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August 15, 2008

Crossing the rubicon By Munizae Jahangir

(Courtesy: The Friday Times , Lahore and Malik Siraj Akbar writes)

Gazain Marri

Nawab Akbar Bugti

Noordin Mengal

The establishment has been forced to forget the sins of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif , but other politicians have not been so lucky. One such politician is Khair Baksh Marri's son, Gazain, who has been living in exile in Dubai for the last eight years. When I finally meet him in the lobby of a hotel, Gazain is a man in his late 40s, worn out and frail. He greets me nervously and gestures towards a corner table, where we sit. After the pleasantries, I ask him how life changed for him when President Musharraf took over in 1999.

"My wife and children have been shuttling back and forth from Pakistan . I have seen my children grow up as refugees," he said. Gazain was Home Minister of Balochistan in Benazir Bhutto 's second government, but was forced to go underground after President Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif's government in 1999. There were several charges leveled against him, one of them held him responsible for the Nishtar Park blast in April of 2006. "But I was in Abu Dhabi at that time, and that too under arrest by the Abu Dhabi security forces!" Marri told me. "My only crime is that I am fighting for the rights of the Baloch people ," he said. Gazain Marri was arrested in March 2006 by Interpol's state security when Pakistan asked for his extradition. "For 15 days they kept me in a dark room in solitary confinement. I was charged with killing 190 people, destroying two helicopters and firing 300 rockets.

"But now there is hope. Asif Zardari has also struggled for Baloch rights; he opposed Bhutto's military action in Balochistan. After all he is a Baloch," Marri told me. The Zardaris, although settled in Sindh for centuries, are originally a Baloch tribe. Recently Gazain Marri's name was removed from Interpol's wanted list and his passport was returned by the PPP government. According to Marri, Benazir Bhutto actively campaigned for his release with the UAE authorities. "When she was killed, I was as grieved as when my brother Balach was martyred." Balach was killed mysteriously last year, on the border between Balochistan and southern Afghanistan. The Marri's blamed the government of Pakistan ; the government claimed that he was a wanted terrorist who fell victim to an internecine feud. 

Balochistan has a long history of "martyrs" who died fighting for the Baloch cause. The trouble began as early as March 1948, when the then Khan of Kalat agreed to accede to Pakistan on the condition that Balochistan would enjoy autonomy from the federation. Under the British Raj, the princely state of Kalat enjoyed a unique position. The British were never able to completely conquer Balochistan and therefore ruled it through treatise with local sardars. They paid taxes to the Khan of Kalat, and the state had the right to have diplomatic relations with other countries. In fact Balochistan gained independence from the British six days before Pakistan, on August 8, 1947. Jinnah's promise of autonomy was never honoured and four insurrections followed in Balochistan against Pakistan. Several local sardars who had taken up arms were executed by the Pakistani state on charges of treason. Some were called down from the mountains on false pretences for negotiations and killed in front of their own children. 

The latest in the long list of Baloch martyrs is Nawab Akbar Bugti . The most famous scion of the Bugti tribe, Nawab Bugti was killed in a military operation in September 2006 and his body was hurriedly buried by the military. His family never saw the body and accused the government of shooting to death the ailing Nawab who was more than eighty years of age at the time of his death. 

A few months before his death, I interviewed Nawab Bugti. At the time, he had taken refuge in the mountains close to Dera Bugti , after his home was bombarded by the military. From the mountains the Nawab had waged a guerilla war against the Pakistan army . There were sporadic uprisings in Dera Bugti and Kohlu against Pakistan and parts of Balochistan had become no go areas for journalists. But we managed to get access to the area by tagging along a HRCP fact finding mission. The journey came with its dangers; on the way to Sui and Dera Bugti we were shot at by unidentified gunmen. Despite the warning, we carried on. When I reached Sui I realized why journalists were being kept away from the area. The locals accused the army of building cantonments only with the intention of exploiting their natural resources, without giving them their share. I was astounded to see that Sui town which provides Pakistan all its gas, had no piped gas connection. In fact most of Balochistan is without gas, clean drinking water and electricity. "Hamare liyeh 'sardari nizam' theek hai, Pakistan neh hum ko ab tak piped gas nahin diyah, aur kya deh gah?" a young man had angrily said, when I asked him why he preferred the traditional tribal system over the Pakistani state. At Dera Bugti women showed me pictures of bombings by the military, in which at least 33 civilians, including women and children were killed. 

We visited the Nawab's famous fort where Bugti tribesmen stood eye ball to eye ball with security forces. His grandson, Tabish Bugti greeted us. Like most Baloch he was tall and well built, but he seemed like a troubled man. "How are you going to fight an organized army?" I had asked. I thought I would now hear another tirade of how gallant the Baloch had been. Surprisingly he sighed and said, "We can't, I know we can't. But they have left us no choice. They are bombarding us. Either we fight back or die." After Nawab Bugti was killed, Tabish's mother convinced him to leave Pakistan and made him promise never to return. She says she would rather never see her son, than to have him killed, in the manner her father, Nawab Bugti was. 

