Balochistan: Birth of a movement - The transformation of the Bramsh Solidarity Committees
By Balochistan Marxist Review
October 8, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Balochistan Marxist Review — Baloch society has entered into a new phase of political mobilization since the Dan’nuk incident. A growing number of students, youth, and ordinary citizens, previously withdrawn from political activities during the ‘reign of terror’, a decade of state atrocities that is epitomised in the popular but also gory phrase of “kill and dump” started reclaiming the popular political space from the conventional nationalists as well as the king’s party. This mobilization is happening in the streets as well as on the social media, with a leading role of students and an unprecedented presence and participation of women. This new political force, comprising of students, youth, and intellectuals has started organizing independent of both bourgeoisie parliamentary parties and the separatist militant groups. Organizing on its own, crafting its own slogans, and perhaps most importantly, refusing to be a part of reactionary nationalism divided on the lines of personal interests of the elite leadership. The new phase of Baloch political mobilization is taking a shape of its own – a decentralized solidarity movement.
Since Bramsh incident, the new phase of mobilization has entered into its third and most intense wave of protests which were sparked by the killing of Hayat Baloch who was murdered by the Frontier Constabulary with such brutality that it shook the society to its core. Unlike the solidarity campaign for Bramsh, and the protests against killing of Kulsoom Bibi, the new wave has spread to more constituencies not just in the native land of Hayat Baloch but also in major cities such as Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Islamabad attracting crowds from progressive circles in the urban centres. Solidarities also poured in from the politically marginalized Pashtun areas such as Waziristan that has witnessed its own episode of atrocities in the hands of similar forces. The keynote protest event was held on 22 August, nine days after the murder, despite the fact that all attempts were made by the law enforcement agencies to defuse the situation through symbolic actions. The Frontier Constabulary, known by its acronym FC, anticipating sensitivity of the matter, surrendered one of its soldiers into police custody. The police showed unprecedented proactiveness by proclaiming the arrest of the soldier, even before a FIR could be lodged. In the follow up, condemnations poured in from government officials which peaked on an unprecedented visit by the Inspector General of the paramilitary force to the victim family.
The masses mobilized in response to the killing of Hayat Baloch, refuse to give in to the manoeuvres by the government and PR exercises by the FC. The consecutive waves of protests have resulted as the realization of the vulnerability of the common people who live amidst an fractionated insurgency and an unchained paramilitary force. Another Bramsh incident, another murder of Kulsoom and Hayat appear written on the wall; thus, pushing a large number of politicly conscious youth into the field of action, and bursting the bubble of fear. The random and unsynchronized solidarity committees in the name of Bramsh on their turn are converging into committees beyond any particular incident. The material conditions for a broader Baloch solidarity movement are in the making. A civil rights movement with potentials to become the dominant political force of the society seems viable.
This article aims at highlighting key aspects of the Bramsh solidarity committee phenomenon, the possibilities of its turning into a Baloch solidarity movement and the historical responsibility of progressive forces in an imminent political movement.
Birth of a movement
To state the obvious, the three main incidents responsible for this new phase of mobilization – the murder of Maliknaz and Kulsoom in the hands of patronized criminal groups or death squads, and the murder of Hayat in the hands of FC are closely linked with the ongoing Balochistan conflict. The hostilities that started in early 2000 soon gave way to a war like situation. It culminated into two decades that are known for missing persons, mutilated bodies, and military operations. The groups responsible for the first two incidents, of Maliknaz and Kulsoom, were created mainly to counter the militancy. After serving their purpose these groups were not disbanded; soon, they started to attack the ordinary population, often the weakest section.
The victims of such groups have been mainly the working class population and the petty bourgeoisie or the middle class, consisting of small land owners and traders who struggle to make ends meet. The Baloch indigenous economy is either subsistence agricultural, livestock, or fishing economy operating under-resourced to meet household needs or the informal economy which runs parallel to the capitalist state economy. Nevertheless, the contribution of state economy on mass level is limited to government jobs which serve as the only sustainable source of income. The larger ‘primary’ economic sector of natural resources, has never been a part of indigenous economy, instead, it has turned into a tool of exploitation; therefore, limiting the economic options for the local population while strengthening the tribal elite and the security establishment in the resource rich areas, while making the situation worse for the lower classes.
The working class and petty bourgeoisie, while struggling with such economic hardships have to face the death squads and the security forces in their daily lives, while they work on their farms, manage their small shops, trade in the market, and even in their leisure – for example on picnic spots. These daily encounters have the utmost possibility of turning deadly any moment. This is what happened with Hayat Baloch and his family. It is the fait accompli of every peasant that goes to see his crop, every farmer that goes to the farm, every fishermen that goes to the sea, every shop owner who has to go the Bazar daily to earn a living.
The Baloch bourgeoisie – comprising of the dominant tribal elite, along with its non – tribal large business owners, the monied politicians and bureaucrats – has a rare privilege in this security situation. Extracting the surplus created by the working class, or the money they have collected on their name, they have raised armies of their own. They have enough armed men to guard them from violent attacks, unlike the working class which is a soft target – either attacked easily for being a spy or who happens to be in the line of fire between the militants and the security forces in his daily quest for economic survival. The Baloch bourgeoisie avoid being killed in the hands of militants as well the security forces and death squads using either his armed men or the privileges it has gained due to the membership of the upper class status. Hayat could have survived if he had enough time to clear the civil service examination and join the bourgeoisie through the bureaucratic channel but he wasn’t there as yet, instead he was son of a farmer who had to keep working on his farm despite bomb blasts and armed clashes.
