People & society - In Conversation With

In conversation with Brahamdagh Bugti

Updated Dec 19, 2015 04:38am

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Illustration by Aan Abbas Illustration by Aan Abbas
The recent comments made by Brahamdagh Bugti, the exiled leader of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), suggest that the long-standing insurgency in Balochistan might see a peaceful resolution through dialogue. The Herald interviewed Bugti to find out why the same state that he previously vowed to fight till the bitter end is now offering an olive branch — and what he expects from any potential negotiations.

Herald. How has this potential dialogue process with the state/security establishment come about? Do you think it is because the state sees the economic investments being channelled through Balochistan as vital to its own self-sustenance? Or do you think it is because Baloch resistance movements are something the state cannot afford while being engaged in a war in Waziristan?

Brahamdagh Bugti. I think the state officials could better answer this question about what made them come to the negotiation table with the Baloch. The things that you mentioned could be a reason, but I believe it was a new tactic by the state to offer negotiations with the Baloch and anticipating a negative response from us, they could conveniently label and present us as terrorists, locally and internationally. Our willingness to negotiate thwarted that attempt and their plan has backfired. As far as our stance is concerned, we are political people and believe in peaceful resolutions to all political problems. It is the state that has been using force to crush the political demands of the Baloch.

Herald. Do you think, after spending so many years in exile, you are in a good position to be the figurehead and spokesperson for this potential dialogue?

Bugti. The BRP is the largest pro-independence political party in Balochistan, with a significant presence internationally. Its leadership is in a good position to negotiate on behalf of the Baloch people. Certainly, there are also a number of other political parties in Balochistan with a good following among the Baloch masses, but they share the goal of an independent Balochistan with BRP. There might be some differences among these parties on certain policies, which is true of every struggle, but we share the same objectives and it will take no time to be on the same page on any issue — including negotiations with the state.

Herald. A lot of people argue that it is not just the state that has to change its oppressive ways in Balochistan, but that local power structures also have to change; that the Nawabs and Sardars with their fiefdoms have to let social development happen. Do you agree with this?

Bugti. Most of the Nawabs and Sardars appointed to key positions in Balochistan are state stooges; the likes of Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, Nawab Aslam Raisani and Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind, to name a few. Do you spot any differences between the development of the areas under the control of these ‘patriotic Sardars’ – as the state would call them – and the non-tribal belt or the areas like Dera Bugti and Kohistan Marri?

The state, on one hand, blames the tribal system and Sardars for backwardness in Balochistan, but, on the other hand, uses its favoured Sardars to counter the Baloch national struggle. I would give a small example: There were more than a hundred primary schools, 19 high schools and a college, for both boys and girls, built under the supervision of my grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti in Dera Bugti, up until 2005. Half of the schools had no teachers, which was the responsibility of the state to provide. The truth is that the state doesn’t want the Baloch to be educated and informed out of the fear that if the Baloch are more educated and informed, they will be more powerful in demanding their rights from the state.

Natural gas was discovered from Sui in 1952, but the majority of the local population still uses wood-fire 60 years later, while the gas has been pipelined to every corner of Pakistan. Now, if we oppose further exploration and extraction of gas – which my grandfather did because of past experiences – they label us tribal lords and blame us for hindering development in the area.

Coming back to the question of the tribal system, I remember the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf when he announced to abolish the tribal system after the martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Bugti. But when he failed, he brought Mir Aali Bugti to Dera Bugti and announced him as the new chief of the Bugti tribe, under the supervision of army. He failed to deliver as the locals opposed the army-imposed Sardar and Musharraf threw him out and carried on with his previous policies.

The question then is: who are the Punjabi elite to decide for the Baloch what is good for them and what is not? They cannot impose their exploitative policies on us and call it development. Take the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) as an example: name a single Baloch who has been taken into confidence before deciding or even announcing the agreement with China. The answer is: No one. The Baloch are their own masters and they can decide their own fate. Punjab and its representatives cannot forcefully impose unjust policies on us as they have been trying, and badly failing, for the past six decades. It is high time that the state accepts its defeat and respects the rights of the Baloch, before it has to face a more embarrassing defeat like the one in what was once East Pakistan.

Herald. Do you trust the military establishment's word? If a resolution is reached through dialogue, will you come back?

Bugti. The question is not whether I will come back or not; the question is how sincere is the military establishment in resolving this conflict. I have been living in exile because it was made impossible for us to politically struggle on the ground as a result of military operations, crackdown against political parties, and abductions and killings of political workers.

Our houses were bombarded and my grandfather was assassinated. My people sent me abroad to better inform the world about what is happening in Balochistan. As I have said before, the military establishment is not sincere in negotiating with the Baloch. Their word cannot be trusted because there is a long history of deception by the state in Balochistan. They have been playing the negotiation card only to intensify oppression in Balochistan, and our willingness to talk has put them in trouble.

Herald. Will the return of missing persons and a reversal of sectarianism be part of any potential agreement? Or is the current goal more short-term, and these decades-old problems to be tackled later?

Bugti. The military operation, missing persons and extrajudicial killings of Baloch political activists are very serious issues but they are not part of the problem. The problem is the conflict between the state and the Baloch people. These are only the outcomes of that conflict. For instance, there would be no military operation, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial murders if the Baloch stop demanding their rights from the state.

If the state is really serious in resolving the conflict through political means, then the ongoing military operation and human rights violations in Balochistan should be stopped in order to create a friendly environment for negotiations. The insincerity of the state is visible in the fact that, on one side, it claims to hold talks with the Baloch and, on the other side, it continues military operations in every corner of Balochistan. Dozens of innocent Baloch civilians, including women and children, have been abducted from the Dera Bugti and Bolan areas during military offensives during the past few days.

Same is the case of sectarian violence. The state has been using it to counter the Baloch national struggle, on the one hand, and to promote religious extremism in Baloch society, on the other. The Baloch are historically a tolerant people when it comes to religion, and this is highlighted by the fact that religious minorities in Balochistan, such as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, have been living there in peace and harmony for centuries.

The peaceful resolution of all this conflict is not possible until the state realises the failure of its policies in Balochistan and makes serious efforts to hold fruitful negotiations with the Baloch. We are not going to fall into their trap this time.