By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: The assassination on Friday of Balochistan government spokesman Raziq Bugti, and the subsequent reaction of government officials, raises several questions.
Bugti, 57, was by all counts a strong defender of the provincial government. A humble and well-educated man from a lower middle class family, he was among the few officials in the Balochistan government able to counter criticism from the opposition parties logically and rationally. He courageously defended the government in hard times while the chief minister and his cabinet hid from public comment.
He was the only man in the provincial government who dared to speak publicly on controversial issues such as the military operation in Balochistan, killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the issue of enforced disappearances and construction of cantonments in Balochistan. He was a staunch critic of the tribal system in Balochistan and billed it as the main obstacle to the province’s development. Some say Chief Minister Jam Yousaf was able to survive scores of crises only because of the persuasive powers of Bugti.
But it appears his loyalty was not repaid by any in government. Half an hour after Bugti’s car had been ambushed on Zarghoon Road at about 4:15pm, no ambulance or police vehicle had reached the site. Not a single minister, secretary or senior government official visited the hospital where Bugti’s body was lying.
Neither Jam Yousaf, whose policies Bugti vociferously supported in the media, nor any member of his cabinet or even a single MPA from the ruling party attended his funeral.
The authorities entrusted with the responsibility of taking Bugti’s body to his hometown of Sibi for burial were so careless that they did not even lock the door of the ambulance transporting the body. At one point on the journey, Bugti’s body fell out of the ambulance.
Bugti’s name was under consideration for the post of chief minister of Balochistan in the care-taker government to be set up before the general elections. This plan was opposed tooth and nail by a highly influential person within the provincial government. According to one senior observer, Bugti believed that he enjoyed the full backing of the government. “He never knew that no one among them would even visit him at the hospital or attend his burial,” he said.
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has claimed responsibility for Bugti’s murder, but security and political pundits in Quetta do not see this as the end of the story.
Firstly, there is the suspicion, based on past instances, that branding a crime an act of the BLA is a signal that the police will put the case in cold storage.
Secondly, Bugti’s murder took place in the highest security zone in the provincial capital. The attack occurred just a few hundred metres from Governor’s House, Chief Minister’s House, the Civil Secretariat, Balochistan Assembly, army recruitment centre, PTV station, Radio Pakistan, FC headquarters and Serena Hotel.
There have been previous attacks at the same place. Justice Nawaz Marri, a High Court judge, was killed at the same spot and former provincial minister Nisar Hazara was the target of a failed assassination bid there too. The murder of Justice Marri was made a pretext to arrest leading Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri. Hundreds of Baloch people were also allegedly taken to torture cells for their suspected involvement in the Justice Marri murder. Now, some pro-establishment leaders are saying the secretary general of a major Baloch nationalist party had publicly threatened to kill Raziq Bugti. That nationalist leader, who is the son of a former prominent Baloch nationalist leader and a former governor, may now be detained.
Some suspect the finger-pointing at the nationalist leader to be an attempt at blackmail by the establishment. Speculation about a deal between the government and the said nationalist party had already been rampant. Raziq Bugti’s assassination could be used to muzzle nationalist dissent in the province, create more divisions between nationalist forces and accommodate a nationalist party comprising ‘middle class politicians’, as Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani describes them, in the next provincial set-up.
But the question remains: How come these attackers always successfully manage to escape from such a high security zone? Where do they go after carrying out their attacks? After all, this was the same place where more than five army personnel were killed last month. The attackers were never brought to justice. Raziq Bugti had told this correspondent several times that he was on the hit-list of “some people”, whose identity he never disclosed.
Chief Minister Jam Yousaf says Raziq Bugti’s murder is the beginning of a new series of target killings of high-profile personalities in the province. No one appears to be asking why the provincial police failed to take effective safety measures. The repeated failure of the police to ensure security or capture the actual perpetrators of such incidents strengthens the belief of some that the attackers are backed by “invisible forces”