A drive through troubled Balochistan

Discussion in 'Balochistan - Freedom Struggle' started by Singh, Nov 14, 2011.

  1. Singh

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    Safe, Dangerous Or On The Insurgency Trail?



    DERA BUGTI: The political and security crisis in Balochistan swings between two opposite narratives.
    One narrative claims that the security conditions in Balochistan are improving. Target killings have been controlled; Baloch insurgents have been reduced to a few hundreds; the rebels stand divided and are retreating. The other stipulates that the situation remains dangerous. Insurgents hit and run after firing bullets, rockets and sometimes mortars at places of their choice. Mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) explode frequently in troubled areas like Dera Bugti.

    What makes the two conflicting stories even more confusing is that both come from the same source: The Pakistan Army. Or, to be precise, the Frontier Corps (FC) that virtually runs Balochistan.

    A journey from Quetta to Dera Bugti presented a mix of both narratives. It lasted for about 12 hours crossing through Sindh, Punjab and then again Balochistan. Hundreds of passenger and trade vehicles ply through the arduous, historical Bolan Pass daily. Being part of an FC convoy constitutes a bigger threat, however. The para-military jawans keep their eyes and G3 rifles aimed at the adjoining mountains for any possible attack. One has to be constantly on the watch while the convoy command is changed from Ghazaband to Sibi Scouts and then to Sui Rifles. This is a major dilemma for the security forces.

    The rebels can hit and run at the place and time of their choice in an area stretching hundreds of miles. But the troops have to maintain round the clock vigil to secure railways, highways, strategic assets and communication lines, even if they are attacked once in weeks and months by a handful of miscreants.

    The outpost at Saryab Road that opens into the valley outside Quetta has turned relatively peaceful. The mountains from which the insurgents can attack seem far off. Electricity, telephone and railway lines mostly run parallel to the highway. It is difficult not to appreciate the beauty of wilderness all around even when traveling in the shadow of guns. Troops straighten their arms while entering the ridges of Kollpur, the word Koll meaning the cap in which the Hazara labourers got their earnings when they migrated from Bamiyan to work in coal mines here in 1890s.

    The convoy gets more alert when passing through the narrow Bolan gorge surrounded by high cliffs. Train lines passing through long tunnels here are a marvel that only the British could build. It is ironic that trains were faster and safer a century ago. Insurgents have occasionally attacked here, the latest being last week, and then escaped through the mountainous terrain they know better. Once out of the strategic pass, Machh is peaceful. A local police officer said the only subversive activity happened a few months ago. An influential mine owner got himself released from kidnapping after paying a handsome amount.

    Rumour has it that mine owners pay money to Baloch insurgents for peace in Machh, more known for its harsh jail that had nationalist leaders like Khan Abdul Ghaffaar Khan, Abdus Samad Achakzai, Wali Khan, Attaullah Mengal and Khair Bux Marri among its former captives.

    Further along, Sibbi is safer. The third biggest city of Balochistan is home to Baloch, Pashtun and Sindhi tribes and most people communicate in Sindhi. Nawab Khair Bux Marri’s son Changez Marri won from here as an MPA once but the seat is now held by PML-Q’s Bakhtiar Domki. “We get affected by violence but many Baloch youngsters sympathise with the insurgents,” says local journalist Aslam Gashkori. One does not feel insecure while roaming around in Sibbi bazaars, even when coming across the general secretary of the political wing of the most dreaded Baloch Republic Army, Dr Bashir Azeem, supposedly run by Nawab Akbar Bugti’s grandson Brahmadagh Bugti.

    Dr Azeem believes that Sibbi is peaceful but “you can’t say this about other areas particularly Dera Bugti.”

    As we enter the plains, the area between Bakhtiarabad and Mangoli is where attacks on railway trains take place. Railway lines here are close to populated areas, which makes it easier for the saboteurs to disappear. The FC has deployed posts throughout the troubled area but it just takes a handful of miscreants, mostly around Dera Murad Jamali, to sneak in and fire upon a running train.

