet platform. The piece argues in a more nuanced manner the issue of national question and the struggles. In particular, it challenges the linear and [ironically] misinformed views of Tariq Ali who praised the Taliban and Hezbollah while mocking the Baloch and Sindhi national movements. I am grateful to Imtiaz Baloch for having agreed to this cross-posting at the Pak Tea House. Readers may or may not agree with the position but it surely brings a fresh perspective to this tricky and complex questions. (Raza Rumi, ed)
Last week the British-Pakistani orator came to Toronto for a talk. It was with great hope and enthusiasm; I arrived at the University of Toronto auditorium on Nov 14, 2008 with my Baloch, Sindhi, and Kashmiri friends to listen to the man famous for his revolutionary views and eloquent speeches.
Tariq Ali’s writings had always been a great source of inspiration for us under General Zia’s military rule, fighting for democracy, justice, and equality in the Pakistan society.
I am from the generation of progressive student activists who had witnessed the rise of ‘jihadi culture’ in Pakistan ; funded, armed, and trained by the Pakistan Army, ISI, Saudis, and the CIA. My generation was also a witness to two revolutions in the region on the borders of Pakistan – Afghanistan ’s (Soar) April revolution of 1978 and Iran ’s anti-Shah/ uprising of 1979, later stolen by the Mullahs.
But alas, my expectations were terribly let down.
Thinking of the street fighting days of the 80’s, my thoughts were interrupted by the voice coming from the podium of a man I thought was the living embodiment of an era when Marxism, revolution, and Che Guevara were the idols worshipped by the left-wing students world over.
Tariq Ali spoke eloquently and took us on a journey into Palestine , Lebanon , Iraq , Afghanistan , touching briefly upon Pakistan and then rocketing back to the recent US elections and the crisis in the capitalist world. In his speech, he praised Sheikh Nasarullah’s Hezollah in Lebanon as “heroic”, conveniently forgetting to mention this group’s ideological, financial, and military support from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria . The two states, one theocratic and the other a dictatorship – both infamous for brutally repressing their own people including torture and murder of communists.
In addition, to my amazement, Tariq Ali chose Hamas as the Palestinian voice of resistance and not PFLP or DFLP for that matter, yet another Iran-backed Islamic group striving for an Islamic state.
Finally came the bombshell. Instead of denouncing the atrocities carried out by the Taliban, the beheadings and the throwing of acid on the faces of schoolgirls, Tariq Ali eulogized the neo-Taliban as an indigenous movement representing Pashtun nationalism.
Suddenly it all made sense, for Tariq Ali. For him, the world had shrunk to the two opposite poles – America on one sides and the global Islamic militancy. Anything anti-American would do, regardless of its nature being oppressive, anti-progressive, anti-democratic and anti-human.
What Tariq Ali said that evening would make Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and former Director General ISI Hameed Gul (godfather of the Taliban) applaud and dance with joy.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of the story. He also managed to present one dramatized case of forcible disappearance of a Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui now in US custody for alleged links with Al-Qaida.
He spent considerable time talking about Aafia Siddiqui, painting a picture of a victim of American atrocities, but he did not utter a single word about the thousands of Sindhi and Baloch political activists who were disappeared by the ISI under Musharraf’s military rule and ended up in the torture cells.
Speaking of torture, Tariq Ali slammed Hasni Mobarak’s Egypt , but a kept a complete silence on the brutal practices of torture by the Islamic Republic of Iran where thousands of progressive activists have been tortured and hanged publicly. He did not utter one work against Saudi Arabia , an apartheid state where racism and repression are state policy.
Most amazingly, Balochistan was completely absent from his speech, where for the last four years people are facing a brutal military operation unleashed by the Musharraf regime. The atrocities include aerial bombing of villages by PAF; killing of innocent civilians including women and children; forced displacement of 200,000 Marri and Bugti tribal families; arrest, torture and targeted killing of activists and leaders; forced occupation of people’s land by the state to build military cantonments; development of testing sites for nuclear weapons causing health and environmental hazards.
HRCP chief Asma Jahangir, who does not claim to be a revolutionary and who hails from Lahore , has done a magnificent job in risking her life to collect all the data from the remote and restricted areas of Balochistan and in bringing the facts to world’s attention.
Tariq Ali’s evasiveness from the Baloch national question is not just a matter of ignorance of the facts, but rather based on his worldview related to the narrow vision and what fits in it. This became obvious from his response to a question on Balochistan asked from the audience. While claiming his support to Baloch rights and saying that military operation was not a good thing, he then balanced it off by dismissing Baloch nation’s right to exercise the right of self determination, because of the involvement of the “big powers” and their interests in the region.
Tariq Ali stands for the right of self determination for the people of Palestine , but not for the people of Balochistan or Kurdistan .
Later that evening at a private dinner he further explained that formation of new independent states was not on the world agenda therefore the best option for Baloch and other nationalities is to be part of a South Asian Union in which Pakistan will exist as a loose federation. How is that possible and why would Pakistan’s military sacrifice all its multibillion dollar assets, businesses and political power to become part of South Asian Union? During the debate, Tariq Ali also made a passing remark that Baloch should join Islamic Republic of Iran, knowing very well the atrocities unleashed on Iranian Baloch by the state.
It felt like asking the sheep to leave the flock and join a pack of wolves. What could be more insulting coming from a world-renowned scholar of Tariq Ali’s stature?
Moreover, when he was reminded of the fact that Iranian Balochistan also needs to be liberated from the repressive theocratic state, he simply looked the other way and smiled sarcastically. His response to a question regarding Sindh’s national rights was simply a joke to the people of Sindh. He said, “President Zaradari is now in power”. This was an utter disregard for Sindh’s national problems.
In his speech Tariq Ali spent a full 30 minutes making fun of Asif Zaradari, mocking his English accent and sinking to a level of attack that reflected a bitter personal animosity. There was not a word of criticism of Nawaz Shariff or General Musharraf.
Tariq Ali made no mention of the heroic struggle of people like Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ahmad Rashid, who has criticized in previous writings. In listening to Tariq Ali, it seems one was listening to some Pakistan Army Colonel lecturing us Baloch to fight the so-called “Sardari nizaam”, as if Sheroo Marri and the late Mir Bizenjo were sardars.
In general, Tariq Ali’s attitude and behaviour towards Pakistan ’s nationalities question sounded like an echo coming from Islamabad ’s corridors of power representing the voice of a dominant nationality that has colonized Baluchistan for 60 years, yet whose intelligentsia, including the Left is woefully oblivious of their own role as accomplices.
There seemed a pattern emerging from the speech and the discussion that completed the picture. The old Left and the neo-Taliban have bonded into a new friendship with a common cause – Bush-bashing, for which, Islamic populist sentimentalism, state and strong army have become important tools of the trade. Today, it is not surprising to see former Marxists collude with Jihadis, but to see Tariq Ali in that role was a huge let down.
Therefore, Pakistan and Iran as states and their military as an intimidating force are non-negotiable in exchange for the national emancipation of oppressed nationalities. What lessons have we learnt from the Iranian left movement and their self-destructive path of alignment with Khomeni on anti-American basis? And how that had resulted in the complete abolishment of the Left experience in Iran .
That night when I was finally leaving for home, all sorts of questions were rising in my mind. For some reason, the night seemed slightly darker than usual. The only beacon of hope was the faraway mountains of Balochistan where the sound of thunder was the call for freedom.
Imtiaz Baloch is affiliated with the Baloch Human Rights Council of Canada, Toronto, Ontario