Friday, September 29, 2006

Pakistan's Greatest Rebel Leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, is Killed

"Instead of a slow death in bed, I'd rather death come to me while I'm fighting for a purpose." Nawab Bugti in 2006

In the Saturday night of August 26, 2006, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in a military operation in the region around Kohlu near Dera Bugti in the gas-rich Pakistani province of Baluchistan. He was 79.

Islamabad Hurts Itself

Pakistani establishment is once again on a suicidal mission.

After being informed that Nawab Bugti has been killed and his body is lying buried under the rubble of a stone cave, General Pervez Musharraf, in a shocking show of insenstivity and complete lack of tact, gleefully congratulated the secret service chief who carried out this operation, knowing fully well that he was a much-loved leader for a considerable section of Pakistan's population.

This unfortunate episode is not an occasion for cheer. It is a time for concern and mourning in Pakistan. It is a moment for introspection on how things came to such a pass that a popular leader had to be killed by the country's armed forces.

Nawab Bugti was one of Pakistan's most charismatic politicians; one of the most genuinely loved leaders of his people; one of the most awe-inspiring warlords; and now he has reserved his place as one of the legends of this Islamic nation, a land that is still steeped in the ancient codes of blood-killings, tribal honor and unshakable loyalties.

The Roots, The Legend, The Life and The Resentments

It is important to note while evaluating his legacy that the life of Nawab Bugti must be seen in the context of his setting - the place where he comes from has values and principles completely different, sometimes at odds, with those of the West. He could mean different things to different people: an opportunistic politician of nuisance value to many middle-class Pakistanis; a traitor to the generals in the Islamabad cantonment; and a terrorist-like figure to CNN-watching Americans.

To his people, though, he was a hero.

Fondly known as the Tiger of Baluchistan, Nawab Bugti was educated at Oxford in England.

He was the head of the Bugtis, a warrior tribe that looks upon Islamabad with distrust and has always resented what it perceives to be the heavy-handedness of the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populated, powerful and richest province.

A popular Baluchi leader, Nawab Bugti went on to serve as the Governor and Chief Minister of this desert province.

He was also one of the greatest and most violent warlords in Pakistan's history. The legend says that he killed his first victim at a young age of twelve. In 1992, he is said to have killed more than hundred members of an enemy tribe for the revenge of his son’s assassination in the city of Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital.

Like many other non-Punjabi citizens of Pakistan, he believed rightly or wrongly, that the National Government as well as Pakistan's army have always exploited the resources of other provinces to fill the coffers of Punjab. There is a widely accepted assumption that the wealth produced from Baluchistan’s natural resources, such as its vast gas reserves, has never been used to invest in the development of the province. It is this grievance which Islamabad has consistently failed to address and the consequence of which could be disastrous.

The Beginning of the End

This last chapter of Nawab Bugti's life started in the early spring bloom of 2005. Provoked by the rape of a Baluchi woman doctor by a Pakistani army officer in a remote natural gas plant, he started a violent insurrection against the authority of the army-dominated Pakistani government.

He launched successful raids against elements of the infrastructure and military installations. Early this year, an attack on a gas pipeline caused widespread outrage throughout the country with people being forced to cook on wood fires from Rawalpindi in the north to Karachi in the south.

The Gwadar Controversey

There was already simmering unrest over the construction of a seaport in Gwadar – originally a fishing village on the Arabian Sea in Baluchistan.

Gawdor Port is the Pakistani government’s dream project of recreating a mix of Dubai and Las Vegas by constructing a warm-water gateway to the coveted gas and oil destinations of Central Asia. But Baluchis see this Chinese-assisted grand undertaking as yet another strategy from Islamabad to deny the province its deserved share of development. They also look with suspicion on the settlement of more and more non-Baluchis in the port area.

This molotov mix of Gwadar mistrust and rape crime were the primary reasons for the bursting of a pressure-cooker of Baluchi sentiments that were simmering in rage and resentment, and this outrage consequently led to the resultant erruption of an uninhibited conflict between the Pakistani state and its most annoying rebel leader.

Unfaithful to His Nation; Unremarkable to His Province

Nawab Bugti had a complicated profile as a rebel. He was not always an insurgent. In spite of being involved in failed insurgencies in the years between the 1950s and the 1970s, he had also served as the Chief Minsiter and Governor of Baluchistan for various short tenures. But his reigns were disappointing and dull. Inspite his complaints against Islamabad for ignoring Baluchistan's development, he himself failed to perform when he had the opportunities to do so.

A Book Lover, Too

While being a full-time war-lord, Nawab Bugti, surprisingly, was also an avid reader. He was known for his great library built in his fragile clay castle that was lined with hundreds of books on philosophy, western and oriental religions and the European classics. Sadly the castle, and the library with it, was destroyed by army cannon fire early this year.

Tomorrow is Darkness

What will happen to Pakistan, now?

The manner of Nawab Bugti’s death, the present turmoil in his restless province, and the disconcertingly celebratory attitude of the Pakistani establishment will only assist in romanticizing the legend of this complicated tribal leader. Nawab Bugti’s life, and his death, are likely to inspire others to follow his violent path.

Pakistan stumbles into yet another dark quarter.

No comments: