You are here

Nawab Bugti's Assassination

Captain Alok Bansal was Member, Navy at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • August 29, 2006

    The killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, popularly known as the "Tiger of Balochistan" in the early hours of August 27 in an army operation has ominous implications for the restive province. The tribal chief of the largest Baloch tribe, the Bugtis, was a strong proponent of Baloch autonomy, and had said that he had been a Baloch for several centuries, a Muslim for 1400 years but a Pakistani for just over fifty. Although a government-sponsored council reportedly attended by the Waderas of all subclans of the Bugti tribe had, on August 17, stripped Nawab Bugti from the leadership of the tribe and had announced an end to the Sardari system, the spontaneous popular reaction to his killing indicates that he had lost neither his aura nor his authority. Over six hundred people are reported to have been arrested. There have been riots in Karachi and Quetta. Violence has been reported from across the length and breadth of the province. A shutter-down and wheel-jam strike was observed on August 28 throughout the province and vehicular traffic had come to a grinding halt. Trains to and from Quetta were cancelled, as the railway authorities were reluctant to ply them without adequate security.

    The public school educated octogenarian had played a major role in the politics of Balochistan for over five decades, but was a relatively late convert to the cause of Baloch nationalism. Till his recent falling out with the Pakistani establishment, he had been one of its pillars in the region. A former chief minister, he was the first Baloch in the Pakistani cabinet (he held the home and then the defence portfolios) and was the governor of the province during the last major conflagration in Balochistan in 1973. He was accused of operating private jails and running a feudal justice system in his area. His running feud with Kalpar Waderas, the hereditary head of the Kalpar sub-clans, had led to the forced migration of over 10,000 Kalpars from Dera Bugti. At the time of his killing, he was the leader of Jamhoori Watan Party, with representatives in both the provincial assembly and the parliament. His recent attempts to get all Baloch nationalist parties under one roof, however, did not bear fruit since other Baloch Sardars did not trust him due to his role in 1973.

    In 2005, Bugti lands were the scene of pitched battles fought between security forces and the Baloch nationalists. In January 2005, the alleged rape of Dr. Shazia Hasan, an employee of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), by an army officer in Sui, had led to violent attacks on the gas complex. Gas supplies were disrupted and it took weeks to restore normalcy. The pitched battles at Sui had jolted the Pakistani economy and the Karachi Stock Exchange ended up losing almost half its net worth. The security forces had then tried to eliminate Nawab Bugti by shelling his ancestral house at Dera Bugti in March 2005. Although 17 shells pierced through his residence, he survived in a hair's breadth. However, the day long shelling claimed 67 lives, including 33 members of the minority Hindu community who inhabited the neighbouring Hindu ghetto, and resulted in injury to over 100 people and severe damage to a number of houses and temples. The Nawab had to flee Dera Bugti early this year and take refuge in the mountains, from where he had been co-ordinating the Baloch resistance.

    The killing of Nawab Bugti has been criticised by almost all opposition political parties in Pakistan. What is more surprising is that many top leaders of the ruling party, including two former prime ministers, have termed the incident as unfortunate, while the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which is a key constituent of the federal government as well as of the Sindh government, has squarely criticised the government action. Widespread criticism of its act has forced the government to refute original reports that the tracking of Bugti's satellite phone had helped the security forces to pinpoint his location, which implied that he was indeed the target. According to the government's latest version, the area was targeted after an Army helicopter overflying the area came under heavy fire from the rebels and the resultant battle led to the caving in of the mud bunker where the Bugti along with his men had taken shelter. The fact that the rebels killed over 20 elite commandos indicates that the former gave the security forces a tough fight before capitulating.

    Despite the government's attempts to portray him as an autocratic feudal despot, Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, on account of the circumstances and the manner of his death, is destined to become a martyred hero for Baloch nationalism like 80-year old Nauroz Khan before him, who had taken on the Pakistani Army in 1958. By killing Bugti, General Musharraf has earned the permanent enmity of the Baloch population. He has probably underestimated Baloch nationalism, which has led the Baloch to confront the Pakisani establishment four times since its creation. A spokesman of the Baloch nationalists said that despite the death of Akbar Bugti, their struggle would continue. In his death, Nawab Bugti has probably provided the fractured Baloch polity a rallying point. Ironically, death may help him achieve what he failed to during his lifetime - the unity of all Baloch nationalist groups.