    A train driver got hit by gunfire last month but he managed to avert a bigger disaster by not stopping. A few passengers got injured though. An occasional hit like this has driven out fun from what was always a children’s delight in travelling from Punjab and Sindh to Quetta. It takes more than double the usual time; if at all Railways give the go-ahead for traveling. The impact of the trauma is more psychological than physical. Those who cannot afford road or air travel do so while constantly fearing for their life.

    Life becomes suddenly normal as we enter Sindh through Jaccobabad and onto Shikarpur. It seems like walking from a black hole of violence into a peace galaxy. As we renter Balochistan from Kashmore towards Sui, one finds Sindh on one side of the road and the Punjab on the other. Maps do not show that Sui is just a stone’s throw away from Punjab’s Rajanpur area. It is just an accident of history that Punjab’s southern most belt which is home to the largest Baloch population in Pakistan was cut off from Baloshistan by Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh only two centuries ago.

    Surprisingly, the road to Sui is quite peaceful. One came across normal traffic even after daylight. But we were told by the FC that we could not go onwards to Dera Bugti “as the conditions are extremely dangerous.” The general impression given to us was that Dera Bugti was still a troubled area and not safe for visiting. While I was willing to take a chance the local FC officers remained adamant that it was not possible to allow entry into Dera Bugti. It was frustrating to be told after a tough journey of 13 hours that we could not make it to the last 40-minute drive to Dera Bugti. We were told the next day that the conditions had become even more “dangerous” as an IED exploded roughly at the time when we were scheduled to travel. One got the impression as if one would have died if the FC had not stopped us on time.

    It was difficult to insist when we were told that we would be compromising the lives of others by risking the forward travel. The much longer return journey was even more frustrating.

    The real shocker on ‘the trail of insurgency’ came when Frontier Corps Inspector General Major General Obaidullah in an interview at his Quetta headquarters the next day, told us, “Dera Bugti is perfectly peaceful.”

    He gave us a picture that was opposite to what his men had told us on the Dera Bugti border. He insisted that it was so safe that he had been walking in the Dera Bugti bazaar all by himself. He denied vehemently when asked if there had been an IED explosion on the day we were there. “I would have known as the IG FC,” he claimed confidently with a smirk on his face. He got upset when he was told that we were denied entry on the pretext that the conditions were highly volatile and that the news of an IED explosion was concocted to stop us. The general, visibly angry, started making enquiries on phone and promised us to return with an explanation. The explanation is still awaited after four days and may well never come.

    This adds credence to the allegations that the conditions in Balochistan are what the army makes of it. Former Senator Manzoor Gichki is not wrong when he says that the FC dubs the Balochistan conditions “good or bad when it suits them. We have no way of confirming what goes on here. They control everything.” He may not be wrong.

    It is easy to understand different narratives emerging from different institutions but how do you confront two conflicting voices from the same institution. One of them is obviously not telling the truth. This is as polite as we can get.

    Safe, dangerous or on the insurgency trail?
     
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  3. Singh

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    Ghost Of Nawab Bugti Still Haunts Dera



    DERA BUGTI: The late Nawab Akbar Bugti matters even more in death than alive.
    A whole generation grew up accustomed to his maverick ways. He controlled everybody and everything for over half a century around here. Locals talk about him as if he was still alive-all things from mundane to sublime: the way he ate a platter of hot green chillies splintered with a sauce of red ones; his insomnia that kept him talking all night; his peculiar humour and sarcasm that made his company so engaging. People talk about how he threw out sub-clan Kalpar Bugtis from Dera, subjugated the majority Maisuri Bugtis and kept fellow Rahija Bugtis happy in command.

