September Issue 2006
Interview: Jamil Bugti
“When mobs in Karachi burn down public property, is military action taken against them?”
– Jamil Bugti
A: The person we hold most responsible for my father’s assassination is the dictator, Pervez Musharraf. Also guilty of course, are the government of Balochistan and the federal government.
Q: Do you acknowledge that your father, along with other Baloch sardars and the tribesmen under their sway were engaged in anti-state activities?
A: No, I don’t. If anyone is indulging in anti-state activities, it is the so-called leaders of Pakistan.
Q: What about the acts of sabotage we have witnessed recently in Balochistan — the blowing up of gas pipelines, government installations, etc.?
A: In Karachi if a student gets hit by a bus, the first reaction is to burn down the bus, start damaging whatever vehicles people can lay their hands on. Innocent people going about their business get hurt, sometimes seriously. Sometimes they even get killed. Shops are torched, petrol pumps are gutted. Do you take military action against the perpetrators of that violence? No.
In Balochistan, when you continue to deprive people of their rights and have done so since 1947, what way do they have of showing their anger? They see a gas pipeline bypassing their houses, gas which comes from their province and they are deprived of, going all the way to Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar… So how do they react? In the only way available to them. They can’t come to Karachi and start blowing up offices. But they will damage whatever they can find before them. That is just a normal reaction.
Q: Longstanding grievances apart, you cannot deny that there has been an escalation of violence against state institutions in Balochistan of late. There have also been renewed whisperings about a ‘foreign hand.’ Conspiracy theories aside, do you concede that the nationalist movement has taken on a greater momentum?
A: Every time people in Balochistan start agitating for their rights you hear rumours about a ‘foreign hand,’ interference by India, Afghanistan, Iran. You are receiving foreign aid from America. For what? To fight the Taliban. Just because you are a state that is receiving money for doing somebody else’s dirty job, you think everybody is indulging in the same dirty activities.
Actually, there comes a point when people can’t take it any more. There has been dialogue, there have been promises, but they have just been delaying tactics [by the government]. The people have not been given their rights, they have been deprived of the wealth of their own province. It has come to the stage today when people are completely fed up. And they think the only language the government will listen to is force. So that’s what they have been compelled to resort to.
Q: Granted, successive governments have done little for Balochistan. The point is, the sardars of the province seem to have done as little, if not less for their people. Take the abysmal literacy levels, health care system and poverty in the province. And this while the leaders and their progeny clearly live off the spoils of the land. This situation is compounded by alleged human rights abuses by the tribal chiefs. Stories of the sardars’ private jails have always been rife…
A: Well, when the dictators talk about the sardars who have not done anything for their people, they always talk about three sardars: Marri, Mengal and Bugti. I would like to ask just one question, what about those sardars, actually the majority of them in Balochistan who have always been with whomsoever has been in power in Islamabad? I would like to be told what educational institutions, hospitals or clinics they have opened in their areas. Let’s take the example of Jam Saab of Lasbela [the current Chief Minister of Balochistan] and see what universities or colleges he has started, and what high level of education he is providing to his people.
Q: Two wrongs do not make a right. If this or other governments must take responsibility for depriving the people of Balochistan of their rights, surely the sardars must share part of the blame…
A: We have built schools in Dera Bugti. We have dispensaries, but there is no one to run them. Leave aside the tribal areas for a moment and take the city of Karachi. Do you think there is no illiteracy here? Are there enough health units to serve the people?
Q: You say there are schools and dispensaries in Dera Bugti, but no one to run them. Isn’t that telling — perhaps if you had educated the tribespeople, they could have run these facilities…
A: Well, there are no [decent] schools in Quetta. I’d like to see if you would send your children to the schools that do exist in the city — and Quetta is not run by sardars. It’s very easy to say the sardars do not foster education. The question is, who does? Pakistan today is, I believe, the only country in the world where the literacy rate is going down. So why blame the sardars and the sardari system. What about the rest of the country — is there any education there? And as for private jails and the alleged tyranny of the Bugtis or Marris — what of the human rights violations by those sardars in General Musharraf’s “pocket,” to quote him? What about the jails in their areas? Why doesn’t the army impose the writ of the government there? The writ of the government does not exist in Pakistan. When you have no law, what writ are you talking about?
Q: What do you believe the future of the sardari system will be?
A: It will fade away, maybe die, but it will die a natural death. Nobody can say “I’m going to finish the sardari system by the year 2007.” Like it has been claimed [by the President] that by 2007 everyone in Pakistan will have clean drinking water. I challenge him… May God give him a long life so he can remain dictator of this country till 2017 — and even then, not even half of the people of this country will have clean drinking water.
Q: How significant was the ‘jirga’ that was held comprising what were ostensibly Bugti and other sardars a few days prior to your father’s death, in which they reportedly claimed the sardari system was over?
