Rebel Baloach leader and popular face of opposition against Pakistan military in the tribal areas, Nawab Akhbar Bugti,
has been killed in suspicious manner leading to widespread protests against
President Pervez Musharraf’s
dictatorial rule. Initially stunned by the mass wave of protests, Musharraf warned of strict action against protestors and later when that statement inflamed the mass agitation even more, softened his message saying that he likes the Baloach. Later, Army spin doctors manufactured a story that officers were negotiating a deal with Bugti in a remote cave when an explosion from within the cave killed everyone inside including Bugti and the officers. This is a clear lie as the Government had initially told Dawn that it was prepared to bury Bugti’s body in his ancestral home and when the family refused, they made up this story of being Bugti being buried deep in the cave.
Musharraf known for his tactical brilliance and strategic myopia must now realize that the assassination of Bugti has created a martyr that unifies all the Baloach tribals to oppose Islamabad’s iron fisted rule. He has tried to assuage the people by saying “The government has during the last five years taken several initiatives for the development and prosperity of Baloachistan that has not been taken in the last 50 years.” Instead of trying to convince Bugti, his bellicose attitude lost him his erstwhile ally and this message of “development and prosperity” is lost on the mobs. Ignoring opposition criticism of his over-enthusiastic and abrasive attacks on the Baloach, Musharraf says that his only demand was for the Baloach to “love Pakistan.” However, in Musharraf’s mind, he is Pakistan and his statement really means that he wants the Baloach to love him unconditionally.
Baloachistan never truly integrated with Pakistan and had fought pitched battles with Federal forces run by both political and military rulers. Bugti was a supporter of the Islamabad-based Federal regime but also
wanted more autonomy, a better share in gas revenues, and water resources. He also asked for more funds to improve his province which has only 4% of the national population and also the least developed.
The recent uprising started with a sexual assault of a doctor by an Army captain and shielded from civil action by the Army and the company that he was working for. The frustration and anger of the population resulted in an assault on the Government-owned gas company. The Pakistani Army responded heavily which invited
an armed response from insurgents. When Musharraf visited the area, there was a grenade attack that reportedly angered him so much to order air-strikes, artillery bombardment, and helicopter-borne assaults. Newspapers and
human rights organizations asked for this excessive force to stop but were ignored with impunity.
The Baloach, a traditional robber tribe of Saudi descent,
attacked Army positions, gas pipelines, economic targets, etc in retaliation. This infuriated the Army even more which ordered an escalation in the violence and in late July claimed to have
crushed the Baloach uprising and with verifiable intelligence on the location of Bugti. Accusing
India of supporting Bugti and inciting the Baloach uprising, Musharraf
claimed victory over the region;
Bugti called Musharraf a liar and denied having received aid from anyone.
About 10,000 people gathered at a prayer organized to mourn Bugti’s death and later shouting “Death to Pakistan” and “Pakistan will disintegrate” stamped on the Pakistani flag, torched government offices, vehicles, and homes and shops of people from outside the province. Rebels also blew up a gas pipeline and electricity pylons cutting gas and power supplies to Quetta and most of the province.