Remembering Akbar Bugti

Published August 26, 2009

AKBAR Shahbaz Khan Bugti — or Nawab Bugti as he was more familiarly known — devoted his life to the Baloch cause and ultimately became the undisputed martyr of the Baloch people.

He lived and breathed honourably and gracefully. 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.

He was beloved. Bugti always sat amongst his people on a Balochi hand-made mat. Friends and visitors found his warmth engaging and his interest genuine. Stories abound of how the late Nawab Bugti would offer spicy food to his guests.

Against overwhelming odds created overtly and covertly by the establishment, Bugti continually had to navigate the shifting sands of intrigue and sabotage.

After the killing of his beloved son, Salal Bugti, in June 1992, he chose to remain in the besieged Dera Bugti compound with his people. Nawab Bugti kept the Bugti tribe united and maintained the Baloch code. He tried to unite Baloch nationalist parties as well in 2004, calling for a unified and single Baloch nationalist party. But Islamabad's continued meddling in Balochistan's social, tribal and political affairs, state-sponsored conspiracies and repeated attacks on his life slowed down the process of Baloch unity.

Having immense experience in politics, Bugti never saw armed struggle as the only solution to the Baloch question. He began negotiating with Islamabad. He prepared a set of reasonable and justified demands in consultation with veteran Baloch leaders and nationalist parties. He appointed his representatives to the parliamentary committee on Balochistan.

Bugti and other Baloch leaders worked with incredible patience. It was a slow process of dialogue with little chance to get 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 Nawab Bugti, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Nawab Marri and other Baloch nationalists, Islamabad and its ruling civil-military establishment betrayed the Baloch.

Military and paramilitary forces were simultaneously harassing Baloch people. Several hundred political activists 'disappeared' and were tortured when Baloch political parties were talking to the Balochistan Committee formed by parliament. Talking to a journalist, Nawab 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, then with whom will they hold negotiations?”

Nawab Bugti pointed out that Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri had already made it clear that he had nothing to do with this dialogue and Sardar Ataullah Mengal had also disassociated himself from the process in protest against the arrest of party workers and for other reasons.

The world watched incredulously as Pervez Musharraf declared an all-out war on Balochistan — on Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Makran, Jalawan and particularly Nawab Bugti. Tanks rolled into Dera Bugti and other parts of Balochistan 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 Dera Bugti town, killing dozens of civilians and leaving him besieged in a few rooms without electricity and water. Then Musharraf came up with a more inhuman plan to use all available air and ground power to eliminate Nawab Bugti. His associates planned a so-called visit to the remote town of Kohlu, bordering Dera Bugti district, to find an excuse to escalate the military operation against the Baloch people and their leaders.

After the so-called pre-planned attack on Musharraf on Dec 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. Nawab Bugti, as a proud Baloch, moved to the mountains to protect his homeland.

Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed on Aug 26, 2006. His death was followed by massive anti-government protests in Pakistan and media coverage worldwide. The Musharraf government refused to accept responsibility for the killing of Nawab Bugti and his associates.

No doubt, it was a well-planned murder of a respected veteran Baloch leader by a military dictator. In December 2005 addressing a newspaper editors' meeting in Lahore, Musharraf had thundered “There are two or three tribal chiefs and feudal lords behind what is 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.”

Pervez Musharraf and the military leadership were not prepared to concede to Balochistan's genuine economic and political demands. Instead of addressing Baloch grievances politically and through negotiations, the military-led government resorted to greater use of 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.” The comment provoked a strong reaction from Baloch leaders.

Nawab Bugti was prepared for the consequences. During an interview in April 2006, Bugti had predicted his death at the hands of Pakistan's armed forces. “They have been given instructions that myself and Nawabzada Balach Marri — the two of us should be wiped out.”

Islamabad's incorrect policy of Baloch suppression has proved to be a failure. The killing of Baloch leaders has dealt a body blow to the fragile Baloch-Islamabad relations. Three years after the death of Nawab Bugti, Balochistan's state of affairs represent a worsening scenario. Human rights violations are growing, tensions between Islamabad and the Baloch people have mounted, economic activities are at a dead level and poverty has increased manifold. All development activities have been halted.

As rightly pointed out by a foreign diplomat, Nawab Bugti “was a wise, learned man. They (Islamabad) could have utilised him to reach out to the Baloch, but they didn't”.

The writer is a former senator.



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