People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 37

September 10, 2006



Army’s Misdemeanour Has Dangerous Portents For Pakistan


Naresh ‘Nadeem’


ACCOMPANIED by opposition parliamentarians’ squatting in front of the National Assembly building in Islamabad, the September 1 strike scored a near-total success in Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province and partial success in Sindh, which underlines the gravity of the situation in Pakistan in the wake of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing on August 27. The killing of this chief of one of the four powerful Baloch tribes, along with two of his grandsons, more than 30 of his followers and also some prominent members of the Marri tribe, in a bombardment on the cave where they were hiding, came at a time when the Pakistan military boasted of having broken the back of the Baloch rebellion. 


Two days before this strike plus squatting, on August 30, the government led by Shaukat Aziz had had a tough time facing the no confidence motion brought by a combined opposition. True the government eventually survived the motion (which got 126 votes as against the needed 172 in a house of 342), but political observers wondered how the motion after all got that many votes. Be that as it may, an indisputable fact is that the Bugti killing has indeed given the badly scattered opposition a chance to come on one platform. Moreover, during the debate, opposition leader Maulana Fazlur-Rehman told in plain terms that the motion was “not just about the failures of the government of the past four years, but about the policy failures of the last seven years.” It is thus clear that the opposition is not after Dr Shaukat Aziz as such but after the country’s CEO. Yet, the fact that the united opposition is now being led by the Muttahida Majlisul-Amal (MMA), a fundamentalist outfit, may have its own implications for the future.




It will not be out of place to note here that, started in 2003, Nawab Bugti’s was the third rebellion in Balochistan since the creation of Pakistan 59 years ago, in August 1947. The first rebellion in the series began soon after the Pakistan Army forced the Khan of Qalaat, then ruling Balochistan, to sign the instrument of accession in April 1948, and the second raged during a considerable part of the 1970s. 


But the basic thing the fact of three rebellions in a span of only six decades highlights is that, to this day, Balochistan has not been fully integrated in Pakistan. It is true that the problem has been a legacy of the past, and the Balochs always maintained their aloofness from the rest of the country after Emperor Akbar’s army annexed it during the latter part of his reign. However, even our movement for national liberation from the British failed to address the problem and left the province by and large untouched. Neither the Indian National Congress nor the All India Muslim League paid much attention to this aspect, with the result that there was little psychological and emotional integration of the province with the rest of India --- or, for that matter, with Pakistan since 1947.


The forced accession of Balochistan to the newly created Pakistan in 1948, despite the repeated assurances given by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liyaqat Ali Khan that they would honour the provisions of the Mountbatten award and not force any province to merge with Pakistan, still remains a festering wound for the Baloch nationalists. 


But the problem got intensified after 1948 as the new rulers of the country, like their British predecessors, gave a short shrift to the issue of development of the province. During the last six decades, there have been big additions to the known resource base of the province, but the share of the Baloch population in the national wealth has only gone down. Balochistan is area-wise the country’s biggest province but has the smallest population --- of only 6 million, which comes to just 5 per cent of the total population of Pakistan. Given this situation, any wise policy framework could have taken the province to ever-newer heights, but what took place was to the contrary. This gave a further setback to the task of integration of the province. 




The discovery of some oil and gas fields as well as uranium deposits in Balochistan added yet another dimension to the basic, post-1947 policy framework of Pakistan. It was now being increasingly felt that in Pakistan (in contrast to the Indian Union), it is one (the Punjabi) nationality that is dominating the others and exploiting their resources. While members of the numerically preponderant Punjabi nationality are fond of boasting of their domination, the feeling of deprivation has been most intense in Balochistan (as in the erstwhile East Pakistan), which many feel has been converted into a sort of internal colony of the Punjabis. 
But instead of removing such grievances by their policy measures, the rulers of Pakistan thought it more prudent to use force against the dissenting voices. And in this task, they were ably assisted by the powerful tribal chiefs of the province, not excluding the slain Akbar Khan Bugti who had been a chief minister and later a governor of the province, both courtesy his deals with Islamabad. 


In fact, this has been the chief tactic of the rulers of Pakistan --- to keep these tribal chiefs in good humour and to suppress any voice of popular dissent with their help. On their part, in turn, these tribal leaders have been exploiting the parochial feelings of tribal loyalty to the hilt, in order to have an edge in their bargains with Islamabad. 


But this added to the problem of integration in its own way. How far it left tribalism intact in the collective life of Balochistan (as of the NWFP) can be gauged from just one fact --- even today, royalty of the Sui gas field goes not to the provincial government of Balochistan but to the chief of the Bugti tribe as this gas field falls in this tribe’s lands. Such a situation would be unthinkable even in an imperfect federation like India’s. In fact, it was the issue of this royalty and of an increase in it that created bad blood between Islamabad and the Oxford educated Akbar Khan Bugti, and aggravated when the latter, with 5,000 odd of his tribesmen, surrounded in March 2005 a contingent of the Pakistan Rangers when they were on their way to the Sui gas field to be deployed there for security purposes. 


