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A General`s Revenge

01 September, 2006

By Irfan Saeed


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Since last December`s rocket attack in Kohlu, close to the venue where President Musharraf was addressing a gathering of pliable Balochi people, fears were expressed that President with a General`s mind may take the incident personally and opt for something extremely disastrous in the province. Such disaster occurred last Saturday.

 The merciless killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in a surgical army operation in the very Kohlu area, led to violent demonstrations in Balochistan, cutting off its links with the rest of the country. In recurrent acts of violence, both State and Punjabi properties were set on fire. The death toll was aside. The life in the province, and parts of the country, has really come to standstill. There are all indications that the situation at least in Balochistan may be bloodier in the days ahead.

Until Tuesday evening, six innocent lives were lost as the Balochi nationalists reacted fiercely to Bugti`s killing. The reason Punjabi residents and Balochistan and their properties were exclusively targeted was because of the widespread perception that a military-dominated regime is basically a Punjabi-dominated regime. Such perception exists because of the Punjabi domination of the Pakistan Army.

The bloody incident sent shock waves across Pakistan. The Opposition unanimously condemned it, calling for protest marches across the country. The MMA decided to reconsider its partnership in the provincial government. The political turmoil in Balochistan will worsen if the alliance of religious parties decides to quit the provincial government.

Nawab Bugti was a legendary Balochi tribal lord and a prominent national figure.In Pakistan`s sordid history, marred by serious questions of ethno-nationalistic identity, Bugti was the second Balochi Sardar who took shelter in mountain caves to wage a war of national resistance against the State of Pakistan. Nawab Rose Khan was the first Balochi Sardar, who had taken up arms against the State during General Yahya Khan`s military rule. Unlike Bugti`s brutal killing during another military-led regime, however, Nawaz Rose died a death of deception. He was lured into compromise, with State officials giving Quranic pledges for his safety. He descended from the mountains, only to find himself and his sons in Quetta jail and eventually in its death cell.

The Bugti tribe led by Nawab Bugti has been living in Dera Bugti for centuries. Few would question Nawab Bugti`s loyalty with the State of Pakistan

First, Bugti and his tribe welcomed Pakistan`s creation. He was the most vocal member of the tribal Jirga that brought Balochistan to the domain of Pakistan.

Second, there is no doubt that Nawab Bugti fought for Balochi rights, but always within the Federal context. He was never against the territorial integrity of Pakistan, and, therefore, never part of any anti-state activity. What could be no better proof of Nawab Bugti`s compromising nature than the fact that he occupied several important positions in both provincial and federal government? Bugti served twice as Chief Minister and once as Governor of Balochistan. In the Federal Government, he occupied two most important ministries of Interior and Defense.

However, Bugti`s fight for Balochi rights did take a more nationalistic turn during successive military reigns. The reason for this was that each such era was characterized by the erosion of provincial rights at the expense of a strong Centre. Balochistan being the most neglected province of the country, the level of nationalistic disenchantment in its case was always higher than other provinces during the military rule. Once again, Bugti was leading the same fight during the current military-led regime.

While Balochi grievances had been rapidly growing since General Musharraf`s coming to power in 1999, especially with the expansion of the Gawadr port and the army`s decision to construct three additional cantonments in the provincial heartland, the alleged rape incident of Dr Shazia, with the accused being an army officer, triggered the crisis that has eventually claimed the life of Nawab Bugti. Since the year 2000, the security forces were busy in combating the militant Balochi resistance fighters, including those of the Balochistan Liberation Army. Nawab Bugti emerged as the leader of Balochi nationalistic aspirations only after the alleged rape of Dr Shazia was made public by him.

After the rape incident, Nawab Bugti, who was almost 90 years old and could walk only with the help of a stick, decided to lead the Balochi movement for national rights. In March last year, clashes between Bugti tribesmen and security forces claimed some 60 lives, including 17 security officials. After the fight, a high-level delegation led by PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain tried to negotiate a compromise settlement with Nawab Bugti.

His principal grievance was regarding the share of Sui gas revenues, which had remained stagnant since the discovery and use of this principal national asset, and the fact that the people of Balochistan were its sole non-beneficiary. Nawab Bugti also represented Balochi grievances regarding the way development work was proceeding at Gawadr, where again the non-Balochi people were exclusively reaping the benefits of development.

Pursuing his traditionally compromising spirit, Nawab Bugti was in favour of having a dialogue with the representatives of the Federal government. Even after an alleged attempt on his life in June, he had publicly stated that he was ready to negotiate. But then that unfortunate incident at Kohlu took place in December. Prior to that, the Committee led by Shujaat and tribesmen led by Nawab Bugti had reportedly agreed on a number of points. There were some areas, where disagreement still existed, but headway was indeed made on a number of fundamental matters.

And then came the Kohlu incident, which principally put an end to the political process on the Balochi situation. Had there been a civilian head of state, even in the wake of such attack, the Federal government might have opted for the political option, and not abandoned it altogether. The security forces must have responded to the rocket attack incident, but only as a necessary response to a sporadic incident of militancy. What the Musharraf regime has done is to use force, and force alone, to solve an issue, which was and is essentially political.

The circumstances surrounding Nawab Bugti`s murder remain shrouded in mystery. The ISPR and government spokesmen are trying to give an impression as if the renowned Balochi Sardar was killed incidentally. However, if we go by the privately available media and public accounts of the event, it appears that Nawab Bugti and his compatriots were bombed alive in the cave in a gunship helicopter strike.

The region in question is treated as a B-Area, where residents have the right to equip themselves with arms. That army helicopters were recurrently fired upon from mountainous spot of Tratani in the Kohlu area in days before the killing of Nawab Bugti may be true. But to use such alleged instances as a guise for eliminating a person of Bugti`s stature whose commitment to Pakistan`s integrity is certified by history is a national tragedy, as the Opposition parties have also said in their protest calls.

Nawab Bugti was so old and frail that hiding in cave in the most inhospitable circumstances should have been an option of last resort for him. But, against the advice of friends asking him to abandon home for a shelter in another country, he vowed to fight and die for the Balochi rights in the land of Balochistan. This is what he told weekly Pulse in a recent interview, which is being reproduced in the present issue of this magazine. Nawab Bugti was the last person who could have any external links, against governmental allegations to this effect. Nawab Bugti was quite apprehensive of the American designs to establish bases in Balochistan, for which, he alleged, the government of Pakistan had reached an understanding with the US Government.

All said and done, the situation in Balochistan should not be expected to return to normalcy in the foreseeable future. Public anger infused by nationalistic spirit could lead to further violent episodes, and more violent response by a State led by the military junta. The ensuing spiral of violence and bloodbath could put in serious jeopardy the very question of Pakistan`s status as an integrated federal republic.

With the sheer use of  forceand especially the fact that Balochistan is geographically linked and demographically negligible (if a comparison is drawn with erstwhile East Pakistan the State may overcome Balochi nationalist uproar over Nawab Bugti`s killing for a while. However, such misperceived military success that also against an alleged nationalenemy might overtime only strengthen the provincially-rooted ethno-nationalistic voices.

The dismemberment of East Pakistan, which has many parallels with the Balochi scenario should have taught a lesson by our military-led ruling elite, which is that assets of a nation, revenues from Sui gas and potential benefits of Gawadr port in Balochistan, have to be distributed equally. And that it is first and foremost the people of a province, especially if they have been linked to its land for centuries, who should reap the fruits of these assets. Nawab Bugti fought and died for a principle, and he would go down in history as it is.

End.

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