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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The London Club: Root cause of Baloch insurgency?

Saleem Akhtar Malik, who was a Lt Colonel in the Pakistan Army, discusses the main factor which led to the insurgency in Baluchistan. According to him, there was a grand plan which envisaged the complete Balkanization or fragmentation of Pakistan.

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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 about 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 AIR 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.

Read more: Bangladesh’s independence: a history marked with India’s tirade against Pakistan

India-Pakistan rivalry, with the erstwhile Soviet Union standing firmly behind India, had shifted to a lower dimension where proxy operations against Pakistan would replace conventional warfare.

At midnight, 9th February 1973, Bhutto’s government claimed intercepting 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.

Read more: No Baloch separatist leaders but pro-Indian Terrorists, yet reconcile them—why?

Just a group of students?

The London Club, during the 1970s, was a group of Pakistani students, children of mostly Punjabi and Sindhi feudal 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 Balochistan 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. Najam Sethi was then a leading light of these armchair revolutionaries.

Read more: Why has India given Rupees 7 billion to ‘Balochistan Liberation Army’?

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

Najam Sethi, at present the editor of Friday Times, was another member of the London Club. He boasts of being a member of BLA. Shedding away his Marxist ideology, he is presently sleeping with the Sharifs.

Read more: Punjab Bar Council concerned on defamation case against Najam Sethi

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

How did such groups of overfed and pampered brats fit into the overall picture?

An ongoing war

It is a known fact that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, with the connivance of General Akhtar Hussain Malik, GOC 12 Div, had manipulated the 1965 War. He had misled President Ayub Khan that sending infiltrators inside Indian-held Kashmir will not result in India attacking across the international border.

By starting the 1965 War, Ayub Khan had offended the United States. A ceasefire between India and Pakistan and a return to pre-war positions was brokered by the erstwhile Soviet Union. However, the US wanted to punish Ayub Khan for initiating the war and thereafter forging close relations with China.

Read more: Op-ed: Accepting Bhutto-led FO’s advice during 1965 war cost Ayub Khan dearly

It appears that in 1971, the strategic objectives of both the US and erstwhile USSR coincided in East Bengal. 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.

Read more: The Bengali genocide: setting the record straight

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 Balochistan as early as 1970 whereas the insurgency in Balochistan started in February 1973. That Pakistan was not split further doesn’t mean that its enemies had changed their minds. The war continues to this day. This is an ongoing war.

Saleem Akhtar Malik was a Lt Colonel in the Pakistan Army. He holds an honors degree in War Studies, an MBA, and an M.Phil in Management Sciences. He is the author of the book Borrowed Power. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.