A: That was just a drama. Bhutto did the same thing when he was in power. Look at the complexion of the people cobbled together in the jirga. It’s interesting… the jirga was addressed by different individuals and according to press reports, present were the chief of the Kalpars, the chief of Missori Bugti, the chief of Rahijo Bugti. Who are they? They [the government] brought forth people who are part and parcel of the sardari and tribal system — the waderas. It was actually very funny to watch all those guys standing up and saying “We’re going to abolish the sardari system.” The fact is, when there is no sardar, there is no wadera. Furthermore, one of the guys present who has been projected as the chief of the Kalpars, is a proclaimed absconder [from the law]. His own grandfather, Khan Mohammed, a wadera of the Kalpars, has accused his grandson of murdering his uncle — ie Khan Muhammed’s son. In fact he has lodged an FIR against his grandson. Yet he was brought to this jirga under the protection of the Pakistan army. They brought him and lodged him in Sui. So all this is nonsense. It’s been going on for 60 years.
Q: How do you see the situation playing out in Balochistan post the recent developments?
A: I’m not a politician and I don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into and predict the future, but given what is transpiring, I don’t see any future for this country, and I don’t see any future for Balochistan or the Baloch people in this country.
Q: Are you aware of the report in the US Armed Forces Journal about allegations that Washington is planning to redraft boundaries to create a “new Middle East.” There is a reference in the report to a ‘Free Balochistan.’ What are your views on it?
A: I’ve glanced at it but haven’t really examined it yet. Presumably it’s the handiwork of some American general, and you know how generals are; they sit and think about how they will divide the world. I think it’s too far fetched — maybe borders will be redrawn a 100 years on.
Q: How do you see the future of the Bugti tribe after the death of your father, who has been so dominant a presence for so long?
A: The Bugti tribe will survive, even if there will never be another Akbar Khan. Not only in the Bugti tribe, but in all of Balochistan, another Akbar Khan will never be born.
Q: What about succession — who takes over as sardar of the tribe following your father’s demise?
A: That is for the tribe to decide. We still don’t know for sure what the exact picture is, but right now my father is sardar. Later, the system that is in place will take over. At one time my father had told the tribe he was tired and didn’t want to continue as sardar and asked the tribe to elect a new sardar. That is the way it is done. You cannot impose a sardar from Islamabad. But while this was still in process all the trouble broke out. The first time they tried to murder my father was in March 2005. Since then so much has happened that everything was put on the back burner. In any case, right now no one is talking about the succession.
Q: Had you remained in touch with your father throughout his period in hiding? What were his spirits like?
A: Yes, throughout. I last spoke to him two days prior to his death. He had not been well for a long time, but he never complained about pain, about the heat. It couldn’t have been easy to be living in the mountains at the age of 80 in his condition — he could barely walk — but his foremost concern was for my health. I have not been well and that’s what he kept enquiring after.
Q: Did he believe he would achieve anything concrete by continuing the battle?
A: He would keep saying “We just want our rights. I’m not asking for any privileges for myself.” If he wanted those, he would [have allied] with Ayub Khan. Instead, he struggled all those years. Some people said, “Oh, he became chief minister, what did he do?” What is a chief minister? Everything is controlled from Islamabad. What is the status of Jam Saab of Lasbela? As chief minister of Balochistan he has the status of a clerk, a munshi. He runs to Islamabad every month to get the salaries for his employees in the secretariat. So he’s given a cheque for the month’s salaries and sent home. The next month he’s back, palms outstretched again.
The government talks about billions being spent on projects in Balochistan. What projects? Putting up cantonments in Sui or Kohlu? They may be spending billions on those, but are they projects that will help develop Balochistan? As for the coastal highway — who is going to ply that highway? The Baloch, on their camels or donkeys? What good will the highway do them? It is for the exploiting classes of Pakistan. Struggle is the only way.
Q: Did you father have any premonition about what would happen to him?
A: Yes, he did. He expected this to happen to him. After the 17th of March last year when they attacked our house in Dera Bugti — I was right next to him and we got a direct hit; 62 people were killed that day — he knew it was only a question of time before they got to him. He knew they [the army] are gung ho and nobody can say anything to them. Besides Musharraf had said, “I’ll sort him out.” So with that kind of attitude, what happened to my father was almost inevitable.
Q: Do you believe Balochistan should remain part of the federation of Pakistan?
A: This is one question I always asked my father. Actually I asked why he voted for Pakistan in 1947. He said he didn’t have a choice. He was given only two choices by the British: join India or join Pakistan. He didn’t even have the option to join the Baloch State of Kalat which was an independent state at that time. And today hundreds of thousands of young boys ask their elders the same question. There is a huge amount of alienation and hatred for even the name of Pakistan among every ‘ghairatmand’ (honourable) Baloch. Whether he can do anything about it or not is not the point. I’m sure today the majority of people of Balochistan, if given a choice and providing they did not have the fear of having their homes bombed or their livestock and camels confiscated, would opt for an independent Balochistan.
Q: How organised and effective an outfit is the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA)?
A:I don’t know. I’m sure it exists, but I’m not sure in what form. The thing is, all those people who are resisting army occupation are either branded BLA or terrorists. I believe they are freedom fighters.
Q: Do you see the triumvirate of Bugti, Marri and Mengal lasting in the wake of your father’s death? There have, of course, been well known differences in the past…
A: Now there are many more who have joined them. Several small nationalist parties have also come together with them. Now more than ever before there is a realisation that they all have to put their heads together and fight for their rights. The fact that earlier they were so divided has been exploited very cleverly by the federal government and by successive dictators at the helm.