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OP-ED: Burying the crisis once and for all

  • Published at 09:29 pm September 7th, 2020
Photo: Reuters

The Baloch population has become a minority in its own homeland

Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti or Nawab Bugti, a defiant Baloch nationalist, was murdered by the Pakistan Army on orders of Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf. Nawab Bugti, born in 1927, chieftain of the rebellious Bugti tribe, was the tallest Baloch leader who was the federal minister, governor, and chief minister of Balochistan.

Armed militants of the Marri and Bugti tribes, the fiercest tribes, waged armed struggles and politically challenged the forcible inclusion of the resource-rich province into Pakistan in March 1948.

Nawab Bugti was assassinated in a military raid ordered by General Musharraf. In a fierce battle with militants, Bugti’s fortified cave in Bhamboor hills fell after the helicopter gunship fired missiles into the cave, killing him and his brother, grandson, and others on August 26, 2006.

Musharraf was charged by an anti-terrorism court and then acquitted by a Pakistan court in Bugti’s assassination. His death sparked a countrywide anti-Pakistan protest by Baloch students and youths. Police had to quell ethnic riots in different cities and towns.

Balochistan is a region mostly populated by ethnic Balochs, as well as Pakhtuns or Pashtuns. It is the least populated region, and also the largest province of Pakistan. For decades, disgruntled Balochis have been protesting the forcible conversion of the Baloch population into a minority in their own homeland.

Since the death of Bugti, the restive Balochistan has experienced appalling human rights abuse. Anytime someone speaks up, protests, or writes on the rights abuses in Balochistan, the next day a dead body is dumped to warn of the consequences of challenging the state. Journalists who have published about Balochistan’s issues faced violent backlash from the state security apparatus.

The United Nations, International Court of Justice, and human rights organizations may not be able to fathom the plight of the families of the missing persons. Baloch mothers, sisters, widows, and their children are suffering from severe spiritual and mental distress.

Military regimes in Pakistan envisaged eradicating ethnic identities by changing provincial demographics and pursuing Islamization, or the substitution of a common Muslim identity for ethnic ones.

At the end of the 1970s, Balochistan became one of the two focal points of the dictator’s Islamization strategy (the other being the North-West Frontier Province, now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa).

The period between the end of the Bhutto regime and the military coup of Pervez Musharraf witnessed major developments in the Balochistan policy. Zia-ul-Haq used Islamization as a weapon against the insurgency in Balochistan, said Frederic Grare in his research publication Balochistan: The State Versus the Nation.

In 1970, when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was on a whirlwind tour for the election campaign in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta -- he was given a tumultuous welcome, said Zahirul Islam Khan Panna.

Z I Khan Panna, a leading human rights lawyer, was a law student at Karachi University and was hand-picked by Bangabandhu to be his fixer for the election campaign in Pakistan.

Panna met Nawab Bugti in Karachi in June 1970, and handed over an English copy of the Six-Point program, as desired by Sheikh Mujib. Bugti was indeed a great admirer of Mujib and told his Baloch nationalist leaders that the Six-Point was a Bible to resolve the longstanding deprivation and political neglect of Balochistan.

Sher Mohammad Bugti, spokesperson of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) spoke from Geneva, where he and BRP’s key leaders are living in exile. He lamented that the “Balochistan atrocity is worse than Bangladesh” in 1971, which was perpetrated by marauding Pakistan military.

Baloch nationalists are fighting two fronts, he said. One is Pakistan and the second is China. The Chinese Communist Party is singing the same tune as Pakistan on the Baloch issue on the mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Gwadar Port, which is located in Balochistan.

Bugti’s party senior leaders urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to support their cause and help bifurcate Balochistan from the deep state hawks of Pakistan -- like Indira Gandhi helped Bangladesh in 1971.

Brahamdagh Bugti, the grandson of the slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti is presently the president of BRP. He rejected the possibility of holding any negotiations with Pakistan authorities, suggesting an internationally supervised referendum in Balochistan to bury the crisis once and for all.

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad.

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