    Everybody has a story to tell. How he held jirgas, made people walk on fire and maintained private jail. His rule was absolute. Nobody could win elections without his approval. “He controlled how we ate, drank or even slept,” said Ghulam Qadir (Maisuri) Bugti, who lives in Nawab Bugti’s house in Sui, now renamed as ‘Pakistan House’. The Nawab must be turning in his grave to see that his archenemy, a Maisuri Ghulam Qadir now calls the shots in Dera and not one of his children or grand children.

    However, it is his political legacy that continues to haunt not just Dera Bugti but Balochistan and even the rest of Pakistani establishment. Baloch nationalists always accepted him apologetically. He was never forgiven for accepting Governorship of Balochistan when the Baloch launched the biggest ever insurgency following the dissolution of the National Awami Party (NAP) government in the 1970s. “It was seen as a stab in the back of the revolution that the farari rebels wanted to bring about,” mused former National Assembly Deputy Speaker Nawab Wazir Jogezai. The rebels took to the mountains and the NAP leadership, including the sacked Chief Minister Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri was jailed. It was in such critical time that Nawab Bugti helped then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to restore order. The scars of that betrayal by Nawab stayed long time after,” Jogezai added.

    Many argue that Nawab Bugti always rescued the State (establishment) in times of trouble. He always charged his price in the shape of power, perks and money which he thought was his legitimate right as the Nawab of Bugti tribe. The biggest condition was that he be allowed absolute control in his native Dera Bugti. But then he delivered results in the end.

    Nawab Bugti had the un-paralleled stature to bring together conflicting groups on one table. It was his charisma that brought together the divisive lot of Baloch nationalists under the umbrella of Balochistan National Alliance (BNA) in 1988 to form the provincial government. The State may have lost a giant in the person of Nawab Bugti who had the ability to handle any kind of crisis in Balochistan. Herein lay the biggest dilemma of Balochistan.

    No single voice in Balochistan can influence the collective lot of Baloch people now. Even Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Sardar Attaullah Mengal did not match Nawab Akbar Bugti’s influence. Attaullah Mengal is now reduced to his native Wadd and his son Akhtar Jan can hardly handle his own faction of the Balochistan Nationalist Party (BNP). Khair Bakhsh stands retired from politics and has more inspirational value than practical. The rest of the Baloch leaders are pygmies in comparison to the grand triumvirate that ruled the hearts and minds of Baloch people for half a century.

    No single Baloch nationalist-whether moderate or extremist—could ensure the compliance of others. Moderate leaders like National Party’s Hasil Bizenjo and Dr Maalick or even Dr Hayee Baloch are restricted to their small political factions. Most of them cannot visit Quetta, let alone their respective areas. The mainstream political parties have little hold in the province. The mighty Sardars, most of them in the Balochistan Cabinet, cannot influence outside their tribal pockets. Among the militant extremists, Balochistan Republican Army’s (BRA) Brahmadagh Bugti, Balochistan Liberation Front’s (BLF) Dr Allah Nazar and Balochistan Liberation Army’s (BLA) Harbiar Marri are all restricted to their own turfs. Most of them are not even on talking terms with each other.

    “If we really have to do that-who do we talk to,” said a Minister in the PPP government who did not want to be named. “The only person who could do that-Nawab Bugti-is dead.”

    Ironically, the Baloch nationalists who had issues with the living Nawab are now united over his death. “Nawab’s martyrdom has made him a Baloch hero,” said Baloch politician Rauf Khan Sasoli.

    Pakistan Army, which killed Nawab Bugti in an operation, is confused about handling his myth. It’s a sensitive issue to ask whether the Nawab is a martyr (shaheed). A Frontier Corps (FC) jawan when asked bluntly replied,” if Nawab is a martyr who are we?”

    Yet the FC put up the huge pictures of Nawab Bugti along with Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal during their Independence Day celebrations on August 14. Senior army officials now agree that former President General Musharraf mishandled the Bugti issue and has left the army in the quagmire.

