Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti: Dead or Dangerous?

Musharraf demonstrates his ability to get at those hiding in the remote Pakistan-Afghanistan border

The General had made no bones about it. The insurgency in Balochistan, he said last year, would be crushed. Under an effective media blackout and periodic denials by the civilians in government, Pakistani armed forces have been carrying out a massive military operation—involving special forces, tanks, artillery, helicopter gunships and fighter jets—against Baloch rebels. They drove Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti from his seat of power at Dera Bugti to the surrounding hills, and began resettling the rival factions of the Bugti tribe in areas that were previously under his control. Baloch rebel leaders and their kin were made targets of a campaign of intimidation. No holds were barred, and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti himself became a primary target for the security forces.

And on 24th August, a grand gathering, or “jirga” of Baloch tribal leaders gathered in Dera Bugti to announce the end of the “sardari system” that gave personalities like Nawab Akbar Bugti extra-constitutional political power (a phrase that is difficult to precisely define in Pakistan). They denounced Nawab Akbar Bugti, called for the confiscation of his lands and his hand-over to Pakistani army. As the Daily Times noted, it is a matter of irony that the Musharraf regime had to use the contrivance of a “tribal” tradition to announce the end of the “sardari” system. On the same day, it was reported that Pakistani troops mounted a new operation in the highlands around Kohlu in Balochistan.

Two days later, the Pakistani government announced that Nawab Akbar Bugti, his grandson Brahamdagh and the top rebel leadership had been killed ‘in a military raid’.

So this round goes to Musharraf. In Nawab Akbar Bugti, the Baloch rebels lost a charismatic leader, whose dogged resistance in the face of the might of the Pakistan army was no doubt a source of inspiration for the rebel movement. Since he outlived many of his sons and grandsons, the rebellion faces a leadership vacuum at the highest level, and if the Pakistani government’s statements are true, perhaps at operational levels too. But does this mean the end of the Baloch insurgency?

Possibly, but not necessarily. Given its strategic importance, Musharraf is not likely to release Islamabad’s stranglehold over the province. Though resentment may continue, the old Nawab’s exit makes it much easier for the Pakistani army to buy off, play off or bump off the feudal leaders as it has always done to keep the province under control. Sure, Baloch tribesmen will continue to take potshots at gas pipelines and harass communication links as they have always done. Pakistan will need to station more troops there, but by and large, it is not hard to see the end of the current war. The Acorn has previously argued that the Baloch rebellion has little chance of success—it can’t take on the unrestrained might of a military dictatorship without outside help. And especially when it is the military dictatorship that is receiving outside help.

But the big unknown is what effect Bugti’s assassination will have on ordinary Baloch people. If the rebellion becomes a mass movement, especially in towns and cities like Quetta, then the dead Nawab can cause far worse headaches for Musharraf than he ever did during his lifetime. With so little independent reporting coming out of Balochistan, it is hard to tell which way public opinion is headed.

So much for Balochistan. The Pakistani army just proved how good it is in chasing and eliminating ‘terrorists’ who seek refuge in the remote areas bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. The question the world should ask is, why then is it unable to do the same with that other terrorist that everyone is interested in.

8 thoughts on “Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti: Dead or Dangerous?”

  1. If the rebellion becomes a mass movement, especially in towns and cities like Quetta, then the dead Nawab can cause far worse headaches for Musharraf than he ever did during his lifetime.

    Early reports seem that just might be the case. The Daily Times calls it the biggest blunder since the execution of Bhutto. Time for our spooks to capitalize methinks.

  2. Libertarian,

    The Bhutto analogy is apt. Zia continued as president for several more years after that. The 1971 analogy would have been more ominous.

    Update: The Nation makes that analogy

  3. Already the Pakistani government is feeling the heat:

    “It was never our intention to harm him physically. What happened yesterday was something of not government’s own doing. The land mines which exploded caused this explosion to bring down the cave. But certainly it was not our intention to kill him,” said Pak Deputy Information Minister, Tariq Azim Khan.

  4. Unlikely to result in anything that could significantly change the Pakistani political landscape. Because:

    1. The tribal politics of the sardars — Bugti himself broke away and crippled the Baloch insurgency of the 60s and 70s in return for a few guns and appointments here and there. I don’t see how this can’t be repeated with the present lot of sardars.

    2. The Baloch are scattered in several provinces and in all actuality may not even form an outright majority in their purported base in Balochistan. The Pakistani government did its homework well and all those Afghan refugees (Pushtoons mostly) with Pakistani citizenship papers settled there. I don’t think they will be too keen to leave, so the base of operations will shrink even further for the Baloch.

    3. Can anyone REALLY REALLY stomach the prospects of a free and fair elections in Pakistan? Shall we say the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism?

  5. well people are concerned about the aftermath of this great tragedy for the nation…the death of nawab bighti will indeed be perilous for the country and the government in future but has anybody yet said a word about the 34 men that were martyred along with nawab.if nawab was a rogue n he should have been targeted.shouldnt presdent be held accountable for the gruesome murder of the other 34 men.who if they didnf fight for nawab would have been killed by nawab as the officials put it.had they any choice

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