Two years after Bugti, divisions and disunity
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Balochistan is marking the second death anniversary of its former chief minister and governor, Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti, today (Tuesday).
The actual causes of the death of the 79-year-old Baloch tribal elder are still shrouded in mystery but its relations between the Centre and the country’s largest province continue to degenerate. The late Nawab, who also headed the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), a purely political organisation that had representation in the provincial legislature, the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan, was forced by security forces to take shelter in the mountains of Balochistan. Until his last breath, Bugti insisted that neither he nor his tribe had waged war against the State but had been merely defending themselves against a powerful army.
What is known is that Bugti was killed in the midst of intense clashes between security forces and the Bugti tribesmen. Though the government announced on television that Bugti had been killed in an open battle, it continued to change its version of the events. Initially, it was said that his death took place in an open battle between the security forces and tribesmen but later on they said he died when a cave collapsed. What was unexplained, however, was how his watch, sunglasses and ring remained intact in the collapse. As if to make matters worse, the government refused to hand over his body to his family. It is perhaps not surprising then that the already angry people in the province were incensed and separatist thought became more popular among the younger generation of the Baloch.
Bugti, born on July 12, 1927 in Barkhan, dominated the political scene in Balochistan for nearly six decades. He was educated at Oxford University UK and succeeded his father Nawab Mehrab Khan Bugti as the chief of the Bugti tribe. He was a staunch sub-nationalist who challenged the rule of Generals Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf. He was a member of the Shahi Jirga that voted for the accession of British Balochistan to the newly formed Pakistan in 1947. He was a member of the AGG Council for many years as well.
During the 1950s, Bugti lost against Dr Khan Sahib, the elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the Constituent Assembly polls. He later joined the Republican Party and worked with Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon as his minister of state for defence from September 20, 1958 until Ayub’s coup in 1958. During the same period, he played a key role in the Pakistani government by securing the return of Gwadar from Oman on September 8, 1958.
Following the imposition of martial law in 1958, a military tribunal convicted Bugti of murdering his uncle, Haybat Khan, in 1960. He was disqualified from holding public office and was sent to Mach jail. His death sentence was, however, revoked in the coming days but despite this, he could not participate in the 1970 polls.
Bugti did not see eye-to-eye with Sardar Attaullah Mengal, the first-ever elected chief minister of Balochistan and a candidate of the National Awami Party (NAP). As the rift between Bugti and Mengal grew, Bugti went into self-exile to London until Mengal’s dismissal from office on February 14, 1973. At this point, Bugti joined Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government as the governor of Balochistan on February 15, 1973. He remained in office until January 1, 1974 when he resigned because of differences with Bhutto on the PM’s Balochistan policies. But the nationalists led by Mengal and Khair Bux Marri never forgave him for siding with Bhutto even briefly.
In 1985, Bugti boycotted the Urdu language and only spoke Pakistan’s regional languages and English. In the meantime, his son Saleem Akbar Bugti and son-in-law Mir Humayun Marri participated in the non-party based elections of 1988 and won. After these elections, Bugti was inducted as the chief minister of Balochistan on February 4, 1989. He was a candidate of the Balochistan National Alliance (BNA) and remained CM until August 6, 1990 when the provincial assembly was dissolved. At this point, he formed his own political party, the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), and in 1993, was elected to the National Assembly.
In the last years of his life, Bugti stopped participating in active politics and retreated to his tribal abode in Dera Bugti. However, he resurfaced in January 2005 when Bugti tribesmen fired several hundred rockets on gas installations, following the alleged gang rape of a Pakistan Petroleum Limited doctor, Shazia Khalid, by a captain of the Defence Security Guards (DSG).
With tensions mounting in Dera Bugti, the government deployed troops in his native area. The turning point came on March 17, 2005, when a clash between troops and Bugti tribesmen resulted in the death of 77 civilians, mostly Hindus. Since then, Bugti tribesmen have engaged in a guerrilla war with the security forces. The mistrust between the government and the Nawab also hindered the progress of the Parliamentary Committee, headed by Mushahid Hussain Syed, that was attempting to find solutions to problems such as the National Finance Commission award and provincial autonomy.
Two years after his death, not much has changed in Balochistan. While Islamabad refuses to change its policy towards the province, the Baloch leadership remains embroiled in infighting. Bugti’s killing pushed the Baloch movement into a great leadership crisis which will be felt for a long time. He was a man who could unite the Baloch. Today, his own family remains divided on a number of issues. The Baloch nationalists are further divided on the issue of either participating in parliamentary politics or supporting armed groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). The polarisation has reached such an extent that Islamabad can easily play a divide-and-rule game in the exploited province.