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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bugti Checkmated In Balochistan

In the dangerous game being played between the Baloch tribals and the Pakistan Army, Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, was reported killed by an Air Force missile.

Bugti, as he was generally known, was a tribal chieftain of the Bugti tribe in Balochistan.

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is sparsely populated and has major gas and mineral resources. Pakistan has also developed a strategic warm water port at Gwadar with the help of Chinese that sits atop the Straits of Hormuz.

Bugti was reputed to be a backer of and a spokesperson for the banned Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). It is reported that BLA chief Balach Marri was also killed with Bugti.

At its web site, the BLA speaks of the inequality and sufferings at the hands of "Pakistan and its tyrant Punjabi institutions." The same sentiments are echoed by another site, BalochWana, representing the Baloch Youth, which goes on to call Balochistan "Pakistan occupied country."

BLA and other guerrilla groups seeking justice in Balochistan have been actively involved in blowing up natural gas pipelines, refineries, train lines, electricity grids, service facilities and government installations not only in Balochistan but increasingly in other provinces of Pakistan to press for their demands.

The Pakistani Army is strained and stretched in fighting terrorists and talibaan supporters in the North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan and in trying to curb ethnic and religious violence in its major cities of Karachi, Sind and Lahore, Punjab. And with India it has a festering dispute in Kashmir.


Nawab Bugti belonged to one of the three main tribes of Balochistan. Educated at Acheson College, Lahore and at Oxford, he was once a part of the Pakistan Administration in the 50s and 60s. In the 90s he was in the vanguard confronting the Pakistam Administration and the Army, both as an eloquent elder statesman and as a warlord with his own missile equipped army.

Along with Khair Bux Marri and Ataullah Mengal, the other two prominent and powerful Baloch Sardars, he was a constant thorn in the Pakistan Army's designs.

According to journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, the manner in which Bugti was killed would not serve the Pakistani Government. It was portraying Bugti as an "anti-government renegade" and warlord. Instead Nawab Bugti will end up as a "martyred hero" not only for Baloch Nationalists but also other minority groups and nationalists who complain of the Pakistan Army's high handedness.

Following the announcement of Bugti's death the government moved quickly to impose a 24 hour curfew in Quetta, Balochistan's main city. Thousands ignored the curfew and demonstrated against the government as reported in the Washington Post today.

There are reports of widespread rioting that have also spread to Karachi, Pakistan's main city.


Since independence in 1947, the federal government has been hampered in its efforts to impose federal laws over extended areas of its border in the west and north-west of the country. In the provinces where it had ostensibly more support it tended to neglect popular opinion and showed a readiness to accommodate the powerful zamindars (landlords with vast holdings lording over peasants) and regional power lords such as Jamiat e Ulema e Islam (JUI) a fundamentalist group in Balochistan and NWFP and Muttahida Quomi Movement (MQM), ruled by Altaf Hussain from self imposed exile in London. The leaders of the two main opposition political parties in Pakistan the Muslim League and the People's Party also live in exile. (Both face corruption and abuse of power charges while in power in the 90s.)

It belies President Musharraf's much publicized stand of enlightened moderation.

The Bush Administration considers Pakistan as a front line ally in the fight against terrorism. But historically, despite all the talks about democracy and reforms, almost all the previous Administrations have shown a preference to deal with dictators and autocrats rather than democratic leadership in the the third world. Bush Administration is no exceptions to this.

President Musharraf's term as President expires next year. He is reported to have indicated a willingness to stand for another term. And to be successful, he needs the support of the same religious parties that are an anathema to the Bush Administration.

The President walks a tight rope. Internationally he has succeeded in playing a secular moderate leader. But nationally, he needs the support of the fundamentalist parties. This dichotomy is overlooked by the Bush Administration much to the chagrin of political parties in Pakistan and by her neighbor India. The Indians allege that the Army is not doing enough to curb terrorism and its breeding grounds.

With this killing, President Musharraf may have been sending signals to nationalist movements within Pakistan and to neighbouring India and Afghanistan whom it holds responsible for funding, arming and training Baloch guerrillas.

It should be noted here that India and Afghanistan in turn accuse Pakistan, and its notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of fomenting and supporting rebels in their countries.

All countries named here deny these charges.

The moderate majority thinks President Musharraf's flip-flops over major problems and issues facing the country and appeases the fundamentalist parties. They cite his indecisiveness over Hudood Ordinance as an indicator of his lack of resolve to right a wrong and accuse him of giving in to the fundamentalists.

The ex-commando is known to lead his country into and out of messes of his and his army's creation. Time will tell if and how he will extricate them both this time.


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