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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pakistan has given Baluchs a hero

Hindustan Times: IN HIS death, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, once a villain, became a martyr of the Baloch nationalist movement — one he has never been a part of except in the recent past when he took to the hills of Balochistan to fight back the Pakistani army.

The widespread protests against the killing of Bugti, who was chief minister of Baluchistan and chief of the largest Bugti tribe, point to the radical turn the Baloch nationalist movement is going to take. It will create sympathy for the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) that is engaged in raining missiles around the province.

The grand opposition, consisting of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy and the Mutahida Majlis-i-Amal, too will exploit Bugti's killing to fan up its agitation for the ouster of President Pervez Musharraf who took a militaristic course that reminds of bitter lessons from the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.

Ironically, in his early days, Bugti had never joined the Baluch nationalist movement or the various alliances of nationalist groups formed in the country. After forming his own organisation, the Jamhoori Wattan Party, he became chief minister in 1989 and ran the province like an authoritarian patriarch.

But he developed differences with the Oil and Gas Development Authority, Islamabad, and the Sui Gas Company that ran gas wells at his hometown Dera Bugti over the issue of rent and perks, which he wanted to be raised.

Bugti's survival was in making a larger nationalist cause out of his dispute with the gas authorities, especially when he was battling his rival clan, the Kalpar Bugtis. Bugti was pushed into a conflict with law-enforcement agencies by the BLA which attacked gas and military installations.

After losing his sons in the early 1990s, Bugti had taken refuge in Dera Bugti. It was, on the one hand, to evade retaliation from the clans locked in a feud with him, and on the other, to put up resistance to the Musharraf administration and the military's plan to establish a cantonment in the area. The construction of the cantonment became the main irritant to Bugti who wanted to keep his fiefdom unchallenged.

In him, at the fag end of his life, the Baluch nationalist movement and the BLA found a fellow traveller who was willing to challenge the intrusion of the army into the heartland of the Baluch people.

By going to the hills along with his private army, Bugti joined hands with the most radical elements who always doubted his credentials but were willing to make a joint front with him for the achievement of their nationalist demands.

Still not forgetting his own vested interests, he entered into negotiations with the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain who, on becoming prime minister for two months, formed two parliamentary committees on Baluchistan and tried to resolve the dispute through political means. But, later, military authorities refused to grant concessions that Bugti had sought and took the road of a military operation to settle the issue of establishing the cantonments once for all.

The army leadership wanted to secure the gas wells and pipelines, and establish the writ of the state by building cantonments and constructing Gwadar port on the Mekran coast. This brought the army in conflict with the Baluch nationalists.

As the army leadership and Bugti entered into a head-on collision, the latter met an otherwise heroic end, leaving the Musharraf administration isolated in the province and the country. It may also bring New Delhi and Islamabad into a bitter polemics that may not augur well, and must be avoided, for the resumption of Indo-Pak composite-dialogue process so crucial to peace which is so close and so far. (Imtiaz Alam is a senior Pakistani journalist and the editor of the South Asian Journal.)

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