A Journey to Disillusionment
Sherbaz Khan Mazari
650 pp. Oxford University Press. $64.
Sherbaz Mazari’s journey to disillusionment begins as early as 1948, after the creation of Pakistan. Hopes were running high and he was eager to serve his country when he took a group of tribesmen to fight for the liberation of Kashmir. An idealistic young scion of a Baloch tribe, he had an interest in politics and national events at an early age. Hearing stories of the Maharajah’s unlawful treaty granting the state to India and the oppression of Kashmiri Muslims, he gathered volunteers from the Mazari tribe and rode on horseback to the border of Kashmir to join the rebels, some of whom were supported by the Pakistan government.
Upon their arrival, they were refused entrance by the Pakistani army. He remembered, “It was here that I received the bitter news of the true state of affairs in Kashmir.” The rebels, much to the embarrassment of the Pakistani government, indulged in so much rapine and plunder that they even turned the Kashmiri Muslims against them. The soldiers at the border, assuming that Mazari’s tribesmen wanted to join the plunder, turned them away. Seeing what the liberation of Kashmir had become, Mazari returned to his village, disillusioned and disheartened.
His foray into Kashmir was short lived, unlike his long-standing struggle against the major forces that contributed towards Pakistan’s disintegration. Mazari’s memoir A Journey to Disillusionment pulls us into major events in Pakistan’s history through his active involvement in the struggle for democracy and his position as an astute judge of the political game and its major players. The memoir is rich with detail on all the intrigues behind each shift in power. Using passages from old articles, direct quotes from major commentators and political figures and even documents obtained from intelligence reports, Mazari provides a candid account of the creation of Bangladesh, the many wars with India and the later conflict in Afghanistan. At the heart of all this is the story of another ongoing colonization in Mazari’s home province of Balochistan, comparable to the tragic situation that led to the separation of East Pakistan.
Balochistan borders Iran and Afghanistan and has historically been Pakistan’s major source of gas and minerals. Despite being the largest province, it has the smallest population, which consists mainly of large tribes living in a barren and underdeveloped part of the country. Due to Punjabi dominance from the federal government over Baloch resources, fewer funds allocated to the province and tribal suspicions with the federal government, Balochistan has long remained an alienated part of Pakistan.
Sherbaz Mazari spent a significant amount of his political career as an independent politician, refusing to align himself with major political parties until he formed the National Democratic Party to challenge Bhutto’s autocratic rule in the 70’s. He maintained his career by operating on his own principles, despite his acquaintance with the major politicians and army chiefs he encountered over the years. These included Bhutto and Zia ul Haq, who carried out systematic oppression of him and his fellow politicians. Mazari still maintained cordial and respectful personal relationships, an interesting conundrum when his life was under threat.
“Such is the uniquely peculiar nature of our social culture,” he states when the first democratically elected Prime Minister Bhutto invited him for a private dinner to talk about the political situation. Bhutto he described as “an old acquaintance whose minions were engaged in persecuting me and my supporters […] to the extent of trying to have me killed by members of my extended family.” Aided and abetted by the central government, factions were created within the Mazari tribe and Sherbaz Mazari himself, faced intrigue and opposition.
Yet, he started his public service trying to improve the system in his tribe. The tribe that once prided honor and loyalty above everything was losing its old ways to feudalism, where land ownership became a symbol of respect, thus allowing exploitation of tenants and their families. Interestingly, traditional Baloch culture accords immense respect to the tribal leaders who are given the final say in all matters. Historically, this has meant widespread oppression by these leaders.
However, Mazari outlines traditional Baloch laws as being democratic in principle. The Council resolved disputes and if the heirs to the titles were deemed ineffective, the tribal elders would choose a member of the family who displayed leadership qualities. Mazari’s son Sherazam Mazari told the HPR that the major responsibility of the tribal leader is to arbitrate in disputes. In this way, the head’s word is inscribed into the tribal laws over the years. While in many tribes this led to extensive oppression, Mazari established himself as a rebel, moving away from his family and settling in the village of Sonmiani, starting a private school and advocating for change in the traditionally backward system. Today, his efforts are still ongoing in his district.
From Mazari’s perspective, despite his developments in his village, circumstances prevented the province from ever reconciling with the central government. Bhutto sent the army into Balochistan in the 70’s after differences emerged between him and the provincial government. According to Mazari, a cache of arms was found in the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) immediately warned Bhutto. The ISI suspected this was to be sent through Balochistan to destabilize Iran. Since this coincided with the military imposition on Balochistan, Bhutto immediately placed the blame on the provincial government and dismissed them. This dismissal galvanized opposition leaders against him, but also increased the number of disappearances and torturing of political dissidents as well as the murder and rape of thousands of Baloch citizens. Mazari recalls one particular incident with palpable sorrow. He cites Selig Harrison, a foreign writer’s description of the army’s massacre in Mali, a small village in Balochistan. For Mazari this event “would soon become a part of Baloch folklore” when men and women were lined up and shot by invading forces. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s Mazari appealed in the National Assembly for a solution, but to no avail. An insurgency began in Balochistan that persists today.
All the subsequent elected and unelected leaders failed to grant the Balochi community their rights. Mazari predicted the dire consequences of the situation in this memoir, written over a decade ago. Today, his predictions are not far off the mark. Disappearances and target killings of ethnic minorities are a common occurrence in Balochistan. According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan mutilated bodies of 225 missing persons were found between July 2010 and November 2011, while in 2011 alone another 107 missing persons have been reported. In Balochistan today, ill will towards the predominantly Punjabi central government is palpable, especially after the army attacked and killed a respected tribal leader and alleged head of the insurgency Akbar Bugti (incidentally Sherbaz Mazari’s brother in law and friend) in 2006.
Mazari makes no claim to greatness, nor does he assume he was the last hope for Pakistan. He recounts how he was offered the position of governor of Balochistan a number of times during his years in the opposition but turned it down because his fellow politicians and supporters were still languishing in jails on various charges. Most of the politicians disappoint him, however, as is apparent in his dedication, “To the people of Pakistan- leaderless and betrayed.” His principled struggle to uphold the rule of law and his continuous protest against undemocratic governments fell on deaf ears until he retired from politics. As chairman of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), his was the loudest opposing voice to the post-Bhutto Zia ul Haq government. However, his efforts were hampered by party infighting and his journey reached its lowest point, when his own brothers turned against him in the 1988 elections in order to shift support to their seats. He retired, knowing that he “had come full circle, “ back to the day he faced his first disappointment at the Kashmir border.
In the beginning of his book Sherbaz Mazari remembers a friend who once told him that political memoirs in Pakistan are largely exercises in fiction. Keeping this in mind, he says, “I have made every attempt to be as honest and candid as humanely possible.” With these memoirs, it is hard to doubt him.
A Journey to Disillusionment