Asgar Baluch: A Baluchi soldier

By Lt. Col. (Retd.) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir on 26 March 2012

The writer is a Bir Protik, retired military officer, freedom fighter, recipient of Swadhinata Padak and researcher on the Liberation War

Article courtesy: The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

In the early days of 1971 the 33 Baluch Regiment of the Pakistan Army was stationed in Kharria Cantonment in West Pakistan. In May 1971, the regiment was ordered to move to Comilla Cantonment for conducting operations in Bangladesh. The regiment comprised mostly of Punjabi soldiers, although there were a few Baluchi soldiers as well. Among the Baluchis was Sepoy Mohammed Asgar Baluch from a village near Quetta. He reached Comilla Cantonment in June 1971. 33 Baluch Regiment was placed under 27 Infantry Brigade, which was at that time stationed in the Comilla Cantonment. Its area of operation was the border area of Kasbah.

What did Asgar Baluch witness during the operation ? Mass killing and rape of Bengali civilians by his own regiment extremely disturbed him. He was reminded of similar acts of terror that was perpetrated by the Pakistani military in his own land of Baluchistan. He too had grown up hearing about General Tikka Khan and his nefarious title of "The Butcher of Baluchistan". He realized that the Butcher of Baluchistan had indeed become 'The Butcher of Bangladesh'.

In July 1971, Asgar decided to defect from his regiment. In the cover of the night, while on patrol duty, he quietly escaped from the Cantonment with his rifle and ammunition. He walked for miles till he reached Sundarpur, a village in Barura in Comilla. In the early morning hours, just after Fajr prayers, he met a Mohammad Kala Mian near the village mosque.

Kala Mian was surprised and alarmed at seeing this lone, armed Pakistani soldier in the area. Asgar Baluch told Kala Mian who he was, expressed his intentions and asked for his protection. Kala Mian could speak and understand a little Urdu. He decided to trust the young Baluch and brought him to his own home. Once there, Kala Mian confided in the important people in the village about Asgar. Sundarpur villagers had thrown their support behind the Liberation War and were actively supporting the freedom fighters, but they decided to trust Asgar Baluch.

At that time there was a strong base camp in Barura run by freedom fighters, who had trained in the Nirvoypur Sub-sector in India. When Kala Mian approached this group of freedom fighters about Asgar, they all agreed to allow Asgar to stay in Sundarpur. Asgar in turn handed over his rifle and his ammunition to the freedom fighters. When they requested Asgar to join them, he declined saying he had witnessed so much atrocity that he was not keen on participating in any other military operation. However, he assured the freedom fighters that he would assist and support them in whatever way he could.

Asgar Baluch settled in Kala Mian's house. He began dressing like the Bengali men in lungis and became very fond of the local cuisine. Upon the advise of the villagers, he changed his name to Nabi Baksh. Later, he married Kala Mian's eldest daughter Mosammat Joidunnessa. He also began to learn the local dialect and how to cultivate the land.

In December 1971, after the country was liberated, with help of the local freedom fighters, Asgar sent a letter through the International Red Cross office in Comilla to his mother in Baluchistan. He wrote to his mother about what had happened, about his new life and his marriage. He added that he had been accepted by the Bengali people amongst whom he had found a home, and that he was happy and safe with his family.

A few months later, Asgar received a reply from his mother through the Red Cross. His mother was happy and pleased to know that her son was alive, happy and safe, no matter where he was. She had nothing more to ask from Allah ? except for the safety of her son.

Asgar Baluch not only worked on the land but during his lifetime, he also ran a small paan shop. With his first wife, he had five children. He got married a second time, to Sabia Khatun, the eldest daughter of Aziz Mian of Barura Bazar. He maintained both his families till his death. Since June 2003, his second wife, with whom he lived till his death, has been receiving a very small allowance from the Bangladesh Government. Both the wives of Nabi Baksh alias Asgar Baluch and all his children are still alive.

In an extraordinary chain of circumstances, in the midst of a war that claimed the lives of so many and exposed the brutality of the Pakistani military against a civilian population, a young man from a place called Baluchistan ended up settling down in Bangladesh. His own memories and the tragic history of his people combined with his conscience and gave him the courage to stand up against his own military. Amidst fear and suspicion, hate and anger, hostility and desperation, he took a tremendous risk to confide in, and seek help from strangers. In turn, an embattled village made the decision to trust a Pakistani soldier, and accept him as one of their own, despite differences in language, culture and custom. This act of valour by a Baluch to reach out and identify with a people whom he was ordered to crush, and the reciprocal courage demonstrated by those who accepted him, are a remarkable example of defiance and underscores the best of humanity even in the worst excesses of war. As we continue in our struggle to learn about our history and our tragic past, these stories of ordinary people and their extraordinary sacrifices should act as humbling and inspiring reminders of what we as a people, despite our differences, can be capable of accomplishing even in the direst circumstances. Asgar Baluch, a foreigner caught in the midst of a war, listened to his conscience and made a decision that changed his life and the lives of so many around him. Kala Mian and all those unknown villagers in a single act of generosity, defined for us what as a nation we should aspire to be. Only by recognizing the legacy of these courageous human beings and their faith in humanity in the face of many adversities, and by aspiring to live by their examples of defiance, acceptance, compassion and conscience, can we honour the memory of Asgar Baluch-- a stranger who chose to be a Bangladeshi, and the people who embraced him as their own?