Gosh, It Is So Hard To Be Bramdagh!
During a press conference in Islamabad on August 4, Interior Minister Rehman Malik offered to send a special committee of the parliament to Baloch nationalist leader Bramdagh Bugti if the latter agreed to negotiate with Islamabad.
“I think Bramdagh Bugti has a soft corner in his heart for Pakistan,” said Mr. Malik of one of the staunchest proponents of an independent Balochistan.
The Interior Minister sounded overexcited because of a recent statement of Mr. Bugti in which he had reaffirmed his disassociation with armed Baloch nationalist groups and also said that he did not approve of their activities.
“I am solely affiliated with a political party not with armed groups,” he said while referring to his association exclusively with the Baloch Republican Party (B.R.P.) of which he is the founder, “Hairbayar Marri [whom Pakistan accuses of running the Baloch Liberation Army] may have connections with the insurgent groups but not me.”
Mr. Bugti’s rigid stance on Balochistan began to soften for the first time since the New York Times published his interview on August 23, 2011. The Times reported: “…Mr. Bugti says he supports only peaceful political activism rather than armed resistance.” This was contrary to his September 2009 interview with this writer. (The full text of the interview is also available in my book The Redefined Dimensions of Baloch Nationalist Movement). He said the B.L.A. and B.R.A. “are my brothers. I fully endorse all their operations.”
His remarks, however, must not be put out of context because he also said:
“Our guerilla war should be viewed in political terms rather than being interpreted as a terrorist movement. We never initiated this war. The government of Pakistan imposed a war on our people. My grandfather, Nawab Bugti, was forthcoming towards reconciliatory efforts but he was driven out of his home. I wish to emphasize that ours is a war in the self-defense. We admit being weaker against a mighty State of Pakistan that has bombs, tanks and helicopters to attack us. Now, our war will continue until we fully achieve our destination of freedom.”
Surprisingly, the B.R.P., which is in fact the quickest among all parties in terms of reaching out to the media, has not reacted either positively or negatively to Rehman Malik’s statement. The B.R.P. spokesman, Sher Mohammad Bugti, is the right person to explain how seriously his party takes Mr. Malik’s remarks. In Baloch culture, people sometimes tend to avoid making a comment when they consider something as “absolutely rubbish” or they want people to “wait and see”.
Mr. Bugti and Mr. Malik may have chosen media as the best source to ascertain feedback from the people and political analysts about the prevailing mood in Balochistan for reconciliation. It is too early to make a judgement but here two motives that I can see behind this communication.
Firstly, Baloch nationalists, Mr. Bugti’s followers in particular, argue that it is a ‘conspiracy’ of the Pakistani government to a) create misunderstanding among Baloch nationalist leaders, tribal elders and political parties b) damage Mr. Bugti’s popularity among the people of Balochistan by giving the impression of a possible deal with the government or c) demoralize Mr. Bugti’s followers back home in Balochistan by indirectly conveying them a message of betrayal by their own leader who chose to settle overseas. d) to blackmail Mr. Bugti on his pending asylum case in Switzerland. The Pakistani authorities want him to soften his political stance or face expedited diplomatic efforts from Islamabad to brand him as a ‘terrorist’ and block his path for successfully getting political asylum in Europe. No country can prevent its citizens from seeking political asylum in another country. All they can do is damage asylum-seekers’ reputation through diplomats and paid journalists to cause an image deficit.
Secondly, the Pakistani government wants to use media as a platform to assess Mr. Bugti’s intentions to see what offers can actually attract him so that he gives up his affiliation with Balochistan’s liberation movement. But what can Islamabad offer Mr. Bugti? Well, Islamabad can offer him to a) withdraw all cases against him b) support his B.R.P. contest upcoming elections in an effort to adjust Islamabad’s “disillusioned Baloch brothers” in the future set-up. (By the way, Islamabad is desperately looking for Baloch nationalists who are willing to participate in the next elections. Elements in the military and intelligence agencies say they would ‘tolerate’ the ‘lesser evils’ among the nationalists and will support them in the next polls provided that they do not ask for an independent Balochistan or burn Pakistan’s national flag). c) Crown him as the Nawab (chief) of the Bugti tribe. In May 2009, the Pakistan pitted and patronized Mr. Bugti’s cousin, Aali Bugti, as the new chief of the tribe.
Why does Bramdagh Bugti matter?
Without Bramdagh in the government, the insurgency in Balochistan is unlikely to fade away even if the Balochistan National Party, the National Party and the Jamori Watan Party contest general elections by the end of this year or early next year. His constituency is Derae Bugti, the hub of Pakistan’s gas reservoirs. Similarly, no grand reconciliation will succeed without Mr. Bugti becoming a part of it. (In fact, Mr. Bugti’s participation in a possible reconciliation will not still completely end the insurgency. He does not matter much in Mekran where the movement has gained momentum under the leadership of former Baloch Students Organization chairman Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch).
What if Mr. Bugti joins Pakistani government?
I had asked him the same question in my interview with him. His response stunned me.
“If I compromise on Baloch movement,” he said, “my followers will kill, replace and forget me.” The mere fact that he is a Bugti does not make Bramdagh such an important Baloch icon. After all, his cousins Aali and Shahzain and uncle Talal are all Bugtis. Why do the Balochs not carry their posters? There is something beyond being a mere Bugti that has made Mr. Bugti so popular.
What are his compulsions ?
He is currently caught in a dilemma for two reasons.
First, in order to make a compelling case for political asylum in Switzerland, Mr. Bugti has to publicly disassociate himself with the armed Baloch groups. Because western countries show zero tolerance toward violent means of struggle for any reasons, including political movements. It is probably a cultural issue. In Pakistan (Balochistan not an exception), religious and political parties publicly endorse violence in rallies and television interviews to achieve their objectives. Violence has, unfortunately, become such a part of the culture that it is oftentimes intertwined with ‘struggle’.
Mr. Bugti seems to believe that the more he speaks to the media and abjures violence, the more he remodels his political face.
What are the disadvantages?
Mr. Bugti now lives too far from Balochistan. Thus, he has limited options of communication with his followers. Once he speaks to the media, his point of view is normally tailored and presented according to the policies and interests of various media groups. So, the problem with media communication, as compared to direct verbal communication, is the failure to fully present one’s stance on a particular matter. As a result, his tailored statements often cause confusion among is followers.
The second long-term dilemma is the fate of the Bugti tribe. Since the instigation of the conflict, tens of thousands of Bugtis have either been internally displaced inside Pakistan or forced to live in adverse circumstances in neighboring Afghanistan where they are no longer welcomed and protected. Tribal societies are based on collective interests. Mr. Bugti’s followers call him the real nawab. They expect him to lead from the front, protect and feed them. Tribesmen believe in living and dying together. On his part, Mr. Bugti must be concerned about the long-term impact his absence can cause for his tribe and, to a less degree, the people of Balochistan. The longer Mr. Bugti stays away from his Dera (town), the more his opponents would be armed, empowered and patronized by Pakistan’s federal government to quell the nationalist movement.
Gosh, it is so hard to be Bramdagh! (Courtesy: The Baloch Hal)