February Issue 2003
Interview: Sherbaz Mazari
“If Bugti is victimised, he will become a hero for the whole of Balochistan”
– Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazari
Q: What is the root cause of the tussle between the Bugtis and Mazaris?
A: The crisis started a couple of years ago. A Turkish company was constructing a road from Kashmore up to Dera Ghazi Khan, and bajri for construction was being taken from an area both the Bugtis and Mazaris claimed as their own. This is where the tussle began.
Another bone of contention is the Arab Shaikhs who come every year to hunt the houbara bustard. In certain areas they visit, the Mazari Sardars feel that it is their territory, while the Bugti Sardars feel that it is theirs. This adds to the bad blood. The demarcation of our boundaries was done during the British period and it is not fair to blame each other.
Another serious problem is that Hindus are being picked up from Kashmore for ransom. Kashmore is a part of Sindh, but our tribe spreads into this area and the Ubaro side in Sindh. So it is a moral duty for us to look after the interests of the minorities. The Mazaris hold the Bugtis responsible for the kidnapping of Hindus in Kashmore, although Nawab Bugti insists that outlaws have carried out these acts.
There are outlaws operating in the Mazari and Bugti areas. When they kidnap or even commit rape or take away cattle or shoot people to death, they say the Bugtis have done it or the Mazaris have done it. A lot of misunderstanding has been created on both sides.
A local wadera, Ghulam Hussain, who belongs to the Esani tribes of the Mazaris, was recently killed by an exploding landmine. The tribe held the Bugtis responsible for his death, so they went and hit back. In this way the situation went from bad to worse.
My information on recent developments is that the Mazaris cut the water pipeline to the Bugti area and the Bugtis may have retaliated after that. These are speculations, mind you, but I am sure the Mazaris were not responsible for the gas pipeline blast.
Q: Is it possible for a tribesman to commit a crime without the backing or support of the Sardar?
A: A man from one tribe who becomes an outlaw may seek asylum in another tribe, and act as if he is one of them, and thus the tribe may be blamed for his actions, even if he is not acting with the permission of the Sardar.
Q: Who do you think is calling the shots at the moment? Do you hold Akbar Bugti responsible for the present mess?
A: I don’t know whether these are Nawab Bugti’s orders or people are taking action on their own, since there are quite a few disgruntled elements floating around. Disgruntled elements amongst the Bugtis may be deliberately tarnishising Akbar Bugti’s image to provoke the government into taking action against him.
Q: If disgruntled elements within the Bugti tribe are responsible, how are the Mazaris involved?
A: There is a blood feud going on. The recent abductions from the Mazari areas have caused a lot of hatred and the Mazaris feel they have to retaliate in some way. They feel inadequate because the Bugtis are very well-armed. They have long range weapons, while our people have, at the most, Kalashnikovs or rocket launchers. There is a distance of twenty to fifty miles between the Bugti area and the Mazari areas. The shells of the Bugtis land in the Mazari areas, but the Mazaris cannot reach them.
The main problem for the Bugtis is that they feel they are not being given adequate compensation for gas found in the Bugti area. I have heard that they are paid just nine rupees per square yard.
Q: Don’t you think that the royalty should go to the country or to the province and not to an individual or tribe? What if tomorrow we say revenues from Karachi port should be given to the residents of Clifton, would that be a fair demand?
A: You must see that the situation in Karachi and the Bugti area or other tribal areas is different. For example, the tribal areas of the Frontier or FATA don’t even pay their WAPDA bills. Nawab Bugti has not said that the revenues should be given to him, though there are allegations on that account.
Q: Do you think the Sardars are really fighting for the betterment of their people or, for that matter, for schools, roads or hospitals?
A: I’m anti-Sardar myself, but I think they are being maligned to some extent. Akbar Khan Bugti is the kind of person who has some commitment to his tribe. What the Bugtis want is that the government should apportion a certain amount of this revenue and see that the money is spent properly on hospitals, colleges, on electricity or for the development of the area. Job opportunities are the most important thing and the local people should be accommodated. In the hills, there is always a drought, there is hunger and people do want jobs. They question why jobs in their area are given to someone from Punjab or elsewhere.
Q: Don’t you think the Sardars are running a state within a state? They have even kidnapped workers to extort money from their companies.
A: Those responsible for any kidnapping should be taken to task. They should be fined heavily [in order] to discourage them. And the chief should also show a sense of responsibility. In our culture, the Sardar is not a Wadera or Chaudhry or Khan that he can order people around. He is one amongst elected persons, so his main responsibility is to look after the interests of the people, whether they are Hindus or Muslims or anyone else.
Q: If a fact-finding committee holds a senior Bugti or Mazari tribal chief responsible for the gas pipeline sabotage, how difficult would it be to arrest them?
