Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti
The world watched incredulously as Pervez Musharraf declared war on Balochistan, and particularly, on Nawab Bugti. Tanks rolled into Dera Bugti and other parts in January 2005, prior to the so-called attack on Musharraf in December 2005 in Kohlu district.
In March 2005, forces began to smash Bugti’s house and the Dera Bugti town, killing dozens and leaving him besieged in a few rooms. Musharraf then came up with a plan to eliminate Bugti. His associates planned a so-called visit to Kohlu to find an excuse to escalate the military operation against the Baloch people and their leaders.
After the “attack” on Musharraf on December 14, 2005, indiscriminate bombing compelled all Dera Bugti inhabitants to flee their homes. According to an Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre report, 160,000 people were displaced during the conflict.
Bugti moved to the mountains but was killed on August 26, 2006, followed by massive anti-government protests in Pakistan and media coverage worldwide. Musharraf’s government refused to accept responsibility.
No doubt, it was a well-planned murder of a respected Baloch leader. In December 2005, Musharraf had thundered, “There are two or three tribal chiefs and feudal lords behind what’s going on in Balochistan. The past governments have made deals with them and indulged them. My government is determined to establish its writ. It will be a fight to the finish.”
Bugti devoted his life to the Baloch cause and became an undisputed martyr of the Baloch people.
Naturally, as one would expect after decades of tribal, political and public life, there are those who love him and those who criticise him, the praise and slander each creating its own version of the man. Most criticisms were manufactured.
Against overwhelming odds created overtly and covertly by the establishment, Bugti continually had to navigate the shifting sands of intrigue and sabotage.
After his son Salal was killed in June 1992, he chose to remain in Dera Bugti with his people. He was a true victim of Islamabad’s divide-and-rule policy. Instead of playing a more proactive role in unifying and strengthening its political position, Bugti was kept engaged in inter-tribal feuds for decades by the establishment.
He also tried to unite Baloch nationalist parties in 2004, calling for a single nationalist party. But Islamabad’s continued meddling in Balochistan’s affairs and engineered conspiracies and attacks at him slowed down the unification process.
Having immense experience in politics, Bugti never saw armed struggle as the solution to the Baloch question. He began negotiating with Islamabad. He prepared a set of reasonable demands in consultation with veteran Baloch leaders and nationalist parties. He appointed his representatives to the parliamentary committee on Balochistan.
It was a slow process of dialogue with little chance of getting political and economic relief for the Baloch people. For the people of Balochistan, it was a momentous occasion. Many saw the dialogue as the beginning of a new era for Baloch-Islamabad relations. But as expected by Bugti, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Nawab Khair Bux Marri and other Baloch nationalists, Islamabad and its ruling civil-military establishment betrayed the Baloch trust.
During the talks, several political activists ‘disappeared’ and were tortured. There was no let up in intimidation and harassment by the troops. Talking to a journalist, Bugti in January 2005 said, “How can negotiations on political issues continue with the government in this situation? A military operation and negotiations cannot continue side by side. If the authorities launch an operation, with whom will they hold negotiations?”
Bugti pointed out that Nawab Marri had already made it clear that he had nothing to do with this dialogue and Sardar Mengal had also disassociated himself from the process in protest against the arrest of party workers as well as other reasons.
Musharraf and the establishment were unwilling to compromise on Balochistan’s genuine economic and political demands. Instead of addressing Baloch grievances politically, the military government resorted to the brute force. Musharraf added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Don’t push us. It isn’t the 1970s when you can hit and run and hide in the mountains. This time you won’t even know what hit you.”
Bugti was prepared for the consequences. During an interview in April 2006, he had predicted his death at the hands of the armed forces. “They have been given instructions that I and Nawabzada Balach Marri should be wiped out.”
Islamabad’s erroneous policy of suppression has proved to be a failure. The killing of Baloch leaders has dealt a bloody blow to the fragile Baloch-Islamabad relations. Four years after Bugti’s death, Balochistan’s state of affairs represents a worsening scenario. Human rights violations are growing, tensions between Islamabad and the Baloch people have mounted, economic activities are at a lifeless level and poverty has increased manifold.
As rightly pointed out by a foreign diplomat, Bugti “was a wise man. They (Islamabad) could have utilized him to reach out to the Baloch”.
The writer is a Baloch leader and former senator.