The bourgeois class have been dominating the political superstructure of Baloch society since 1990’s by occupying the top leadership in nationalist parties of different names. In these three decades, they have turned from ordinary sons of Sardars or Nawabs or Mirs, the middle class business owner and bureaucrat into capitalist rent-seekers who own multi – billion businesses and real estate here and abroad and have established partnerships with various tycoons. The capital they have accumulated resides abroad and does not makes any appearance at home except in the the elitist lifestyle of their children who proudly and shamelessly flaunt their upper class status in a society living at the edge of economic desperation and social chaos. In Balochistan where the bourgeoisie have its political roots in the nationalist politics they never admit to their own economic and social privileges, instead their entire politics is based on the illusion that the exploitation of Baloch and Balochistan is national and thus constant across the boundaries of economic class and social status.
The politically conscious strata of lower classes have historically affiliated themselves with the bourgeoisie leadership since the emergence of popular nationalist politics in 1980s and its maturity in the proceeding decade. This affiliation has however changed over the years as the bourgeoisie class proved repeatedly their incapability to lead the society towards social justice leave alone national revolution. The failure of bourgeoisie leadership has contributed to the alienation of masses from political process in general resulting in a political gap and the rise of nationalist militancy followed by a ruthless counter insurgency regime. Various non-conventional and independent bodies in the form of either civil society, students’ unions, or localized solidarity groups in response of recent events are emerging out of this political gap.
The Solidarity Committees
Over the past decade of terror, a new generation has grown up that is now an active part of students and youth politics. This new generation, like Hayat Baloch, wants to think and act beyond conflict, they are politically conscious of their economic conditions, the rottenness of their social structures, and the corruption of national leadership. They are fed-up of unpleasant daily encounters they have with the security forces at check posts, in their campuses, on the farms, and on the streets. They refuse to live under the fear of death squads, they don’t want to be led by a corrupt leadership, they want to live with freedom and dignity. This is the new political force, the raw material for an ensuing social movement born out of a deadly conflict situation.
In Makkuran, where the above mentioned three prominent incidents happened the new wave of protests are led by the civil society which is dominated by the students. Civil society is a new phenomenon in Balochistan which emerged with increasing urbanization and the resulting civic sense among the educated youth and intellectuals. The corruption and overall lack of concern in the state institutions administering these urban centres has resulted into an acute lack of amenities. The condition of educational institutes and health felicities is worst even in rapidly growing towns like Turbat and Panjgur with no adequate infrastructure and utilities such as gas, electricity and water supply. The organization of educated youth and intellectuals into various kinds of social groups have been a response to this deficit in civic services. Amid a depoliticized atmosphere, the civil society has been a vibrant social force accommodating within its ranks active forces from across the society, including students organized within campuses.
The conflict situation and its belligerent forces, the state and militants have hardly been the subject of interest for the civil society before the recent protests. The Dan’nuk incident pushed the civil society out in the streets in solidarity with a victim of a situation that it has always avoided to consider into its agenda. The civil society although has all the necessary ingredients to initiate an event-based solidarity campaign, is far from leading a sustainable movement of political significance. The constraints of civil society became visible soon after the formation of Bramsh solidarity committees that could not translate the momentum into social and political structures to create a sustainable force. With the condemnation of a criminal act and its political patronage, and the expression of solidarity with the victim, the civil society has served its purpose – reaching the limits of its structural capacity.
Need for a progressive movement
The resolution of an armed conflict and an end to arbitrary rule by the state forces is a question of political authority over the society and cannot be resolved without the organization of masses under a revolutionary program that enables them to take the political authority in their own hands. The dominant political forces of Baloch society, hitherto, have failed to perform this historical task in a tribal society that is in the middle of a modern nation building project. In the absence of an organized progressive political force the civil society in its various forms is inclined to fall prey to the reactionary nationalists who have already started influencing the solidarity committees in different cities. The national bourgeoisie is struggling to reclaim the political authority over the society that it has lost a decade earlier. While on the other hand the more radical groups are also trying to reclaim their support base through tried and tested methods.
The killing of Hayat Baloch is transforming the Bramsh solidarity committees in their respective constituencies. A transformation that has the potential to emerge in the form of Baloch solidarity movement against the arbitrary rule of state on Baloch society and the impunity that it has given to abduction and killing of the youth. It is the historical responsibility of the progressive tendencies to fight against the attempts by the reactionary forces to manipulate this transformation for their political gain. The progressive students, intellectuals, and the working class parties need to unite, organize and strengthen their bonds with the masses that is the only way the reactionary forces can be defeated and a new progressive political force can be built from within the society.
 On 26th May, 2020 armed men stormed a house in Dan’nuk area in the outskirts of Turbat city in south-west Balochistan killing a woman Malik Naz and seriously injuring her four years old daughter Bramsh. One of the culprits was apprehend by vigilant neighbours was identified as a member of one of the many criminal gangs operating in Makkuran region. The incident became an epitome of anger among the masses against the criminal groups known as death squads. A viral video of little Bramsh on a hospital bed crying for her mother resulted into a wave of protests across Balochistan and the formation of Bramsh solidarity committees.
 On the night of 14th June, 2020 Kulsoom a working class women was murdered in front of her children during a robbery in Tump area of Kech district. The incident further inflamed the anger of the masses and resulted into a new wave of protests to follow the earlier campaign against Dan’nuk incident.
 On 22nd August 2020, a day of protests was marked in solidarity with Hayat Baloch who was killed by Frontier Constabulary on 13th of August in Absar area of Kech district. The protests originally called by Karachi University based Baloch Educational Students Organization, the students body Hayat was affiliated with, was later joined by Bramsh solidarity committees and other progressive organizations all across Pakistan. Protests demonstrations, candle light vigils and solidarity marches were held in at least 32 districts.