Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


The Tumandar of the Bugtis

September 03, 2006


IT IS not possible to remain unmoved by the death of a man one has known for almost half one’s life — a man of violence who fittingly died a violent death. Difficult indeed he was, as he held one sole stern view of life and the world in which he lived, a view that was unshakeable, non-negotiable and non-discussable.

The first time I met the arrogant and handsome Akbar Bugti, in the late 1960s in Karachi, he told me in his gruff normal tone of voice that he had heard about me and asked why I spelt my name wrongly. Did I not know how to spell my own name? That I did not react did not please him. He went on to tell me that we silly Parsis did not even know the correct name of their own prophet. He was Zardost and not Zarathustra as many of us ignoramuses were wont to refer to him. He knew all about how the Zoroastrians had fled Iran after the Muslim invasion, fearing for their lives, and sneeringly remarked that the Bugtis would have taken on the oppressors, stood up and fought and died, and not sailed away to supposedly safer climes.

He took great pleasure in being as awkward as possible, and if an audience was present, thoroughly enjoyed being as mean and insulting as he could to whichever individual on that particular occasion was his chosen butt. He had a sense of humour, but only at the expense of others. Heaven help anyone who tried to take the mickey out of him — they were demolished. Akbar was not a likeable man — he hardly inspired affection, but he was a unique personality to whom one was attracted merely by the force of his character — as charming or as nasty as it could be. His visits to Karachi were akin to a circus coming to town — entertainment and colour guaranteed.

A hardened jailbird himself — having been on death row awaiting the hangman for the alleged murder of one of his kinsmen — he was unsympathetic to others who had experience of the prisons of Pakistan. He told me at one of our meetings that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had shown him a letter of apology I had written while in jail in Karachi in 1976 (to this day I am not quite sure as to why Bhutto put me in). Not wishing to linger and on the advice of the then Sindh Home Secretary, Mohammed Khan Junejo, who assured me that were I to apologise, Bhutto would let me out. Without hesitation I wrote : “Dear Mr Prime Minister, I believe I have caused you annoyance and if I have, I sincerely apologise.” I was prepared to leave it at that, but Junejo urged ‘Aarre bhai, kooch tareef be to karo, Usko khush karo’. So I added, “I have been your sincere friend and remain so.”

The Tumandar found this hilarious, and chastened me for my lack of spine — never ever would he have apologised to anyone, in any way, for anything. Well, he didn’t have to. For political and other reasons, his murder sentence was reprieved and he was let out by Ayub Khan, Bhutto claiming the credit.

In spite of all, I would be telling an untruth were I to say that I did not enjoy his company — and I know there are many others who will say the same. Like our other few colourful non-mediocre rogues (Jam Sadiq Ali for one), he will at least brighten up our history books. He was exceedingly entertaining, even in his ‘bitchiness,’ provided it was not directed at you. He was fun to be around, and he was a voracious reader who could talk on any subject under the sun. The most acceptable gift one could give him was a book.

There is one passage in the book ‘The Tigers of Balochistan’, written by Sylvia Matheson (published 1967), which epitomises the man’s approach to life. He was then twenty-one. She was questioning him on his calmly uttered statement to her, reminding her that he had killed his first man at the age of twelve. “About this man you killed — er, why?” “Oh that!” he responded as he sipped his tea, “Well, the man annoyed me. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I’ve rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn’t a capital offence, and, in any case, as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition. As a matter of fact, my own father was murdered — he was poisoned — and what’s more, I know who did it. It was his half-brother whom I call uncle . . .”

Matheson asked him what he intended to do about it, “Will you poison your uncle?” He seemed shocked at such a banal suggestion. “Good heavens, no — poisoning’s too good for such a man. Besides, I don’t want a blood feud on my hands, which is what that would mean. No, I shall wait until I can get rid of the whole family — discreetly of course.” And he smiled, wrote Matheson, “like some Medici nobleman discussing the removal of a tiresome fellow Florentine.”

Akbar believed, and believed that all the rulers of Pakistan should so believe with him that the land gifted to his ancestors by the British, the centre of his Earth, belonged to him and to him alone, and that all that lay above it and beneath it was his to do with as he wished. Well, under a different set of laws in the US John D Rockefeller and others of his ilk thrived. To think as Bugti did was his privilege.

But there is no one in Pakistan today who can truly subscribe to the belief that the manner in which Nawab Muhammad Akbar Shahbaz Khan, the undisputed Tumandar of all the Bugtis, was killed — or assassinated, or executed (with no Medici finesse) — and the way in which he was ordered to be buried were the acts of honourable men. They were not. Like it or not, Pakistan will have to live with the consequences of this most dishonourable craven crime. Yet another war has been ‘won’ in the annals of Pakistan’s dismal history.