A: Sardar Bugti was arrested during Ayub Khan’s days and Bhutto arrested Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri, a very powerful tribal chief. If the government is determined to take action and if they have adequate proof, they can arrest anyone.
Q: So you think it is a simple matter to arrest Nawab Bugti.
A: It’s not that easy, I have to be quite honest with you. But there must be charges that can be proved. If Bugti is victimised, he will become a greater hero, not only in the Bugti area but for the whole of Balochistan.
When Ayub Khan arrested the Khan of Kalat in 1958, trying to find a pretext to impose Martial Law, and when he was kept in Lahore and other chiefs were also arrested, they became heroes and people took to the hills and fought for them. So let’s try and maintain a balance.
If the military government takes action against Bugti, which seems likely, they will make a hero out of him. He is an old man of 74 . I think he would not want anything better than to say, all right, better go to jail and die with honour.
If there is proof enough, that is a different case. Khair Bakhsh was charged with the murder of a chief justice of High Court and kept in prison. So don’t think they can get away with anything because they are Sardars.
Q: Do you think that the senior Bugti has made a fortune out of this royalty business?
A: This is what one hears but there is no proof. Those who live in the cities are very quick to criticise others, but the life of the Sardar is very simple and they do spend on their tribespeople. If you go there, you can see five to seven hundred people being fed every day.
Q: So you reckon feeding them a meal every day is enough to change their lot?
A: I think that can only be changed by providing access to education. Once they are educated, their horizons will widen and only then will change come.
Q: What do you think should be done to solve this problem?
A: They should send people to talk to them. I’m ready to do it, not for any personal gain. I’d do it because I feel for the people and I belong to them.
Q: Does the land the gas fields stand on belong to different people or to Sardar Bugti himself?
A: Gas was first discovered in 1952 by Michael Conton in the tribal area of Sui. Actually they were exploring for oil, instead they discovered gas. Afterwards, they started setting up their resthouses — and the lifestyle these company people enjoy, clubs and other things. It makes the contrast more stark and the people feel that they are exploiting our areas and getting all the oil and gas and we are not getting enough. That kind of feeling was worked up by certain individuals, saying, “Look, they are being unfair to us.”
Q: So is it actually state land or does it belong to individuals or the tribal chief himself?
A: Look, in tribal society the tribal chief owns the tribal area.
Q: Do they have any documents to prove the lands belong to them?
A: There is no such thing as papers or record, but it is theirs. The British government and now the Pakistan government accepted it as such. Had they not accepted it, it would have been different. The agreement was signed by the Pakistan Petroleum Company and the chief of the Bugti tribe. It may be some other company those days. It was first signed in 1952 and they are getting the amount they got in 1952.
Q: So the Sardar was supposed to get this money from the royalty?
A: Not all of it goes to his personal kitty. He is supposed to get all this money and he has certain commitments to put up colleges, schools and hospitals etc.
Q: Isn’t it unfair to give the royalty to a tribal head? They can get compensation for the land, but why royalty?
A: The sad thing is that it was done initially so the precedent has been created. I think now a change can come and I’m sure Nawab Bugti is broadminded and he can understand this. I have heard him say that the province of Balochistan has the right to this royalty, he didn’t say that it should be given to him.
Q: But don’t you think he has been collecting the money?
A: He may be getting some of that money.
Q: But isn’t it possible for the Sardars to ask their people to stop the sabotage?
A: I agree with you and they should.
Q: But I’m saying, can’t they do it?
A: Yes, they can.
Q: So you agree that the Sardars have a say and can always ask the people to hold their guns. If they are not doing it, don’t you think it is proof of their involvement in the crisis?
A: Sadly, my brother, Mir Balkh Sher, lives in Lahore. I wish he could come back. He has a son, Riaz, who looks after the affairs of the tribe. Nawab Bugti may think that he is a junior and why should I talk to him.
Q: How long do you think this deadlock will continue?
A: It depends on government policy. Six months ago, in June or July, there was a very tense situation in Dera Bugti. The army had surrounded the area, knowing Nawab Bugti’s nature, they did it. Bugti decided to fight back and said, so what, come and kill me, and I’ll take a few with me. The government’s intention was actually to deal with it firmly, but they only provoked him more and that is why he prepared the people.
Let me tell you one thing, the people are very loyal to him. Not loyal to him as a person, but they feel that if something happens to the Sardar, their honour is at stake. They feel that people would laugh at them if the military comes and takes him away.
Q: You mean that he is powerful enough to defy the state and the army?
A: Army, you know what the army is. Even the governors or the chief ministers don’t matter. It is only the Corps Commanders who matter. How can you defy them?
Q: With a Baloch prime minister, will the government take on the Baloch Sardars?
A: Does Zafarullah Jamali have authority to take action or not to take action against anyone? Please, sir. It is a one-man show by General Pervez Musharraf.