February issue 2009
Return to Violence
A unilateral ceasefire, called by armed resistance groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), after the resignation of Pervez Musharraf last August, was withdrawn in January. The withdrawal came on the heels of clashes in Dera Bugti which killed 30 people, including 10 security personnel. The clashes were believed to be triggered by the recent visit of Nawabzada Talal Akbar Bugti, the son of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, to meet government higher-ups, in Islamabad and Lahore. The clashes ended a period of relative normalcy in Balochistan.
Prior to his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, Talal Bugti had condemned the activities of Baloch nationalists, branding their activities as acts of terrorism. His reference was to the continuous rocket attacks in Goth Shah Zain Bugti in the Naseerabad area which, according to hardliner Baloch nationalists, were a necessary part of the resistance movement for securing the usurped rights of the Baloch people.
Already unpopular in his home province after his remarks, Talal Bugti’s meeting with President Zardari, former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Amir Jamat-e-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed didn’t go down too well with nationalist elements, who do not look upon the PPP-led government favourably. “Instead of taking action against General Pervez Musharraf and his other colleagues who are responsible for killing the Baloch, they have given them the red carpet treatment,” Sardar Akhtar Mengal said about the government in a recent interview. He further added, “How can we hold talks with such rulers?”
According to the militant organisations, the ceasefire was conditional — if military operations or the exploitation of Baloch resources continued, they would call it off. And the BRA was the first to withdraw its announcement of the unilateral ceasefire, followed by the BLA. Occurrences of bomb blasts and targeted killings in different areas of Balochistan followed the withdrawal.
The resurgence of the armed activities of these organisations is seen by political observers as a reaction to Talal Bugti’s efforts in making the Gwadar Port operational, which is considered a breach of the understanding that Balochistan’s natural resources will not be exploited. His interactions with the government were also considered a factor in the resurgence of armed revolt.
Another view among the observers is that hawkish elements, belonging to the previous government, wanted to eliminate the influence of the families of Akbar Bugti and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri from Dera Bugti and Kohlu. Opponents of Akbar Bugti and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri then enjoyed the full support of the government. “A so-called jirga of Bugti elders was held under the supervision of the government, just a few days before the assassination of Nawab Bugti. The jirga then announced that they would no longer accept the supremacy of Nawab Bugti and his family,” said Kachkol Ali Advocate, former opposition leader of the Balochistan Assembly.
“Efforts to eliminate the influence of both families did not bear fruit. However, these elements still persisted,” says a source from the Balochistan government, who views the current rift between Baloch nationalists and Talal Bugti as a conspiracy by such elements to install a moderate successor to Akbar Bugti.
While, on the one hand, Talal Bugti’s reputation is going downhill, his nephew Brahamdagh Bugti, president of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), has gained immense popularity, particularly among the Baloch youth. Brahamdagh is not only supporting the armed resistance, but, according to some political observers in Balochistan, also has the BRA working under his command.
Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Brahamdagh Bugti, both supporters of the armed resistance, have clearly rejected any negotiations with the government. Yet other nationalist forces, who believe in a political struggle, too, have not expressed readiness for any talks with the government.
Political observers are of the view that until the government does not approach the real political circles of Balochistan for a peaceful resolution of outstanding issues, the unrest in the province would continue.
Some nationalist forces want control over the coast and resources of the province. Keeping in view their demands, the coalition partners in Balochistan are preparing proposals for more powers for the locals, which will be presented to the federal government for making amendments to the constitution.
Sources reveal that Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Muhammad Aslam Khan Raisani, is willing to meet Nawabzada Brahamdagh Bugti and other nationalist leaders, who hold the reins of command in Balochistan. But Raisani first wants the federal government to specify what powers it is willing to give to Balochistan. “I would be in a better position to talk to them once the federal government says it is ready to negotiate and begin talks,” said Raisani at a press conference.
And while the present government has made claims that the problems of Balochistan will be solved politically, not much has been done other than withdrawing the many cases registered against Baloch nationalist leaders.