Another facet of the same development was the creation of three new cantonments in the province in the last five years. The explanation offered is that these cantonments are needed to cope with the challenge of Taliban remnants who have taken refuge in the province after the overthrow of their regime in the neighbouring Afghanistan. But the creation of three new cantonments in addition to the existing ones does not square with the estimated strength of Taliban extremists, and Baloch nationalists widely believe that these are meant to crush their own dissent and discontent.




And now comes the slaying of Akbar Khan Bugti, chief of the Jamhoori Watan Party who was once considered the moderate face of Baloch nationalism and safest bet for Islamabad. If General Pervez Musharraf told the nation in February 2006 that he had broken the back of Baloch insurgency, the most vital question being asked today is whether the bombing of a mountainous cave to kill a few dozen fugitives was really necessary. Didn’t Musharraf himself told once that he would prefer to have an Akbar Bugti on the run instead of an Akbar Bugti donning the halo of a martyr? 


And left to himself, the 79 years old Akbar Khan Bugti would certainly have passed into oblivion without many people noticing as to when he died. His was after all not an enlightened kind of leadership, and his way to perpetuate his leadership was to perpetuate the worst aspects of tribalism among his followers, though his own kins have been going to the West for higher education. The grapewine also had it that he was in constant touch with the US consulate in Karachi, and was getting American arms and money, more so since the government involved the Chinese in construction of the Gwadar seaport on the Makran coast and the creation of an energy corridor from Gwadar up to Lhasa. But the August 27 bombing has given him precisely what he reportedly wanted --- a halo of martyrdom. 


The situation as of today is that the Bugti killing is being described as the third biggest misdemeanour of Pakistan Army, after the arrest of Sheikh Mujibur-Rehman in 1970 and the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1978, and the army rule is finding it hard to justify its conduct. 


At the other end of the spectrum, all kinds of theories, some quite far-fetched, are being proffered in the media in a bid to explain the latest misdemeanour. One of these explanations is that after having removed Nawaz Sharif and Mrs Benazir Bhutto from the scene, Musharraf was keen to eliminate Bugti so that nobody could challenge his authority. Needless to say, this too is a far-fetched explanation as the underlying assumption is that Bugti could assume Nawaz Sharif’s or Benazir Bhutto’s stature. Then there is also the widespread belief that a section of the Pakistan Army and ISI perpetrated this misdemeanour as part of a conspiracy to dislodge Musharraf. There has also been unconfirmed news that Americans too want Musharraf out, in the belief that a more military-minded replacement of Musharraf would be more helpful in their so-called “war on terror,” and that a retired army brigadier has been in touch with the US consulate in Karachi. 




On his part, Musharraf has nothing to offer by way of explanation, except some worn-out phrases. On the very day of Bugti’s killing, he stated that he is willing to contract any trouble and bear any hardship for the sake of Pakistan’s development and that in return he only wants every citizen’s unflinching loyalty to Pakistan --- just a cliché, and a doubtful prop of every discredited politician. As for his reference to the under-construction Gwadar port and proposed energy corridor, he forgot to add just one little thing. If there are only three Balochs employed in the Sui oil and gas project, and that too in lower level jobs, there is none in the Gwadar project from which the Balochs have been wholly excluded; so much so that not a single Baloch can enter the port area. 


Yet there are indications that even if the protest over the tribal chief’s killing subsides after some time, the underlying discontent is not going to wither away. The killing has evoked widespread condemnation, with General Asad Durrani, Air Chief Marshal Asghar Khan, Air Chief Marshal Noor Khan and several other former army top brass joining the protest. On the other hand, while Baloch nationalism still lacks a credible leadership enjoying prestige among the common Balochs, nationalist groups are in the process of coming together. Though it is still premature to guess what shape their movement would eventually take, it is certain that the picture won’t be rosy for the country. 


But the most ominous indications are about the growing involvement of fundamentalist outfits on the one hand and imperialist agencies on the other in Baloch affairs. On the very day of Bugti’s killing, the MMA threatened to withdraw from the coalition government of Balochistan. Though it has not yet acted upon this threat, such a step cannot be ruled out at a future moment which the MMA thinks to be more opportune. This may well cause a political crisis in the province and nobody knows who would eventually benefit from it. 


At the same time, high officials of the US consulate in Karachi have been meeting all sorts of elements, some of them quite shady, during the last one year. A defence studies journal of Washington, close to the US administration, has already published a map showing Balochistan as an independent country by 2010, in the name of projecting the likely shape of the world in that year. And nobody can say that Washington won’t dump Musharraf once it finds a more suitable prop for its project in the region. Yet another likely scenario is of the US clandestinely backing such groups as are votaries of a “Greater Balochistan.” While this may cause headache to Iran that has a sizeable Baloch population, it may also destabilise the situation in the whole of Indian subcontinent.