Anatomy of a Blunder
By Nasim Zehra

The distressing events following the Pakistani political leader Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death on August 26 have created an environment of acute distrust between the government and the rest of Pakistan. Quite apart from anyone’s own political leanings and views about the controversial political leader Nawab Bugti, it is continuous unfolding of dreadful, almost surreal, developments that are the talk of the county.
His death in normal circumstances would have been noticed by Pakistanis as the passing away of a Baluch leader, a charismatic, well-read, self-respecting and also occasionally brutal man. An old guard of the Pakistani feudal class, who supported the Quaid as a young man, Bugti would have been recalled as the Baluch leader with the routine feudal paradox that haunts much of rural Pakistani politics. While the voice for Baluch rights, Bugti conceded perhaps only minimal rights to those he ruled with an iron hand, a militia and a jail. But now it’s a different story.
His killing and what followed subsequently, he could be the martyr in the multiple narratives of Pakistan - the narrative of the State versus the politicians, of the people versus the State, of the Baluch fighting the domination of the Punjab. Narratives, the modern folklore, make potent political tools. Not always factually accurate, they combine the power of emotive story telling packed with passion and conviction, traveling through cyberspace, faster than the speed of sound. In the way Nawab Bugti died, Islamabad lost its voice in all the narratives,. It emerges now as the “other.”
In fact on Baluchistan Musharraf had emerged the maverick. He understood both the development and the political dimension of the Baluchistan question. No other government in Islamabad made as much of a practical contribution to the development of Baluchistan that Musharraf did.
Others too identified the issues, Musharraf pushed for practical steps; dams, schools, electricit , more royalty, more developments budgets, greater presence of the Baluch in the security agencies etc. He led the political initiatives too. Despite his initially damaging comments about hitting the ‘Baluch insurgents’ Musharraf did leave behind his institutional proclivities. When this round of crisis erupted in 2004 he fully backed the formation and the work of the parliamentary Committee on Baluchistan. The Committee’s report was supported by Nawab Bugti and people like Pakistan’s human rights icon Asma Jehangir. Musharraf promised to implement its recommendations. It was the first detailed documentation of the Baluch grievances with recommendations.
In fact when it came to the crunch, the negotiations on pickets and posts, Musharraf supported the civilian interlocutors despite the strong reservations of certain groups in the security establishment. The negotiations did produce a break through in April 2005, over the question of a military cantonment, and simultaneous removal of Bugti pickets and Frontier Constabulary posts. But then two developments; one the foot-dragging by the FC and the heightened sabotage activities on the ground by the Baluchistan Liberation Front, derailed the political dialogue.
A dynamic of distrust replaced the fragile trust that was beginning to emerge between the interlocutors. While the government’s civilian interlocutors, Musharraf’s National Security Advisor and initially Musharraf understood the need to continue on the political track, a section with the security believed in the force option. With sabotage on the rise and endless intelligence reports claiming the Indian, the Afghan and many other ‘hands’ in all of this, the political track was abandoned. That was the cardinal error.
Islamabad should have stayed with both tracks, with the political leading the force track. But with military ascendancy in the power structure, any political negotiations was viewed as a ‘surrender to the enemies of the State.’
The civilian politicians, as the army’s junior partners, were unable to have their way. Confronted with sabotage and armed opponents the Pakistan army saw Baluchistan as a battleground where it was about ‘do-or-die.’ This is how they are trained to think of national good. In black and white terms, not greys. The army is trained for battle , not for compromises and adjustments. They do have a role in dealing with insurgencies and armed resistance, but are often not capable of making policy. Bhutto’s seventies policy on Baluchistan was questionable too but he combined it with political content. Today after Bugti’s death Islamabad has no allies in the Baluch political landscape. Only the anti-Bugti tribals it was cultivating.
As if the death of the Pakistani political leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was not itself a devastating blow to this government’s own agenda of “provincial harmony”, at a dizzying speed the government made a further hash of matters. The most appalling of all have been the circumstances in which Nawab Bugti was buried September 1.
A padlocked box was lowered in the grave. No family member present. According to media reports some of the government-sponsored political opponents of Bugti, some officials and a group of journalists participated in the rapidly performed last rites. He body was refused to his family; his six daughters and his two sons were not able to have a last glimpse of their father. They refused to follow the government’s reported directive that only two male members of the Bugti family could participate in the state-arranged burial of their father in Dera Bugti. They wanted to take Nawab Bugti’s body to Quetta. Dera Bugti, they claimed had become “hostile territory” for the family. After all only two days before Bugti was killed in the army operation a government-sponsored jirga was held in the Dear Bugti stadium. This government jirga had announced the end of the sardari system and stripping Bugti of his title. Also with Dera Bugti months before having become a battle field from which Bugti, his family and his militia had to beat a retreat, was not ‘safe territory.’ At the burial a single independent person was allowed to have the last look at Bugti. Only the maulvi the government had brought in to say the brief namaz-i-janaza said he saw Bugti’s body in the padlocked box. There was a pair of glasses and a watch for public viewing to establish the identity of the man being buried. Two men , quite opposed in their political leanings, and friends of this government pointed out the disturbing symbolism of such a bizarre burial.
MQM leader Altaf Hussain complained that even a man who is hanged to death, the State returns his body to his family. The other is Yusuf Haroon. Lamenting the death of Akbar Bugti he wrote, “I condole with the Baloch nation and with the family of the late Nawab, and urge the government not to follow Imperial rules, and to hand over the body for a public funeral.” Earlier Sherbaz Mazari had urged Musharraf in rather strong terms that if he had “a decent bone left in his body he should return the body to the family.”
God knows what prompted the government to take the indecent and callous decision of denying the body to the Bugti family. It is worse than what the Bhutto family experienced when the body of the hung leader was delivered in his hometown. National security considerations, politicization of the funeral or a botched up operation? There are many questions that require answers.
The Bugti killing does not mean dams of discontent will burst tomorrow. It’s about space for consensus that is shrinking, it’s about the Pakistan soul not being at peace within, it’s about principles carved forever on shifting sands and of processes that are gone with the winds of opportunism. It does however raise the fundamental question of how will we manage the successful functioning of the federation of Pakistan. How do we measure the wrong that has been done, by the damage that has been caused? Not by how many people pour out on the streets or how successful have been the strike calls. Instead by how the State protects the rights of its citizens, do citizens enjoy political rights which alone give citizens a say in the exercise of power, what is the mode of settling political disputes, does rule of law figure in the tool-kit of dispute settlement etc.
But for now let us mourn the tragic end of a man who as a politician of Pakistan, as seen in a photograph by an English daily, begins with deferentially bending forward to shake hands with the Quaid of Pakistan in 1947 and ends in 2006 with his death as an outlaw in the mountains of his own land. This should not have been. More importantly more of this should not be. For that compassion, fair play and a credibly functioning democratic system is an imperative - a survival imperative in fact.

 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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