Did Baloch leaders in West buy limos, expensive mansions with freedom funds?

One of the biggest handicaps of the Balochistan freedom movement is that it is mostly led by feudal lords, who can switch loyalty to Islamabad at the drop of a hat. These feudal lords act like judge, jury and executioner, considering themselves above any institutional accountability for their decisions and actions.

Baloch commoners have long accused these feudal lords of running the 12-year-old insurgency in their France-sized homeland as if it was a family business.

The case in point was the return of former Balochistan home minister, Nawabzada Gazzain Marri, brother in-law of former chief minister Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, from the UAE to Pakistan after ending his 18 year exile in September. At the same time, his youngest brother Mehran Baluch, president of the Baluchistan House, had launched a Free Baluchistan advertisement campaign in Geneva.

Gazzain Marri-- Picture courtesy Shahzain Marri/twitter
Former Balochistan home minister Nawabzada Gazzain Marri arriving in Pakistan after ending his 18-year-old exile in the UAE.

Upon arrival in Pakistan, Gazzain Marri disavowed militancy and said he has nothing to do with militant politics of his two brothers: Mehran Baluch, who allegedly heads the militant United Baluch Army (UBA), and former Balochistan minister Hyrbyair Marri, who heads a faction of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Both Mehran Baluch and Hyrbyair Marri, publicly deny association with the UBA and BLA, respectively.

But insider Baloch sources said when the late Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, main icon of militant politics in Balochistan, developed differences with his son Hyrbyair Marri, over misappropriation of freedom funds called muddee in Balochi, he had given the responsibility of the UBA militancy business to his two other sons, Gazzain Marri and Mehran Baluch.

Hyrbyair Marri was said to be handling the freedom funds but was in Belmarsh Prison, after being charged for terrorism on the bidding of former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf, at the time of the alleged misappropriation of funds in 2008.

After his release, Hyrbyair Marri accused his dad of nepotism for shielding the alleged corruption by his youngest son while he was in prison. The sibling rivalry between Mehran Baluch and Hyrbyair Marri that has been brewing for nine years now, has left nearly four dozen Marri fighters dead.

The number of Marri freedom fighters or Sarmachars lost in the Marri fratricide is very high. Though Pakistan army has indiscriminately and ruthless killed 35,000 Baloch in the last 12 years, barely one percent or less than 350 were actual Sarmachars, while the rest of the 99 percent were civilians caught in the crossfire, local Baloch sources say.

Gazzain Marri, a bosom buddy of former president Asif Ali Zardari, is in fact the senior most freedom leader who has made peace with Pakistan army, with the help of the former president, since the militancy began in 2005.

Gazzain Marri enjoys complete trust of Zardari; after  the 2008 elections Zardari told Marri that the then army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had told him that the PPP can do politics in the three other provinces, while Balochistan will remain under  the military thumb.

Now eyeing a top slot after the 2018 elections, Gazzain Marri said he believes in resolving all Balochistan issues through talks.


Lahore-based calligraphist Ruheena Malik-- The Express Tribune
Half Danish calligraphist Ruheena Malik, who has been common friends with President Asif Ali Zardari and Gazzain Marri for more than 30 years.

Camaraderie between Marri and Zardari dates back more than three decades, when they had a common friend in horse riding enthusiast, half Danish Lahore calligraphist Ruheena Malik.

Since his youthful days, Zardari, racially a Baloch, has romanticized the bravery of Baloch tribal chieftains and the Express Tribune reported three years back, the former president gave himself the title of Rais, or the chief of Zardari tribe, though there is no tribalism in most of Sindh.

Gazzain Marri, who has one of the finest collections of Rolex watches, did face legal challenges after his arrival in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. He was in custody on the pressure of his eldest brother Jangyz Marri, who is a serving provincial irrigation and energy minister in the Balochistan government, according to Marri sources.

Gazzain Marri’s return to Pakistan effectively meant he was saying a farewell to arms, but neither his brothers– Hyrbyair Marri and Mehran Baluch–, nor other feudal lords clamoring for freedom gave any Press statement against him for throwing in the towel.

Mehran Baluch’s brother-in-law Brahumdagh Bugti, president of the Baloch Republican Party, also kept mum over Gazzain Marri’s return. Both Baluch and Bugti are facing heat as Pakistan appears to have convinced the Swiss government that they head separate militant outfits; the Swiss last month clamped a lifetime ban on Baluch entry and also shot down Bugti’s asylum petition, on the basis of a charge Bugti heads the shadowy Baloch Republican Army (BRA).

