Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Handling Balochistan

by Ikram Sehgal

No death in the world is a cause for celebration. Given the present geo-political and domestic circumstances, Nawab Akbar Bugti's reported demise is a moment of extreme concern for the nation. Riding a camel he left Dera Bugti holding a rifle aloft as symbolic of his revolt, it was pure showmanship and he well knew how to exploit the media. Akbar Bugti's followers were certainly targeted, he was scrupulously left alone to avoid his being killed, this has now come to pass more by accident than by any design. The location of the caves he was residing in was well-known to the authorities and the Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan could have got him anytime during the past year or so. In the emotive circumstances availing, announcement of such deaths at the hands of security forces have to be carefully crafted. Indeed what was the need to do so without recovering his body?

Mohammad Ali Durrani can grandstand for his two bosses, what he says as federal information minister cannot be delivered like a speech in Nishtar Park. The national forum is not a 'Pasban' pulpit, and Durrani's display of his more-loyal-than-the-king posture can adversely affect the destiny of the nation.

Educated by Baloch standards, Akbar Bugti lived a dual Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde existence. An urbane autocrat in the drawing rooms of the elite and sophisticated, he was a despot for his tribe, not tolerating dissent and was cruel even to his dedicated followers. Having confessed to killing a man when he was just 12, he boasted killing over a 100 of the recalcitrant Kalpar sub-tribe in one gory period alone. He was also twice convicted for murder, the first time in 1961 for slaying a close relative. The fact is that he was shrewd and cunning and only cared for his immediate family. The irony is that he may well become in death what he tried but could not be in life: a cult hero for the Baloch. He will now be seen as a martyr.

Would any country in the world permit a citizen to have a private army as he did, its arsenal putting some Third World armies to shame? Among the weapons recovered by FC over the year included 25 surface-to-air missiles, 65 RPG-7 rocket launchers, thousands of small arms and over a million rounds of ammunition, over two tons of explosives (with 2,000 detonators) and nearly 750 land-mines. Are we to condone acts of sabotage and terrorism against the economic infrastructure of the country, approximately 600 bomb blasts, 4,000 rockets fired, 130 land mine blasts, 75 or so attacks against gas plants and more than 50 against railway installations. The economic lifeline of our industry, Sui Gas, is used in 60 per cent of kitchens in Pakistan. Besides the sufferings of tens of millions, successful sabotage of the plant would have put Pakistan on its economic knees. Whether a government is democratic or dictatorial, it cannot appease the blackmail of one man. From time to time people like Akbar Bugti do come along on the national stage and governments have cope with them in the greater national interest.

In fighting the rebellion, the FC and the army lost 43 men and 100 were injured. This excludes the civilian casualty toll which is 101 dead and 142 injured. Will some of our politicians shed even a stray tear for them?

The casualty figures are officer-heavy as they should be in any special operations since officers must lead from the front. Two army helicopters on routine patrol were fired upon on August 23, 2006, one was severely damaged but managed to return to base. Another helicopter sent to survey the area also sustained damage due to heavy firing. As opposed to only FC responding, a 'search and apprehend' operation was then launched by a Special Services Group (SSG) unit with FC in support. Four officers, including the commanding officer, Colonel Amir Hameed and an FC officer, paid the ultimate price for their country. Bugti's followers, it could be said, died out of their love (or fear) of their tribal chief but what about the precious lives of those who had no personal grievance with Bugti or his followers but died for the cause of the country? What about their adherence to duty even at the risk of endangering their lives? On the receiving end of ambushes, bomb blasts, land-mine explosions and bomb/rocket attacks on infrastructure installations, will our politicians deny the FC the right of self-defence?

Most Baloch areas (as opposed to the more populated Pukhtoon areas) of Balochistan reacted badly to Akbar Bugti's demise. The Kalpar sub-tribe (and others) opposed to him celebrated in Akbar Bugti's hometown in Dera Bugti. One cannot (and should not) dismiss the violent protests out of hand as a knee-jerk reaction. He did strike a chord with the Baloch, and the government would do well to exercise maturity and handle the situation with care.

Akbar Bugti's contemptuous treatment of most Baloch chieftains (other than Marri and Mengal) has also been conveniently glossed over. A dialogue did begin after Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain's meetings with Bugti in 2005. Why did it become the 'dialogue of the deaf' thereafter? The government has to take its share of blame for letting things come to such a pass. It should now get involved in constructive engagement on an urgent basis seeking to to defuse the situation and thereafter to alleviate the grievances of the Baloch on a long-term and lasting basis. The government has to be sensitive to nationalist emotion. We have been thrust into another national crisis, mostly because of a newly created 'martyr', but also partly due to the shortcomings of our rulers in not being sensitive to the needs of a small but vibrant section of our population. Have we learnt nothing from 1971?


The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

Courtesy: http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=22070

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