The journey to meet Nawab Bugti was another dangerous adventure. Tabish had bundled us into a camouflaged jeep and taken us at high speed over rugged mountains, to meet the Nawab. After driving for over half an hour, we reached a small mud hut, surrounded by heavily armed tribesmen. In that shack was a frail, 80 year old Nawab Bugti, who walked with the help of a zimmer frame. It had made me laugh at the time to think that he was the most wanted man by the Pakistan army, and that thousands of troops were deployed to hunt him down. Nawab Bugti had stood up to greet us. Within minutes of our conversation, it was clear that his spirit had not been broken. "They have imposed this war on us. The General himself visited Kohlu and they dropped some grenades there. He considered this a personal affront and stated that he would take revenge. So now, he is taking revenge. There was an attack on the General in Islamabad twice, but he did not attack or drop bombs on Islamabad. But here, they are giving collective punishment to the Baloch people. That is the fundamental difference between the rest of Pakistan and us. They are taking revenge from all Baloch and particularly Marri and Bugti," said Nawab Bugti. He was surrounded by his grandsons who sat silently listening to him. Among them was Brahamdagh Bugti who kept a vigilant eye with his fellow fighters. Tall and handsome, he resembled Nawab Bugti. But unlike the Nawab, Brahamdagh had a quiet charisma. 

Has the government approached you for negotiations, I asked the Nawab. "No, they have not. They are negotiating through the barrels of their guns. They have given instructions that Nawabzada Balach Marri and I should be wiped out," he said. It was to be his last interview. A few months later, Nawab Bugti's words proved prophetic; he was killed in September of 2006. Balochistan was on fire as gangs of youth took to the streets burning government property. I flew down to Quetta to report on the violence. One angry fourteen year old, who was protesting against Bugti's killing asked me, "You are Punjabi. You tell me, if we killed your leader, what would you do to us?" 

Nawab Bugti was once considered a "traitor" by Baloch hardliners, for voting for the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and then going on to become Governor and Chief Minister of the province during the second Baloch insurgency in the 1970s on Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's watch. But in his death, Nawab Bugti cleansed himself and became another hero for Baloch nationalists. After his death, the insurgency was led by Balach Marri, until he was killed in November last year. Now Nawab Bugti's grandson, Brahamdagh Bugti is leading the insurgency. 

Back in Dubai I ask Gazain, "What will it take to stop this insurgency and violence?" Gazain tells me that the Baloch want "withdrawal of troops from Balochistan, recovery of all those picked up by the intelligence agencies. Dismissal of all cases filed against the Baloch and breathing space for the leadership to devise a future strategy". While this older generation of Baloch are willing to give peace a chance, younger people want nothing short of secession and independence, a la Bangladesh . Gazain Marri's nephew, Noordin Mengal is one such. He is the grandson of both Nawab Khair Buksh Marri and Sardar Ataullah Mengal . Like many Baloch youngsters, Noordin is wary of politicians, who he believes have failed the Baloch. Strikingly handsome, Noordin looks European and one would never guess from his bitter talk that he is only 21. Unlike most men his age, Noordin has no time for fun and spends most of his time working for what he calls "the Baloch cause". He has lived in London for many years and is a British citizen. When the APDM meeting was held in London last year, Noordin represented the BNP(M), because the leaders of the party in Pakistan were not allowed to travel abroad by the Musharraf government. Noordin's first exposure to Pakistani politics was disappointing. He complained of how the issue of Balochistan had been overshadowed at the APDM meeting, by the bickering between the PPP and PML(N). But now with a sympathetic government in power, Noordin says for the Baloch, life under democracy is no different. Balochistan has been put on the backburner again. Perhaps the Baloch have more breathing room than before, but for young Noordin, it is too little too late. In Balochistan many young Baloch who were aligned to nationalist parties have delinked themselves and come together under the leadership of the Baloch Student's Organization. After Nawab Bugti's killing a BSO leader told me in Quetta that they once believed in a political solution for Balochistan. But after the way Nawab Bugti was killed, they feel that Pakistan has pushed them into a corner and they have no choice but to resort to the gun. 

The younger generation of Baloch have crossed the rubicon and given up on a political solution. But the state should be wiser, given that it is on the brink of failure. Pakistan's leaders, political and military, have a choice. They can either adopt the Nelson Mandela formula of reconciliation, and that is reconciliation for all, not a select few, or they can continue to treat Balochistan like a colony. If the Pakistani state takes the latter course, it is only a matter of time before Balochistan goes the way of Bangladesh.

Munizae Jahangir is NDTV Correspondent in Pakistan. She is also the correspondent at Geo (English)TV