Asif Ali Zardari-- Picture courtesy The Express Tribune
Former president Asif Ali Zardari being installed as Rais or chief of the Zardari tribe. He is flanked by his daughter Bakhtawar (“Lucky”) Zardari.

Concerns run high among the Baloch commoners that when the feudal lords surrender, or make a U turn, there is not even a whimper. “But when a poor Baloch sheep man sells a sheep to the Frontier Corps soldiers for $25, he is killed by the militants for being an informer,” said Dr Ali Mengal, president of the Baloch Diaspora France.

In addition to political turn coat-ism, a most damning report in the Firstpost early this year about corruption in the militant movement said the feudal lords have misappropriated the freedom funds provided to them by India.

The writer Sunil Raman, a former BBC journalist who is now public affairs head of Hill+Knowlton Strategies in India, cited an intelligence sleuth as saying, “On condition of not sharing his name, he said that a few of these exiled leaders used Indian financial support to pick up expensive cars and homes. That defeats the entire purpose of backing exiles, he remarked.”

Baloch feudal lords are reportedly enjoying a super lavish lifestyle, with posh mansions and penthouses in Dubai and the West; their super expensive limousines can invite envy of the Gulf princes, one Baloch source said in Dubai, on the request of not being named. In May, Jangyz Marri eldest of the Marri brothers, had leveled charges on the same lines against his youngest brother Mehran Baluch; Mehran Baluch denied the allegations.

Brother Mehran Baluch (right) and Jangyz Marri-- Picture couresty The News International
Baloch “princes” Mehran Baluch, alleged head of the UBA, and his eldest brother Nawabzada Jangyz Marri, Balochistan minister for irrigation and energy.

Recently, Pakistan ports and shipping minister Mir Hasil Bizenjo, also leveled the same kind of charges against the exiled Baloch feudal lords. Bizenjo, who is himself one of the biggest feudal lords from Balochistan, questioning the lifestyle of the Western-based leaders said all feudal lords know each other quite well and how much wealth each has inherited. He also charged four of these leaders have never lived in Balochistan, but spent all their lives in the West.

If Raman’s allegation is true, designer suits, designer shoes, sun glasses, and Rolex watches that these leaders flaunt and the super expensive cars such as Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Lexus owned by them are being paid by Indian taxpayers, whose annual per capita income is $6,600 as compared to arch-rival China’s $15,400.

However, according to sources privy to the matter, the alleged corruption would not have been possible without connivance of the Indian security managers, who take as much as 40 percent in kickbacks. An audit of the funds is underway in New Delhi, on orders of NSA Ajit Doval, and some high heads are likely to roll, these sources say.

In contrast, the Firstpost report by Raman, favored all out support to the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), which is led by a commoner Dr Allah Nazar. However,  some of the actions taken by Dr Nazar’s BLF violate the Laws of War and may paint India in a negative light in the eyes of the world. Reckless actions of the BLF includes killing of non combatant civilians.

The BLF is represented in the West by its political subsidiary the Baloch National Movement (BNM); the BNM denies any links with the BLF.

“They (India) just give bullets to the gunmen,” complains Moscow-bases Dr Jumma Marri, son of legendary guerrilla leader Mir Hazar Khan Ramkhani, who spearheaded the 1973-77 uprising against Islamabad. “Not ink to the writers.” Despite the audit underway in New Delhi, Jumma Marri has little hope of any house cleaning.

Others believe the change is already happening. “Don’t worry. We are winning,” says Prof Naela Quadri, who along with her son Mazdak Dilshad Baloch has worked diligently to raise the profile of Balochistan in India but lives hand to  mouth. She is a thorn on the side of the feudal lords, who regularly accuse her of meddling in their affairs when disgruntled freedom fighters part ways with them.

Analysts believe India, as a highly responsible democracy, should not fund extravagant lifestyle of the feudal lords at the expense of her taxpayers and should also discourage all violations of the Laws of War by Baloch militants. They counsel New Delhi should instead focus on helping all those activists and public intellectuals who are trying to defend human rights in Balochistan in an opaque manner, through public diplomacy.

Professor Naela Quadri-- Picture courtesy Intellibriefs
Public intellectual and activist Prof Naela Quadri is optimistic that change will come in the freedom struggle.

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