26 August: The end of the Nawab or his apotheosis?

It is not the ‘70s that they will climb mountains. They will not even know what and from where something has come and hit them.” [President General Pervez Musharraf]

“We will not be there forever. They might kill me. But I am sure our coming generations will continue my mission for the attainment of Baloch rights” [Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti]

A large section of the political opposition, including Baloch nationalists, believes the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti on August 26 is the beginning of a long battle for Balochistan; they also paint bleak scenarios for the future of Pakistan. The government claims the operation in which the Nawab got killed was the decisive battle for Balochistan. It’s too early to make projections and it will be a fool’s game to do so in these circumstances.

The operation was conducted in the Bhambhore hills in the Marri tribal area. The suppression campaign took its toll on the Baloch hiding in the hills while the attacking elements of a Frontier Force regiment lost lives when someone from among them fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) in a cave at the escaping BLA elements causing the cave to collapse.

A content and exuberant federal minister for information and broadcasting, Mohammad Ali Durrani, broke the news on the night of August 26: 37 militants and 21 military personnel, including six officers, had died. So had Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Balach Marri and two of Bugti’s grandsons (though the Jamhoori Watan Party sources say the two grandsons are alive and well).

The government says Bugti, who had been resisting the writ of the government in his native Dera Bugti area, had escaped from there and taken refuge in the mountainous Marri terrain along with his grandsons. Versions of how he died differ: the government had no knowledge about the whereabouts of the Nawab and his accomplices until insurgents fired at a military helicopter from the hills on August 23-24.

Other reports suggest his location was found after a satellite phone intercept. But once convinced that the Nawab along with his grandsons was hiding in the caves, the government launched a massive operation on August 26 preceding the ground offensive with suppression bombing. The cave where Bugti was hiding with his grandsons collapsed and the inmates were crushed under the rocks.

Initial reports suggested that Nawabzada Balach Marri, the son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and suspected chief of banned Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) was also killed in the operation. Subsequent reports say Balach Marri and Bugti’s grandsons managed to escape. Which of the two reports is correct could not be ascertained till the filing of this report last Monday. The Inter-Services Public Relations, however, said on Sunday that it was not possible for anyone to have escaped. But that statement itself shows that their bodies have not been found or are at least not in the custody of the army.

Wadera Alam Khan, the spokesperson of the Bugti tribesmen says the three Baloch leaders have survived the operation.

The blowback of the operation among the nationalists has been predictable. “This incident has cut our last link, if there was any, with Pakistan,” Sardar Akhtar Mengal, president of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) told TFT. “The Nawab sacrificed his life for Baloch rights. His blood will not go wasted. The Baloch people will ‘see’ those who murdered the great Baloch leader,” he added.

Already, three people have been killed in protests across Balochistan. In the aftermath of Bugti’s death, disgruntled activists of various political parties targeted ‘Punjabi settlers’. They even went to the extent of killing a 22-year-old boy from the Bhakar area of Punjab. Also, the Pakistani flag was burnt in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan.

A 15-day mourning was announced by the four-party Baloch Alliance, followed by similar announcements from various parties. The Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) have condemned the ‘targeted killing of Bugti’ and announced a countrywide protest on September 1. The ARD has also called for a judicial inquiry into the Nawab’s murder.

Complete shutter-down and wheel-jam strikes have also been called across the province and the coming days could see this gather momentum. Widespread protests took place in the Baloch-populated areas of Karachi as well.Lahore too has been hit by demonstrations. On the night when the media flashed the news of the Nawab’s assassination, hundreds of disgruntled students from the University of Balochistan, the Bolan Medical College and the Poly-technique Institute took to the streets and damaged official buildings and blocked roads.

This prompted the government to send in law enforcement personnel to raid the university hostels. They rounded up around 450 students. The government has also announced closure of hostels sine die. For its part the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) has declared mourning for 15 days and called for a civil disobedience movement across Balochistan. Until Monday, flights, trains and buses from and to Quetta were postponed due to the escalated tensions across the province.

Amanullah Kanarani, information secretary of Nawab Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) says with the Nawab dead, the people of Balochistan have been orphaned. Bugti, born on July 12, 1927 in Barkhan, had dominated the political scene in Balochistan for nearly six decades.Educated at the Oxford University, Bugti, who succeeded his father Nawab Mehrab Khan Bugti as the chief of the Bugti tribe, was one of the top Baloch nationalist leaders who over the years challenged the rule of Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, General Ziaul Haq and now President Pervez Musharraf.

“The late Nawab was a towering political personality with great influence in politics and all affairs of human activities in the province,” says a political companion of Nawab Bugti. “Even if one were to disagree with his politics, the way he has been killed will make him a hero in the eyes of any Baloch.”

Bugti was a member of the Shahi Jirga that voted for the accession of British Balochistan to the newly formed Pakistan in 1947.He remained a member of the AGG Council for many years. “Nawab Bugti created Pakistan by casting his vote as a member of the Shahi Jirga at a time when all ‘patriots’ were saluting the Union Jack. He was the last politician who exercised his democratic right to vote for the creation of Pakistan,” the Balochistan Express, a Quetta-based English daily, wrote in its editorial on August 28.

During the 1950s, Bugti lost against Dr Khan Sahib, the elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the Constituent Assembly polls of 1950. He later joined the Republican Party and worked with Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon as his minister of state for defence from September 20, 1958until Ayub’s coup in 1958. During the same period, he played a key role in the Pakistani government by getting Gwadar back 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 sent to Machh jail. His death sentence was, however, revoked in the coming days but despite this, he could not participate in the 1970 polls.

Bugti didn’t see eye-to-eye with Sardar Attaullah Mengal, the first-ever elected chief minister of Balochistan and a candidate of National Awami Party (NAP). As the rift between Bugti and Mengal grew, Bugti self-exiled himself 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.

In 1985, Bugti boycotted the Urdu language and only spoke Pakistan’s regional languages and English; his son Saleem Akbar Bugti, and son-in-law Mir Humayun Marri, in the meantime, participated in the non-party based elections in 1988 and won their respective seats. After these elections, Nawab 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.

For the past many years, Bugti had disassociated himself from active politics and was living 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 from the Hindu Community. Since then, Bugti tribesmen have engaged in a guerrilla war with the security forces. The atmosphere of mistrust between the government and the Nawab has even hindered the progress of the Parliamentary Committee, headed by Mushahid Hussain Syed, and aimed to come up with solutions to problems like the NFC award and provincial autonomy.

As the ‘military operation’ continues and Balochistan breaks out in protests, it is obvious that the unrest in the province has not ended with Akbar Bugti’s death. “This [Bugti’s death] will lead to more animosity in the province. The backlash, as we can all see, is severe. It is even worse than 1973,” says one analyst.

Two days after the official announcement of his death, Bugti’s family still has no idea where his body is. It is also not known who will succeed him if his grandson Brahamdag, who was supposed to succeed him, has been killed.

“Finishing off Bugti was the worst mistake Musharraf could have made. This could very well be the first decisive step towards the making of a ‘Free Balochistan’,” says one political analyst.

While the government has constantly argued that Bugti was a despotic leader who had lost popularity among the people of his own tribe, the backlash following his death suggests otherwise. “Massive protests across the province, in all districts and tehsils, point to the beginning of a great rebellion in Balochistan,” said an expert.

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