A year of hostilities between the Pakistan Army and the Baloch nationalists since January 2005 has culminated in a full-fledged military operation in the Kohlu and Dera Bugti districts of Balochistan. Since December, artillery fire and aerial bombing in the area have led to scores of civilian casualties and large-scale displacement of the local population. Nawab Akbar Bugti, the head of the Bugti tribe and chief of Jamhoori Watan Party, has also been driven out of his residence in Dera Bugti and is commanding his fighters from a cave in the mountains. The Herald caught up with him at his hideout to elicit his views on the situation in Balochistan, his aims and reactions to various allegations levelled against him by official quarter
Shahzada Zulfiqar. Can the tribesmen wage a successful war against a regular army?
Nawab Akbar Bugti. We are not doing it by choice. Rather, the government has created this situation for us. After targeting Marri tribesmen in the neighbouring district of Kohlu, they unleashed barbarities on the people of Dera Bugti, killing over 80 civilians, mostly women and children, and injuring 240 others during the last two months. The property and livestock of the people have also been damaged.
Phosphorus bombs which the Americans used in Vietnam are being dropped on us. Only three or four resistance fighters have so far-been killed by these bombs, where-as the rest are all civilians. Shelling was meant to compel the local population to leave Dera Bugti and it has achieved that objective. Now our options are clear: resist and die or die without resisting. The people have chosen the former. With their Kalashnikov, machine guns and a few rocket-propelled grenades, they are no match for the Pakistan Army which has aircraft, helicopters and latest weapons. But they are trying to make the best of it. They are fighting for Baloch honour and for their motherland and its resources.
Zulfiqar. How do you respond to the government's allegations that only three sardars are causing problems because they fear that development projects will erode their influence?
Bugti. Development must conform to the wishes of the local population not to the whims of Islamabad. We built around 300 schools, a college and a hospital in Dera Bugti and they have converted all these buildings into paramilitary pickets. The Baloch people will not accept this kind of development. The government claims that cantonments in Kohlu, Dera Bugti and Gwadar would bring progress and prosperity. But the Baloch know that these cantonments are meant to suppress them.
Zulfiqar. What about the impression that tribesmen are involved in subversive activities in Balochistan?
Bugti. The Baloch people are facing state terrorism at the hands of the Pakistani military. The military operation started in bits and pieces in other areas such as Chaghai, Naushki, Kech and Gwadar but it is on full-scale in Kohlu and Dera Bugti. The recent reports of the Human Right Commission of Pakistan whose delegation has already visited these areas are enough to open the eyes of the rulers and the international community.
Zulfiqar. What is your reaction to the government’s allegations that the Baloch sardars have foreign links, particularly with Kabul and New Delhi?
Bugti. In the past, such charges have been levelled against the Bengalis in East Pakistan. The rulers must put the situation in its true context before it reaches a point of no return. The Baloch have struggled since long for the right to have control over their resources. Organisations such as the Baloch Liberation Army, the Baloch Liberation Front and the Baloch Peoples Liberation Front have existed in the past and are active again. The Baloch people all over the province sympathise with the aims of these organisations.
Zulfiqar. Do the people of your tribe also have links with these organisations?
Bugti. May be, may be not. I do not really know. But any Baloch can be a part of these organisations. People in Balochistan have strikingly similar perceptions of the political situation in the country.
Zulfiqar. How do you respond to the government’s claim that you and some other sardars have received arms and ammunition worth 500 million rupees from some foreign governments?
Bugti. There is no dearth of weapons and ammunition here. The Americans offloaded huge caches of weapons and sums of money to fund the jihad in these parts. The Inter-Services Intelligence distributed these weapons and funds among the Afghan groups and kept some for its own use. Much of this hardware would inevitably end up in the arms markets. The Ojhricamp was destroyed specifically to cover up shady arms transfers. The whole country is awash with these weapons today.
Zulfiqar. Do you have a private army, as the government claims? If so, why?
Bugti. Private armies are kept for private purposes and are composed of mercenaries. These people are volunteers who are willing to sacrifice their lives for a national cause. They bring with them their own rifles and food and when they fall on hard times other Baloch help them because they consider these fighters as their saviours.
Zulfiqar. Then what about the farrari camps in your area where, according to the government, criminals from all over the country take shelter?
Bugti. There is no such camp. My tribesmen are among those who are resisting the loot and plunder of Baloch resources by Islamabad. Some 250 of these tribesmen, including women and children, have been killed since-March 2005.
Zulfiqar. Do you seek complete independence?
Bugti. The Baloch only want to live in a loose federation in which they will have autonomy. Currently, they do not trust the ability of the parliament to bring this about because it is the army that has an upper hand in the affairs of the government. As such, the Baloch think they should switch to other means to achieve their rights.
Zulfiqar. The military authorities took over your residence in Sui by declaring it the property of the Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL). Any comments?
Bugti. The PPL does not own a single inch of land in the whole Sui town except the fenced area of gas installations. The land where the residence was built belongs to the Mondraniclan of the Bugti tribe and I have all the valid documents of ownership.
Zulfiqar. Would you care to reveal the-details of an agreement that formalised last March with the government through Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain?
Bugti. It was not a written agreement but a gentlemen’s promise with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain Syed. I have stood by my word but the forces violated theirs. They not only reoccupied their old positions but also the positions which the tribesmen had vacated. In addition, they also established around 30 more positions and bunkers in Dera Bugti town.
Zulfiqar. The government says that you have been receiving millions of rupees from gas companies as royalty?
Bugti. In fact, my tribe and I receive rent money from some companies for the use of our land. Gas royalty is paid to the provincial government. I have invited the government to constitute a commission comprising three newspaper columnists – Irshad Ahmed Haqqani, Ayaz Amir and Mushahid Hussain Syed – to probe into these allegations. This offer still stands.
This was originally published in the Herald's March 2006 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.