    The army high command openly alleges that Musharraf bypassed the ‘institution’ and personally supervised the operation through his favourites in Military Intelligence. Even the ISI and the then Corps Commander (the present Chairman Joint Chief of the Army Staff) was kept out of the loop. Sources say that the army does not have details of the operation, like in the case of Kargil. Then Director General of Military Operations was actually snubbed when he insisted for archival material. Army historians may never know what exactly happened in those mountains in Kohlu. Former Provincial Minister Saif Magsi, who is the lawyer in the Bugti case, is optimist that Musharraf will be the first general to be tried in Pakistan. “His personal involvement is clearly there,” he says.

    Yet it is the army which is bearing the brunt of the Balochistan crisis. Nawab Bugti’s death keeps the resistance fire burning in Balochistan. The ghosts of Nawab Bugti continue to trouble Balochistan and the country at large. But it is in Dera Bugti that you see his smoky presence the most.

    Ghost of Nawab Bugti still haunts Dera
     
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  4. Singh

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    A Drive Through Troubled Balochistan—3



    DERA BUGTI: Nawab Akbari Bugti was perhaps the last of the old-style Baloch Sardars who maintained a near totalitarian control over Dera Bugti for over half a century.
    He ensured that he got a ‘fair’ share from the discovery of natural gas from his native Sui in the 1950s. He used the money and resources that he got from Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), which runs Sui gas field, to create what a Baloch Sardar termed as “Shaddad’s heavens.”

    The money he got was pittance in comparison to the billions of dollars that the PPL had been making or the benefits that the rest of Pakistan, particularly Punjab, was drawing out of Sui’s gas. It suited the Sui management and the Pakistani establishment to pay a paltry sum to a local Nawab than to appease the entire Balochistan that was the last to use its own gas. In return the Nawab expected to be given a complete say in controlling his area.

    The Nawab devised a system where the PPL, the local Bugtis, the security agencies and even the governments in Quetta and Islamabad were dependent on him for delivering security and business-as-usual in Sui. The money that he charged, depending on how you calculate, ranged from Rs10 million to Rs40 million monthly.

    Most of this was in kind. He got Rs10 million for Uch gas field, which during land reforms of 1970s was transferred in the name of his grand son Shahzain Bugti. Shahzain recently got Rs45O million through the courts as arrears of the last four years.

    An amount of Rs5 million was given to Nawab Bugti for what continues to be called as ‘kitchen’ expense. Every Bugti working in Sui had to pay “phoori” of Rs2000 monthly, which was a private tax popularly dubbed as ‘bhatta.’ Other officials in education, health and security who could not be employed without his consent paid Rs300 per month. He also took money for vehicles, manpower and infrastructure that he claimed to use for providing security to the gas field.

    Every time the establishment tried to cut down Nawab’s power the security situation suffered not just in Sui but sometimes threatened the law and order in the entire Balochistan. It was always the Nawab who got away with a bigger pound of flesh in every tug of war. Until Musharraf, that is.

    He used these resources to maintain his absolute control. He decided which roads, waterways, schools and hospitals were to be allowed. In the absence of normal administration, as Dera Bugti remains ‘B’ area, he was the law, jury and the executioner. He was a role model for every Sardar in Balochistan. Even Nawab Khair Bux Marri or Sardar Attaullah Mengal emulates Nawab’s power in his area. Nothing moved without him in Dera for as long as he lived. The world created by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti is no more.

    Nawab’s fiefdom was sure to change after him because it was his prowess and charisma that let him live on his own terms. That it should change so drastically is either extremely sad or extremely good, depending on how you see it.

    None of his family member lives in Dera Bugti any more. Most cannot even enter the Nawab’s ‘heavens.’ His children and grand children are involved in tense fight over his political and material legacy. His eldest sons Salim and Rehan are dead while Salal got murdered in 1980s.

