Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bugti and the Baluch insurgency

In the aftermath of the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti one of the casualties has been informed commentary. Sifting through the slew of articles does, however, unearth the Nawab's background, his role in the present Baluch insurgency and the regional impact of the insurgency.

From Time magazine's Pakistan's Other War, a look at the complex, contradictory Nawab:

"Bugti symbolizes Baluchistan's character. He says he killed his first man when he was just 12, and his life ever since has been a series of unending blood feuds with other clans and with the Pakistani military. Bugti sees himself as a warrior fighting a noble cause. He is self-taught and an avid reader—until March, the library in his rambling, earthen castle was lined with hundreds of books on philosophy, Western and oriental religions and the European classics. Then the castle, and the library with it, were destroyed by army cannon fire. Bugti is a vegetarian, a rarity among the meat-chomping Baluch, and sups every night on a bowl of green chili peppers, according to a frequent guest."

On Bugti becoming the face of the current insurgency, Imtiaz Alam writes in The News:

"Ironically Akbar Bugti had never joined the nationalist movement or the alliances of various nationalist groups formed in Pakistan ... He became chief minister during the first tenure of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and ran the province like an authoritarian patriarch. However, he developed serious differences with Islamabad over the issue of royalty which he said that the government needed to pay to him for the Sui gas field.

"His survival depended on making a larger nationalist cause out of this dispute, especially when he was engaged in a battle with the rival Kalpar Bugti clan and at a time when the military authorities were bent upon constructing a garrison in the area.

"The fact of the mater is that after losing his sons Akbar Bugti had taken refuge in his home town, Dera Bugti, to evade retaliation from the clans locked in a bloody feud with him on the one hand and to put up resistance to the Musharraf government and the military's plans to establish a cantonment in the area on the other. The construction of the cantonments became the main irritant to Bugti who wanted to keep his tribal-feudal fiefdom unchallenged."

On the possible transnational impact of Bugti's killing, The Christian Science Monitor reports:

"Bugti's death could also reverberate in the region, some analysts say. The Balochis are spread across several countries, with millions living in parts of Iran and Afghanistan that border Pakistan."

The CS Monitor's report also adds the following on the fight against the Taliban:

"The province also shares hundreds of miles of unmanned border with Afghanistan, giving the Taliban a sprawling front for their operations.

"The solution, such as it exists, masks a potent irony. The most effective counterbalance to the Taliban, observers say, are the very people the Army is targeting in its military operations.

"Baloch nationals have acted as a countervailing force to extremists, espousing democratic and liberal political values, observers say. In the arena of the provincial assembly, Baloch leaders argue, they regularly battle against measures that create an amenable atmosphere to the Taliban."

Lest one assume that the regional dimensions of the current insurrection are exaggerated, consider this report from GlobalSecurity.org on the last insurgency in the 1970s:

"A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase.

"External assistance to Bhutto was generously given by the shah of Iran, who feared a spread of the insurrection among the Iranian Baloch."


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zia said...

Hey Cy: I commented on your kmb post too. Do you know a Richard Almeida?

Your article in this week's TFT was a sad read. Good writing, as always.

Cy said...

Zia: No Richard comes to mind. I didn't reply earlier as I didn't have your email address.

Thanks for the appreciation.