IANS Analysis: Nawab Bugti, Baloch Nationalist Whose Death Sparked 5Th Phase Of Baloch Freedom Movement


(MENAFN- IANS) New Delhi: On the intervening night of January 2-3, 2005, Dr Shazia Khalid, a lady doctor, was raped by a Pakistan army captain in a highly guarded Pakistan petroleum Limited (PPL) hospital facility in Sui, Dera Bugti, Balochistan.

Instead of arresting the officer, authorities under direct orders from President General Musharraf, who was also the military chief, sought to protect him.

They first sent the victim to a psychiatric facility in Karachi, subjecting her to character assassination, and ultimately hounded her to leave Pakistan.

Whilst the state authorities tried to cover up the incident, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, head of the Bugti tribe, condemned the rape as a violation of their tribal code and vowed to avenge it“at all costs.”

This sparked an uprising in Balochistan, with a series of attacks by the Baloch rebels on the military installations and PPL facilities. The Pakistani state responded with its military might, initiating a military campaign against Baloch tribes led by Bugtis, with General Musharaf mobilising nearly 5000 additional troops to the region. For a Baloch nationalist like the tribal chieftain Nawab Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, this was as if life had come a full circle.

Nawab Bugti was born on July 12, 1927, in Dera Bugti, Balochistan, to the Bugti tribe chief, Nawab Mehrab Khan Bugti. He received his early education from Karachi Grammar School, South Asia's second oldest private school, before attending Aitchison College Lahore. Akbar Bugti completed his university education at Oxford University before entering Pakistan's political arena.

He assumed the tribal chieftainship by becoming the 19th Tumandar (chief) of his Bugti tribe following his father's demise, allowing him a greater role in the tribal affairs of the region.

Nawab Akbar Bugti won his first election in 1958 by contesting a National Assembly byelection, paving his way to become the federal interior minister in Prime Minister Malik Feroze Khan Noon's government before it was dismissed under the Pakistan Army-backed martial law declaration by President Major General Sikandar Ali Mirza months later.

With General Ayyub Khan's administration barring him from holding any office through a 1960 political trial, Akbar Bugti continued to voice Baloch issues as the region witnessed recurrent anti-government nationalist movements.

He assumed a public role in February 1973 as the provincial governor of Balochistan when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's relationship with Ataullah Mengal, who headed the National Awami Party (NAP) government in the province, became precarious and descended the region into anarchy.

With Bhutto-led federal government taking a high-handed militaristic approach against the Baloch leadership, Akbar Bugti resigned from the governorship in November 1974.

The Bugti tribal chieftain assumed the chief ministership of Balochistan in February 1989 when he led the Balochistan National Alliance (BNA) to victory.

Yet again, Akbar Bugti took a strong position against the Benazir Bhutto-led federal government's exploitative treatment of the region, seeking greater control over its resources and security affairs.

As such, he resigned in August 1990 when the provincial assembly was dissolved by the governor under orders from President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was nudged by PM Bhutto to dismiss Bugti's government.

Although he launched his own political outfit, Jumhoori Watan Party (JWP), and returned to the provincial assembly before joining the National Assembly in 1993, he continued to advocate for Balochistan's internal autonomy. He pressed for the provincial government to have greater control over regional resources, including petroleum and gas plants, and called for a moratorium on land acquisition by the Pakistan Army for building more cantonments in the province.

While advancing age led Nawab Akbar Bugti to focus on tribal affairs, he remained a vocal advocate for Baloch grievances against Pakistan's federal government as one of the three most prominent tribal chiefs, alongside Ataullah Mengal of the Mengal tribe and Khair Baksh Marri of the Marri tribe. This triumvirate continued to highlight the Baloch issues.

In September 2004, Bugti presented a 15-point charter of demands to Pervez Musharraf's government, which included calls for provincial autonomy for Balochistan, greater control over resources, local government authority to execute and collect revenue from mega projects, the return of land acquired by the Pakistan Army, a halt to further cantonment construction, the disbandment of ISI-controlled militias in Marri, internal security to be managed by provincial police, and the release of all political prisoners.

