The Legend of Akbar, The Bugti
Balochistan is marking the seventh death anniversary of Nawab Akbar Bugti today (Monday). A prominent tribal leader and a former governor of Balochistan, Bugti is sort of a consensus hero for those who demand a free Balochistan; also for those who seek provincial autonomy and even for those (mostly non-Balochs) who believe Bugti was a true Pakistani. Very few people have such a celebrated legacy.
But what is wrong with Bugti’s legacy is the way it is often misread. The Pakistani friends of Balochistan, for instance, believe Islamabad unnecessarily made a hero out of Bugti, 79, when he was already a dying old man. We repeatedly hear that Bugti was one man Pakistan could negotiate with and his demise has led to an extraordinary gulf . Some within the security establishment believe remembering a man like Bugti, who confessed killing his first man at the age of eleven, is not worth it because, according to the official narrative, he was a cruel tribal chieftain who blackmailed the federal government.
What we are missing here is the fact that August 26th is not only a day that remembers a dead man. The Balochs use this day to remind the world that Bugti’s killing was neither a mere official blunder nor a coincidence. August 26th, 2006 simply opened a disgraceful chapter of state-sponsored operations against the Baloch. The killing of the Nawab did intensify public resentment toward Islamabad but it was not such a big event that could give a life to the insurgency for the next six years. What has kept the fire ablaze all these years are more killings, torture and exploitation. The Baloch could have forgiven and forgotten Bugti’s killing back in 2006 if more military operations, enforced disappearances, torture and killings had not followed. Killings after killings clearly showed that what was happening in Balochistan was Islamabad’s official policy toward Balochistan. The Bugti episode was only used to initiate a culture of impunity that continues to thrive today.
It is indeed a shame that six years down the line, nobody actually knows how the Nawab was killed. The State has failed to produce an authentic report to disclose the circumstances that led to the killing of the Nawab. The Pakistan People’s Party government did not investigate Bugti’s killing in its entire five-year long term. The P.P.P. only offered lip service to the disillusioned Baloch.
Also, it is understandable why Bugti’s murderers have not been brought to justice: If the causes of the killing are unclear in the first place, how can anyone be brought to justice? The ongoing case involving General Musharraf appears to be a political gimmick. For years, the Bugti murder case has been used to implicate various figures but no one has actually been convicted over the years. Former Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Yousaf, accused in a number of cases, did not face trial until his death. Nobody knows the whereabouts of Abdul Samad Lasi, the District Coordination Officer (D.C.O.) of Dera Bugti in 2006, to inquire further details of the case. In a nutshell, the Bugti murder case has become a political drama which will keep lingering for years.
Furthermore, today is a day to listen to the Bugtis. Besides the loss of their tribal chief, they seem to believe that they are being treated very unfairly. For example, Jamil Bugti, a son of the Nawab, explained his anguish in these words while stating what the Balochs felt about Pakistan: “Balochs are not angry,” he said in an interview with Azadi newspaper, “we are just fed up [with Pakistan].”
The Bugtis feel so angry because they were driven out of their homes in 2005 and they were never rehabilitated and resettled. They are disappointed how Islamabad has pitted one Bugti (Mir Aali Bugti) against his own cousin (Bramdagh Bugti) as the chief of the tribe. The people visibly see how the State is pursuing a policy of divide and rule. The State manipulates Bugti clans and individuals by patronizing tribal rivalries as if this is the only best long-term solution available to fix the problem in Balochistan. This policy is a temporary solution but it does not lead to durable peace in the province.
Ironically, Bugti will remain a, but not the, symbol of Baloch resistance. With the passage of time, his legacy will remain that of the first among equals. Bugti remained Balochistan’s sole national hero in 2006 when the insurgency desperately needed an icon. Today, following the kill and dump operations, every district and town has got its martyrs, heroes and “Bugtis”. The bullet-riddled dead bodies routinely found in parts of Balochistan and now in Karachi are going to deepen Baloch resentment so much that that even official inquires and trials in Bugti murder case will ultimately become irrelevant.
It may sound exaggerated that a new generation of Balochs (that has directly suffered because of government policies) is emerging but it is, surprisingly, true that this new generation does not politically and culturally relate much to Nawab Bugti. Many people and households even do not properly remember how Bugti was perceived in his life time, what his political vision was and why he was killed because these families were not even interested or involved in politics back in 2006. Now, they feel they have their own compelling stories and reasons to fight. In such a situation, it takes more than a mere (Bugti murder) trial to win the hearts and minds of the Baloch. Sadly, Islamabad has already planted too many seeds of hatred in Balochistan. For many years to come, Pakistan will have to grapple with the fruits of its own flawed policies in the troubled province.