Feburary issue 2006

By | News & Politics | Published 18 years ago

The town of Dera Bugti, deserted by almost its entire population, has turned into a war zone as Bugti tribesmen and paramilitary forces perched atop the mountains and buildings, trade rockets, shells and gunfire. The town has been divided between the two sides as if by a border.

Both sides had been observing a complete ceasefire since an armistice in April, brokered by PML leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed. Under the armistice, they vacated their positions from roadside bunkers and mountain tops and allowed the Dera Bugti-Sui road, which had remained closed for 20 days, to open.

After initiating the military operation in neighbouring Kohlu district in the wake of a rocket attack on President General Pervez Musharraf in December, the paramilitary forces re-occupied their positions and took up all strategic positions on the main Dera Bugti-Sui road.

The conflict formally broke out between the two sides after the forces initiated firing on the position of Bugti tribesmen on December 30, followed by clashes, shelling, gunfire and landmine explosions that claimed over 50 lives and injured nearly a hundred.

The Jamhoori Watan Party put the figures at 72 tribesmen killed and 228 injured in a month of bombings and rocket-fire. It also claimed that while two or three fighters may have been killed, the rest were innocent civilians, mostly women and children.

Paramilitary forces say that they have lost five of their personnel while around 12 were injured, but allege that the figures quoted by the opposite side are exaggerated.

“The Frontier Corps hide casualties on their side as they fear this will demoralise their men,” said Agha Shahid Bugti, a spokesman for the Bugti tribe.

balochistan-2-feb06Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti survived the bombing and shelling carried out by paramilitary forces on his residence and moved to the mountains, leaving dozens of his armed tribesmen behind to protect his stronghold. He also directed his tribesmen to spread out in the area and engage in guerrilla warfare with the paramilitary forces.

Water pipes, power supply and telephone lines were badly damaged in the town of Dera Bugti during the intense shelling from both sides, and a dozen shops were reduced to ashes after catching fire due to shelling. Over 90 per cent of the population (25,000) of the town, including an estimated 300 Hindu families, had to migrate to rural areas or neighbouring Sindh and adjoining districts. The people living in the outskirts of the town are also migrating in fear of severe clashes.

Over a dozen Frontier Corps personnel and six civilians were killed while around 20 others were seriously injured in landmine accidents. The government blamed Bugti tribesmen loyal to Nawab Akbar Bugti for land-mining the area while the latter accused the paramilitary forces of doing the same in order to secure the area from the armed tribesmen.

Acts of sabotage aimed at disrupting daily life in Balochistan also increased across the province. These include bomb blasts close to public properties, rocket attacks on paramilitary forces, landmine explosions and blowing up gas, power and water supply lines, rail tracks and road bridges. The Baloch Liberation Army, hitherto an underground organisation, claims responsibility for these actions, to protest against military operations.

Three artillery men of the Pakistan army were killed and four others injured when Marri tribesmen fired a rocket at forces in the Marwar coal-mine area. The paramilitary forces, along with regular troops, conducted an operation to drive away hundreds of armed Marri tribesmen in the Marwar and Margut coal-mine area, some 60 kilometres south of Quetta. These tribesmen were encamped in the area and had begun extorting money from the coal miners last year to raise funds for Baloch resistance groups.

balochistan-3-feb06Jets and gunship helicopters continued to bomb Kohlu regularly for three weeks, but the raids later tapered down to once a week. Paramilitary forces officials declare that nine of the Farrari (rebel) camps have been destroyed in the Marri-Kohlu area while the military forces are engaged in attempting to wipe out the rest.

While Marri and Bugti tribesmen deny the existence of training camps in their areas the government claims that there are 29 such camps, and two were destroyed by the military.

After the military action, the government also started executing its long-awaited plan to explore oil and gas reserves in Kohlu and Dera Bugti. The construction work for a military cantonment at Sui has started and is in full swing, while the process of construction of a similar military establishment has been initiated in the Kohlu-Marri area. The government has already announced the construction of three military cantonments in the natural resource-rich regions of Kohlu, Sui (Dera Bugti) and Gwader.

Paramilitary forces are accused of the cold-blooded murder of 12 innocent Bugti tribesmen in Pathar Nulla of Pir Koh area as revenge for the deaths of three of their personnel killed in a landmine explosion on Eid Day. After the landmine incident, the paramilitary forces rounded up twelve tribesmen from the nearby villages, tied their hands and blindfolded them. Later, they were all lined up before a firing-squad and gunned down. Paramilitary forces claim that these tribesmen were killed in an armed clash, but fail to provide any proof that such a clash ever took place.

“It is not possible for 12 people of one side to be killed in a shootout while not even a single person is injured on the other side. It is purely a custodial murder by Frontier Corps personnel and world human rights bodies should take notice of this atrocity,” said Agha Shahid Bugti in a press conference.

An HRCP delegation, headed by Chairperson Asma Jahangir, visited Kohlu and Dera Bugti and found gross human rights violations. In its report, HRCP declared that a military operation is indeed being conducted and it has resulted in civilian casualties. It also appealed to both Baloch tribesmen and the government to declare a ceasefire immediately and initiate a process of dialogue leading to a political settlement.

In a provocative move, the army occupied Bugti House at Sui, claiming that it was PPL property. The Bugti clan, on the other hand, claim that they have all the relevant documents. They allege that the government took action only because the HRCP delegation stayed at Bugti House.

“PPL only owns the land within the fenced area where its installations are situated. Besides that, not a single inch belongs to it in all of Dera Bugti district. The Army has already occupied the whole country and can take over Bugti houses in Quetta, Karachi and others parts of the province without any hindrance,” Agha Shahid Bugti said.

The nationalist elements and the three Sardars — Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Khair Buksh Marri and Attaullah Mengal — whom General Pervez Musharraf terms miscreants, are also firm in their faith that the armed struggle will gain momentum with the passage of the time. They are hopeful that the struggle for rights and control over their resources will gather popularity and the government will capitulate.

“The struggle of the Baloch population is gaining momentum and this is evident from the bomb blasts and rocket attacks in other parts of the province like Makran, Kalat, Khuzdar, Hub, Naushki, Kharan, Bolan, Barkahn,” said Nawab Akbar Bugti.

There is serious concern among the people of Balochistan, many of whom sympathise with Baloch nationalists, over the prevailing situation. If the military action is prolonged much further, there are chances that the armed resistance will gain popular support.