Friday, August 24, 2007

One year after Akbar Bugti's death: Any Lessons Learnt?

One year after Akbar Bugti's death By Gulmina Bilal
The News, August 25, 2007

They said he challenged the writ of the state. They said that the poor law and order situation is because of the three nawabs, of which he was one. They told us that in Balochistan there is "No problem" except the nawab who was inciting people. Therefore, he needed to be taken out. And a year ago he was permanently gotten rid off. Whether the cave caved in or he was tricked, is irrelevant. What is relevant is that a year later, peace has eluded Balochistan. Why is that so? If the instigator had been "neutralized" then why is Balochistan still restless?

Like yesterdays newspaper, Dera Bugti and Balochistan have receded from our minds. The place that grabbed headlines a year back doesn't even make it to the most obscure of the inside pages. Rhetorical statements have been made, limelight stolen, resignations given and taken back --in short other places and people grab the headlines and Dera Bugti is the last thing newspaper readers have on their minds. This suits the interests of certain sections quite well.

I have no illusions about Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. He was not a saint. Neither was he a devil. At the time of his death, the media had portrayed him as either a glamorous hero or a devil--both images being incorrect.

Nawab Bugti was merely another product of the Pakistani political system which has always bestowed leadership titles on feudal and tribal chiefs. The system works quite systematically, it first shoots these chiefs to national prominence, the establishment ensures that the lucky individual becomes a household name and acquires a countrywide profile and then if things go wrong, he is just as suddenly and intensely dropped down and called a traitor.

Here the same thing happened. The Pakistani political establishment picked up Nawab Bugti and made him a house-hold name in Pakistan It was Nawab Bugti with whom the establishment negotiated for gas royalty. It was with his consent that district administrative officers were posted to Dera Bugti. It was to him that money, as part of "his share" was delivered by the government. It was Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in whose personal charge a number of state-owned and maintained vehicles were given.. Why was his "miscreant "and "terrorist" profile not highlighted then? Why wasn't the "writ of the state" established then?

Nawab Bugti served as the Governor of Balochistan. He served as the province's chief minister as well. He was a part of the Pakistani political system but died while at serious odds with it. Thus the question arises: how does our system work? How does our political system make a leader and then portray the same person as a traitor challenging the 'writ of the state'? What kind of a political system do we have that makes one to be a hero and then within the span of a few years the same person becomes a rebel, a separatist, a terrorist or a criminal?

This is the question that has to be asked when one looks at the rise of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his hanging and the eventual emergence of the shaheed Bhutto status. This is the question that needs to be asked when one looks at G M Syed's introduction of the Pakistan resolution in the Sindh Assembly and his death under the clouds of labels of traitor, guilty of treason and being a separatist. This is the question that needs to be answered while studying the emergence of Altaf Hussain, his being labelled as an Indian agent with alleged Jinnahpur maps unfolded as evidence, to violent extra judicial crack down on his supporters to the present position of being the head of the ruling coalition party.

The core issue then is about the true nature of Pakistani political processes and its dynamics. Nawab Bugti died holding the banner of provincial autonomy within a functioning federalism. Whether the banner was a fig leaf for personal interests is beside the point. The point is that there remains a genuine resentment amongst the federating units regarding provincial autonomy and access to their own resources. That is why the late Nawab and others could command public support on this issue. It is a fact that Balochistan remains cold while it warms the rest of us with its gas. It is a fact that while coal is mined in Balochistan, the local inhabitants are only left with black dust. It is a fact that while Sindh provides for forty five percent of the revenue, its interior remains underdeveloped. It is a fact that while NWFP provides us with land to construct dams, the displaced locals remain damned to an uncertain future. It is a fact that the concurrent list remains, a jarring reminder that provincial autonomy is a joke-- and a sad one too.

It is tragic that in our history whosoever has called out for provincial autonomy has been labelled anti-Pakistan. They have been labelled communists, RAW agents and so on since that has become the most convenient label to discredit someone. The Balochistan issue was, is, and will be not about just one or two individuals. Balochistan's call for rights within the federation of Pakistan is a larger issue and one plagues the mind of every inhabitant of that province. To dismiss it by saying that such sentiment does not exist or incorrectly interpreting it as being an instigation by a foreign power is to avoid the truth. A recent report on Balochistan released by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group correctly says that it was with the return of military rule that ethnic competition and bargaining in the province "transformed into conflict".

A hundred and one flaws can be highlighted of the Benazir and Nawaz era. However, all said and done, one has to admit that the political leaders of Balochistan opted to use political means to articulate their demands. However, when the latest military operation started, they were left with no choice. As one young activist quoted in the ICG report said: "When nobody wants to hear our voice, we're forced to make them hear it through violence." The young man added: "The young have taken up arms. They are fighting for their rights. They think they can't get them through a political struggle. These are not things that a good citizen says. But we are now tired. This is our last struggle".

The writer is associated with the consulting group, Individualland. E-mail:

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