Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Akbar Bugti tragedy

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Umar Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank
The Akbar Bugti Tragedy

A satellite phone call was intercepted by the Americans and reported. In response a helicopter gunship took to air and fired a very accurate guided missile, again supplied by the Americans, towards a cave which collapsed killing an eighty years old man, popular with his people but rebellious towards the authorities. On the success of this mission the head of the state congratulated the forces for the successful killing of eighty years old and the state controlled media started demonizing him. Sounds like a plot of a high tech war movie or Israelis firing at the occupied Palestinians, something we never miss to criticize. But wait a minute, it was not Palestine but Pakistan and the Pakistan army carried out this operation against a Pakistani, Akbar Bugti, the chief of his tribe. The analogy ends here.

Akbar Bugti was one of the few living men of the Jirga that voted for Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan. He held most responsible positions at the federal and provincial levels. Was considered an establishment’s man by the more extremist elements as he was always ready to talk and deal. Even during the present crisis he nearly worked out a deal with the political wing of the government comprising of Chaudry Shujaat and Mushahid Hussain which could not succeed due to the lack of mandate and powers of the government representatives. Later when the situation worsened, he invited the countries senior most respected journalists to give their judgment on his behalf which he promised to accept but to no avail. The inevitable had to happen which he could not avoid.

He was a feudal and bragged about killing many people. He felt proud of committing his first murder at the age of twelve along with many other things the civilized world might consider unacceptable. But is he the only feudal in Pakistan or did he become a feudal just now or did we discover these vices lately. The deplorable habits feudalism imparts are found in nearly all the feudals to some extent and it is a known fact that many feudals are worse. You reap what you sow, and a feudal system can only produce feudals with all the vices associated with it. That is why the world has rejected the feudal and tribal system and embraced democracy. But let us face it he did not become a feudal lately and we did not abolish feudalism. He was perfectly acceptable as a feudal along with all the vices that come with it then why was he killed now?

There seem to be two major reasons for his elimination. First, he had lately started asking for more rights for Balochistan. While I was in Iran in 1989 I was told that the revolutionary government was spending heavily in Balochistan and a few other backward provinces because Imam Khomeini had declared that the state had been dishonest with these provinces. He actually used the word “Khiyanat”. To compensate for this “Khiyanat” public education and health facilities were taken to the far off places at huge expense and infrastructure was being developed at great speed. All this was being done despite Iran being in a terrible 10 years war. Upon entering Pakistan and traveling from Taftan to Quetta I was sorry to see the state of Pakistani Balochistan wondering if Iranis had committed “Khiyanat” then what are we doing to our Balochistan? It was not living in the twentieth century by any means. So it seems asking for rights became an unpardonable offence. The second reason was that our President had accurate lethal weapons at his disposal which according to him “they would not know what hit them”. Fancy toys in the hands of military tend to get used on one pretext or others. The President fulfilled his promise of hitting him along with his second promise that the matter will be dealt by force and not negotiations.

Propensity to use force in the presence of other options has caused us many problems. We used it in East Pakistan and spoiled our history along with the Muslim military history. Then we used it in Balochistan, Sind and NWFP on different occasions. It was only in Punjab that the attempt to use force was resisted by the state institutions despite clear orders from above. Within the nation this policy apparently worked temporarily which encouraged us to use it internationally. This got us in trouble with all our neighbors and the only super power resulting in a real threat of taking us to the cave age in 2001. Only our absolute U turn leaving our allies helpless including many Pakistanis saved us from the dire consequences this policy could fetch. Many people might label this policy blatant with some reason. We still do not seem to be learning from these disastrous experiences and follow it whenever possible. Akbar Bugti is the latest casualty of this policy and more may be on the way.

Where will this unfortunate incidence take us is open to discussion and envisaging. The simple thought that the Balochistan problem basically is a problem of few individuals is naiveté and too simplistic, so his elimination would not solve any mess rather magnify it. Akbar Bugti has become a martyr and the disgruntled element of Balochistan might rally around his followers and resist the forces resulting in use of more force. They might be labeled terrorists or Indian agents and demonized justifying even more force. This cycle of violence would be too attractive for the foreign forces with whom Bugti was alleged to be associated. They would certainly try to get their share by encouraging violence. Once this cycle of violence starts (God forbid) then it will not be in anyone’s control and might take its own course. By using violence against our own people we might be helping our enemies making their jobs easier.

Using force against genuine grievances of people has been tried by arguably the world’s best fighting machine; Israeli army, for decades but all its victories have been temporary generating worse opposition and violence. This is despite the fact that IDF possesses top weaponry and intelligence along with very effective diplomatic machinery. They could not get the required compliance in Gaza or the West Bank. Their latest adventure in Lebanon has forced them to modify their strategy and even their hawks have started talking about a negotiated settlement. Americans could not achieve much using this strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Russian experience was nearly the same. Unnecessary use of force is not only immoral but also bad strategy. It might win battles but never the war, especially when used against own people. It is about time we reconsider our ways of doing things and control the damage we have already caused.

To start with we must renounce use of force against Pakistanis. The government’s posture of a benevolent big brother can go along way in healing wounds. This might require amnesty for all. Grievances must be corrected and steps taken to ensure that such difficult and painful situations do not arise, Pakistan is not repeatedly caught in dangerous situations. The rights given to the provinces in the 73 constitution which were delayed for 10 years must be given immediately. Socio-economically Balochistan should be brought at par with the rest of the country. Presently Balochistan is a sort of Wild West for the unscrupulous bureaucrats who waste most of its allocated meager resources. This must stop as it is the responsibility of the federation to ensure the parity of the federating units. All this should not be done as a favor but as a right and a truly representative provincial government might be in the best position to do it. Any thought of manipulating or controlling the next elections must be discarded as Pakistan would not be able to afford any other such misadventure. And then we must not forget what the only super power might be contemplating when it gave us the intelligence, helicopters and the accurate missiles. A look at the map proposed by one of American think tanks explains much. After all the myth of independence of American media and think tanks has been adequately exposed and it might be the first feeler and more might be coming. An independent Balochistan might be on someone’s agenda and we might have taken the bait and served their purpose by killing Bugti. The situation might be bad but not hopeless, but we have to change our strategies and way of thinking. If God forbid we are not able to do the required, we will have to find many scapegoats to blame for our mistakes. Unfortunately our history shows that we are bad at learning but better at finding scapegoats. We hope and prey this time we would be different.

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