Murder of Baloch Leader Nawab Akbar Bugti: A Big Tragedy

Mohd. Sadiq

2 September 2006

One of the most distinctive and respected politician of Pakistan and former chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was mercilessly killed by the Pakistani army on 26 August 2006. Bugti was killed during a massive military operation in the Bhambore Hills, an area between the cities of Kohlu and Dera Bugti, in Balochistan province. The veteran Baloch leader had gone into hiding earlier this year after Pakistani forces launched a crackdown on Baloch rebels after rockets were fired in December 2005 during the Balochistan visit of President General Pervez Musharraf. Bugti's killing is a clear indication that General Musharraf has no tolerance for dissent, even if it is based on genuine grievances. However, the targeted killing of Bugti's killing has, in fact, bolstered the ongoing insurgency in the province which could ultimately threaten Pakistan's territorial integrity.


Targeting The Rebel
Pakistani forces had established the whereabouts of Nawab Akbar Bugti, chieftain of the Bugti tribe, by monitoring satellite phone intercepts of the rebel leader. British-educated Bugti, who was in his 80s, was hiding in a cave complex when the army assault took place. General Musharraf reportedly gave the go-ahead for the final operation even though Bugti was in communication with the government till the last moment. As many as 21 army commandos and 37 rebels were also killed in the same operation, which targeted 50 to 80 of Nawab Bugti's closest family members and top commanders. Key members of Bugti's family were reportedly killed in the operation. Bugti's killing evoked criticism from ordinary people in Pakistan as well as in the subcontinent. The political leadership in Pakistan also condemned the killing and criticised the army for using brute force rather than resolving the issue through negotiations. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that Bugti's killing would be always be remembered as a black day in the history of Pakistan as his death was a national tragedy which would prove harmful for the integrity of Pakistan. President of Baloch National Party (BNP) Sardar Akhtar Mengal said that this incident would have long-term negative implications as it would consolidate the Baloch movement by bringing together different factions. Mengal also warned that the rebels would seek revenge for the murder of their leader. PPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim said Bugti's death would lead to massive destruction in Pakistan that could have lethal consequences for the polity. MMA leader Hafiz Hussain Ahmad said that Bugti's death could adversely affect the sovereignty of Pakistan. In an interview to Geo Television, he said that the dispute with Bugti should have been resolved politically. He also claimed that though the government had made agreements with Akbar Bugti, it resorted to a military operation to establish its writ in Balochistan.

International Silence
Media reports indicated that General Musharraf, on hearing about Bugti's killing, commended the security forces for successfully eliminating the veteran rebel leader. Musharraf reportedly termed Bugti's killing as a 'great victory' for Pakistani army. Observers have said that Bugti's killing was the second high profile political assassination by the Pakistani army, which had earlier executed former Pakistani prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bugti's killing clearly exposed Musharraf's deep dislike and intolerance towards any form of dissent. Musharraf had earlier forced former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, as well as several other leaders, to leave Pakistan in order to safeguard his political interests and continue as the unchallenged political and military head of Pakistan. Bugti's killing once again established that democracy has never been institutionalised in Pakistan, which has remained under the Army's watch since independence. Pakistani army's stranglehold on the country's politics was reaffirmed on 29 August 2006 when the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was defeated in the parliament. Despite the fact that there was open resentment even within the ruling party over Bugti's killing, Musharraf ensured that his prime minister did not have to face an embarrassing defeat in the parliament.

For several years, Bugti had been fighting for the rights of the Baloch people, who have suffered due to exploitation of their province's resources by the Pakistani military establishment. Despite the fact that Bugti had always kept the door open for negotiations, General Musharraf never encouraged a serious dialogue with the rebel leader. In fact, Musharraf went on to say that "this is not the 1970s when you can hit and hide. You will not even know what hit you this time." Musharraf proved his point as the veteran Baloch leader was finally killed by a laser-guided bunker-buster missile, which did not give Bugti any chance of escaping. Some media reports also claimed that the weapons used in the operation against Bugti were in fact supplied by the US to Pakistan for boosting its anti-terrorism operations against Taliban and Al Qaida militants hiding in the Waziristan tribal agency. Bugti's killing clearly exposes the brutal face of the Pakistani army. However, the international community, including the US, did not condemn the incident. Even the international media did not pay much attention to Bugti's killing; the 27 August 2006 edition of US daily The New York Times carried only a 91-word news item on the incident.

Pakistan has repeatedly hurled accusations about human rights violations against neighbouring India. At all international and regional forums, Pakistan has accused the Indian security forces of committing human rights abuses in Kashmir. On several occasions, several international organisations have given statements that were clearly influenced by Pakistani allegations. However, what is not recognised is the fact that Indian forces have never resorted to aerial bombing or massive military operations against militants operating in Kashmir and other parts of the country. Compared to the Indian position, the Pakistani army has not hesitated to use brute military force against its own people.

The assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti establishes the fact that the Pakistani army continues to commit grave human rights violations against its own people whether it is in Balochistan, Northern Areas or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Dialogue as a means of resolving genuine grievances has no place in the Army's vocabulary. However, Bugti's killing has, in fact, served as a message to Baloch rebel factions that they have to unite in order to fight for their rights. It remains to be seen whether General Musharraf adopts a democratic approach for redressing longstanding Baloch grievances. If he fails to do so, Pakistan could suffer another dismemberment similar to the one that took place in 1971. Rather than establishing the writ of the government as claimed by Musharraf, Bugti's killing has, in fact, opened up what could eventually end up as another bloody chapter in Pakistan's turbulent history.