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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Looking back at the London club

The London Club, during the 1970s, was a group of Pakistani students, children of mostly Punjabi and Sindhi feudal lords and rich businessmen, who were studying in London. Bored from living a life of luxury, and smitten by the ghost of Che Guevara, they left their studies in London and joined the Baluchistan Liberation Army.

“I have a copy of the letter mentioned by PM Imran Khan during his public gathering in Islamabad. The letter is a fake.”Najam Sethi

When I read about Mohsin Dawar, Ali Wazir, Gulalai Ismail, and Manzoor Pashteen, and their exhortations about the people’s rights in Waziristan, I am reminded of Najam Sethi, Asad Rehman, and Ahmed Rashid of the so-called London Club who claim to have fought with the BLA terrorists during the 1990s.

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What was the London Club about?

To find the answer, let us go back to December 1971. In her official statement in the Indian parliament after the fall of Dhaka, Indira Gandhi had made a fleeting reference to the “disturbing situation in Balochistan”; implicitly threatening Indian covert and overt interference in the troubled province (this has since been dubbed out from the official records but can be verified from All India Radio transcripts).

The Soviet leadership had also warned Bhutto that if a Bangladesh-like situation emerged again, the Soviet Union would act exactly as it did during the 1971 War. Events were evolving very fast and it was obvious that India and the Soviet Union had embarked on an indirect approach to further break up what had remained of Pakistan. India-Pakistan rivalry, with the erstwhile Soviet Union standing firmly behind India, had shifted to a lower dimension where proxy operations against Pakistan other would replace conventional warfare.

The Dogs of War unleashed by the lust for power in Pakistan were now threatening further fragmentation of this jinxed country. At midnight, 9th February 1973, Bhutto’s government claimed intercepting a weapons shipment smuggled from the Soviet Union with Iraqi assistance. The next day a team of Special Services Group and Rangers stormed the Iraqi embassy and found a cache of Soviet arms and ammunition along with a large amount of money that was to be distributed among Baloch separatist groups. Bhutto asserted that the arms and money were intended to provide military and financial aid to Baloch nationalists fighting against Pakistan and Iran.

The London Club, during the 1970s, was a group of Pakistani students, children of mostly Punjabi and Sindhi feudal lords and rich businessmen, who were studying in London. Bored from living a life of luxury, and smitten by the ghost of Che Guevara, they left their studies in London and joined the Baluchistan Liberation Army. Ironically, when they joined BLA, they elected to fight against the despotic rule of Bhutto, a person whom they now, especially Najam Sethi, adore as their hero.

“At London, there were around 25 Pakistani, boys and girls, from different cities who had formed a study group. There were some Indian students as well in the study group. “We used to study all kinds of literature – Marxist, Maoist, Leninist, Stalin, etc….”

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“The study of this literature gave us an understanding of humanity, human rights, and understanding of the exploitation of the poor by the ruling elite. That is what drove me to Baluchistan”, recalled Asad Rehman, one of the group members.

Najam Sethi, at present the editor of Friday Times, boasts of being a member of BLA during the 1973 insurgency. There are pictures of Najam Sethi on the internet, wielding a Kalashnikov and standing with people depicted as Baloch insurgents. A retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army, who had participated in the army operation in Balochistan during the 1973 insurgency, says that the photo going rounds on the internet is a fake. According to him, Sethi was just a propagandist and a pamphleteer. Being an “armchair revolutionary” he did have photo sessions with BLA militants, but never participated in a real operation.

Did the members of the London Club act on their own or were pawns in a bigger game?

In 1970, there was no insurgency in Balochistan. We know now that there was a plan which envisaged the complete Balkanization or fragmentation of Pakistan. When we look back, we find that groups like the London Club had started descending upon Baluchistan as early as 1970 whereas the insurgency in Baluchistan started in February 1973.

It appears that in 1970, the strategic objectives of both the US and erstwhile USSR coincided in East Pakistan. We know about the Indo-Soviet collusion for the breakup of Pakistan. What is generally ignored is the fact that Henry Kissinger, in an interview, had admitted that the US had also wanted an independent East Bengal but in a peaceful manner. Kissinger claims that he had prevailed upon Yahya Khan to grant independence to East Bengal in March/April 1972.

That Pakistan was not split further doesn’t mean that its enemies had changed their minds. This is an ongoing war.

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What are they doing now?

These latter-day Che Guevara’s were involved in fighting against Pakistan. Asad Rehman claims to have killed many security personnel himself. Yet, at the end of the insurgency, all of them except Dilip Das, who was killed during the fighting, were living, and some of them like Najam Sethi are still living, unscathed under the very nose of the law. Shedding away his Marxist ideology, Sethi is presently an ardent supporter of both Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

Some other members of the Club who came to Baluchistan to participate in the insurgency were:

  1. Rashed Rehman- Editor of the Lahore-based English language newspaper, Daily Times. He lives in Lahore, or so he did till some time back.
  2. Ahmed Rashid is a future journalist and writer of “Taliban and Descent into Chaos”.
  3. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur- a Marxist journalist, lives in Hyderabad, or so he did till some time ago.

Nawab Khair Muhammad Marri ((28 February 1928 – 10 June 2014), a key leader of the 1973-77 Baloch insurgency had, along with his tribesmen, gone into a self-imposed exile in Afghanistan, where he remained till 1993, a year after the government of President Najibullah was toppled by the Taliban. He was eventually evacuated to Pakistan in a PAF C-130 plane. The airlift was ordered by Nawaz Sharif, then PM of Pakistan. So much for Pakistan’s Byzantine politics.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.