Despite these demands, the federal government continued to ignore Baloch grievances, with the Pakistan Army unleashing its military might on the Baloch people under the pretext of America's War on Terror. The rape of Dr Shazia by an army officer in Sui gas field hospital was more than a mere catalyst; it was seen as a significant affront to local traditions and tribal codes of honour, exacerbated by General Musharraf shielding the culprit from investigation.

The calls of Akbar Bugti, a septuagenarian figure of Baloch resistance, to avenge the honour of the lady doctor inspired a series of attacks on PPL facilities, gas pipelines, and military installations by various Baloch groups, including Bugti and Marri militias and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

For Bugti, this marked a full-circle journey from playing a marginal part in Baloch resistance to holding government positions to declaring war against the oppressive Pakistani state.

With Balochistan on edge following Bugti's calls, General Musharraf warned Baloch nationalists that they could no more "hit and run and hide in the mountains. This time you wouldn't know what will hit you." The Pakistan Army's desperation was evident when it bombed and shelled the residence of the Akbar Bugti on March 17, 2005, killing 67 people in an attempt to silence this profound and veteran voice of Balochistan. This high-handed response only made Akbar Bugti a unifying figure for all Baloch people, who rallied behind his calls, including armed groups targeting military and state symbols.

Displaying its colonial and imperialistic attitudes, Pakistan's federal government consistently declined to engage the Baloch leadership on their grievances and demands, as stated in the 15-point charter.

For instance, in December 2005, General Musharraf accused the Bugti-led tribal chieftain triumvirate of destabilising Balochistan, ruling out any negotiations, and declared his government was determined to "finish" the Baloch tribal chiefs and their groups.

In June 2006, merely two months before his killing, Nawab Bugti stated in a BBC interview that the“Pakistani government are communicating with us through the use of these cannons, fighter jets, deep penetration bombs; these are such great dialogues that they are having loud discussions with us.”

Akbar Bugti, along with dozens of his associates, was killed by the Pakistan Army on August 26, 2006, when a mountain cave in the Bhamboor hills of Dera Bugti was bombed by Pakistani forces. His assassination led to a large-scale civil disobedience movement in the region and became a primer for the ongoing fifth phase of Baloch insurgency since 1947, aimed at liberating the province from Pakistan's control.

Furthermore, Bugti's killing unified the tribes and internationalized the Baloch struggle, as evidenced by the grand jirga organized by the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud, on September 21, 2006.

This jirga saw the participation of 83 tribal chiefs and over 300 tribal elders, and it adopted a declaration calling on the United Nations (UN) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to investigate Bugti's killing and end the high-handedness of the Pakistani state and army. Baloch people's struggle finally garnered the international media attention it truly deserved after enduring the highhandedness of the Pakistani state for decades.

After years of legal battle and protest by Baloch nationalists finally on 11 July 2012, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court in Sibi, Balochistan, issued arrest warrants for the former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf and several other high-ranking officials who were accused of involvement in the killing of Akbar Bugti.

The other officials included the former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, former Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, former Governor of Balochistan Owais Ahmed Ghani, former Chief Minister of Balochistan Jam Mohammad Yousaf, former Provincial Home Minister Shoaib Nosherwani, and former Deputy Commissioner Abdul Samad Lasi.

All these were named suspects in the F.I.R. registered by police regarding the killing of Bugti in the military operation. Musharraf was even formally arrested by a police team from Balochistan on 13 June 2013, however was later granted bail due to his poor health and ultimately due to non-provision of evidence thus ending the investigation which was more of an eyewash.

The legend of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, continues to inspire Baloch nationalists till date as the Baloch struggle persists. Bugti once remarked,“We will not be there forever. But I am sure that our coming generations will continue my mission till the attainment of Baloch rights,” after his demise the statement has indeed turned out be prophetic.

Nevertheless, as Baloch people gear up to celebrate Akbar Bugti's birth anniversary on July 12, it is fitting that his work for the cause of Baloch rights and especially in unifying the Baloch nation be truly recognised and propagated while continuing to expose the role of Pakistani government in his murder.

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IANS

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