Rhymes of resistance

Only those should compose poetry Who indulge in the art of war
(Beebarg)

Poetry used to be regarded as the noblest pursuit after war for a man during the most magnificent era of the Baloch tribal society in 15th-18th century. Naturally, a major part of the classical Balochi poetry was composed by warrior poets like Hammal Jeayand, the hero of armed resistance against the Portuguese occupation of Gwadar. It eulogizes tribal conflicts, revenge killing and patriotic wars.

Among the epics, the most distinguished are the accounts of the 15th century 30-year-long war between the Rind and the Lashari tribes fought in the plains of Sibi. It was the bloodiest and most destructive war for the two major Baloch tribes as it not only killed thousands of warriors but also compelled the war-weary folks to say adieu to their motherland and migrate to southern and central Punjab and Sindh.

The war was triggered by the killing of a camel from the flock owned by a non-Baloch woman trader, Gohar Jat, who had found asylum with the Rinds, at the hand of rival Lashari tribesmen. According to the Baloch tradition called Sam or Bah, a tribe is bound to protect the life, property and the honour of any one settled within its territory.

Another recurrent theme in the annals of ancient Baloch poetry is revenge, most effectively employed by Balach Gorgej, a hero of Nawab Akbar Bugti who considers him to be the first Baloch guerrilla. Again it was atrocities against a weak neighbour, which prompted Doda Gorgej to take arms against the oppressors and get killed. His brother Gorgej was a child then and devoted his life for avenging the offence.

Balach was also a poet and his poem ‘Koh Ant Balochani Kalat’ (mountains are the Balochs’ forts) must be popular among the tribal insurgents of today.

The third most explored theme is patriotic wars against foreign intruders. The Baloch race’s gradual migration from the territory lying in today’s Iraq and Syria to different areas in contemporary Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Azarbaijan, etc has produced in its people a deep sense of attachment with the land they inhabit. This patriotism often finds expression in melancholic proverbs like Waye watan ushken dar (Although barren, the motherland is worth anything).

The patriotism makes the Baloch abhor any attempt by outsiders to occupy their land and has forced them to take up arms against foreign intruders, including the Portuguese invaders (8th century), Iranian emperor Nadir Shah (17th century), Afghan ruler Ahmed Shah (18th century) and British colonialists (19th century).

Iranian General Jahanbani, who led a war against the Iranian Baloch people, was “amazed by (seeing) how a smaller force dared to resist the victorious regular forces equipped with artillery”. In his opinion “the reason for such resistance… lies in the (versified) historical legends, namely the stories told by the elders of the nation.” (Iran and its Nationalities: The Case of Baloch Nationalism by Dr Mohammad Hassan Hosseinbor.

While the classical epic poetry has been a source of inspiration for Baloch warriors (and the masses supporting them) in the post-colonial times, the era has charged modern Balochi poetry with the same spirit. The most distinguished among the modern nationalist poets is Mir Gul Khan Naseer, followed by the traditionalist Murad Sahir, the post-modern Akbar Barakzai and others including Beshir Baidar. Their and particularly Naseer’s heart stirring poetry depicts the third and bloodiest conflict involving the Baloch people and Pakistani state forces in the 1970s.

When Gen Ziaul Haq announced amnesty for the fighters of this war and several of them, including some commanders, took benefit of it and got lucrative compensation like a petrol pump, Pasni’s poet Mubarak Qazi wrote:

Fellow traveller, moon and season have changed
The sight has changed and eyes have been changed
You too forget the roar of bullets and guns
Talk about flowers and talk about lips

And after the return of Nawab Khair Bukhsh Marri, the supreme commander of the 1970 war, Hassan Mujtaba wrote in Sindhi language an elegy on the ‘death’ of the armed resistance titled “Sorrow of Betrayal with Children of the Mountains”.

Now armed struggle was a memory of a bitter past nobody thought would return, but it did. The issue of the Gwadar port created a fear among the Baloch that the project will invite the arrival and settlement of outsiders in the port city of the future, which will upset the demographic composition of Balochistan and Red-Indianize the Baloch in their motherland.

The shocking fear increased the occurrence and intensity of not so mysterious bomb blasts already taking place in the tribal hinterland and caused a previously unknown Baloch Liberation Army hit headlines.

This broke ‘the silence of the lambs’ and motivated a horde of poets, established as well as budding ones, to write poetry on the Balochistan turmoil. Even Qazi Mubarak came up with a poem lamenting the expected loss of Gwadar.

This poetry is bitter and more artistic than before and its creators are educated people from Mekran, a region where, due to visible changes brought about by the Gulf syndrome — the tribal system has ceased to exit.

This poetry proves that the Balochistan situation has not been created by “three Sardars”, but reflects the widespread feeling among Baloch people.

This poetry should serve as a warning to the policy makers that they should not get misled by the hawks who are insisting on a military solution to the Baloch problem.

It also reminds the untiring warriors what such incessant wars have given to the Baloch masses: an unending cycle of migration and poetry soaked in the blood of their tribal subjects. — Abbas Jalbani

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