    Between his living sons, Jamil is less important in the tribal tradition as his mother was an ‘outsider’ while Talal was banished from entering Dera Bugti by the Nawab in his life. But Talal along with his son Shahzain is now claimant to Nawab’s legacy. Talal holds the fort in his father’s house in Quetta and is most active on the media circuit. He blames everybody from President Asif Zardari to Interior Minister Rehman Malik to the army for blocking him in taking over Dera Bugti.

    Talal may not be wrong as it was President Asif Zardari, of course backed by the establishment, who put the mantle of the Nawab of Dera Bugti on the head of Aali Bugti. In the Baloch tradition Aali being the eldest grand child of Nawab’s eldest son Salim is the rightful heir. President Asif being a baloch should know as he turbaned himself as the chief of Baloch clan of Zardaris.

    Aali was helped by the establishment (read army/ISI/FC) to take over Nawab’s fort in Dera Bugti. He was given share of Nawab’s money and perks. But the bigger issue was to make him acceptable to the warring Bugtis. Some accepted him because of tribal codes of the eldest being the rightful heir, others out of fear and still others because it was now through him that the salaries and perks were being distributed.

    Aali is anything but his macho grandfather. He is media shy, politically inexperienced and may not be as brave as the Nawab. Also, the establishment did not want to create another Nawab. Sources say that he was being given only a small share of the Nawab’s money and perks. He did not feel comfortable in Dera Bugti and is now living in Sanghar district of Sindh where his grandfather had bought some land. He is still being propped by the security agencies but he has virtually resigned from active life.

    Nawab’s Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP) also stands divided among Jamil, Talal and Aali. The party’s last general secretary Rauf Khan sasoli has long left the JWP to join the PML-N.

    However, the popular face of the Nawab’s legacy remains his grand son Brahmadagh Bugti, who supposedly runs the Baloch republican Army. He has all the rebelliousness and the charisma of the Nawab but it is yet to be seen whether he also has the worldly statesmanship of his grandfather as well. After all, the Nawab always balanced between his radical ideas and the practical politics. This pragmatism, balance, opportunism or call it way you may kept him one up on his peers.

    Brahmadagh may not have enough time. For life is changing so fast in his native Dera Bugti that very soon there might not be a shred of the world that his grandfather created in Dera Bugti.

    A drive through troubled Balochistan—3
     
  5. Singh

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    A Drive Through Troubled Balochistan-4



    DERA BUGTI: Who will benefit from the massive new gas reserves said to have been discovered here, bigger at least 10 times than the original Sui deposits, now that the new Nawab Aali Bugti has left his ancestral lands and the rest of the family is fighting over the legacy of Nawab Akbar Bugti.
    Obviously the political and material vacuum left by his death in Dera Bugti is being filled by others. People that the old Nawab would have called as his enemies.

    The biggest news is that if things go well we might not need natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan. Drilling is already on at Zin (Toba) which promises to offer reserves 10 times more than of Sui; another survey in Zamurdan close to Rhojan in Rajanpur is complete and 80 percent survey has also been conducted in Kanchas (Cup) close to DG Khan border.

    The Chinese are also conducting a 3D seismic survey for exploration in Sui for deeper reserves. This means new vistas opening for not just Dera Bugti but also for Balochistan, provided the establishment, for a change, allows the locals a fairer share in the bounty.

    Life is changing fast around here. It is obvious that if the heirs of the Nawab do not return to Dera Bugti soon, there will be nothing left to claim, not just from the old natural resources but the new finds as well. Nawab’s family is already out of the electoral battle.

    Nobody could ever win elections from Dera Bugti without the approval of the Nawab for as long as he lived. Incumbent MPA Tariq is a Maisuri. Maisuris are the biggest Bugti sub-tribe (around 40 percent) but are considered less prestigious in comparison to Nawab’s royal Rahija Bugtis (around 15 percent). Tariq Maisuri says the last time he dared to challenge the Nawab by contesting elections against him in 2002 he was thrown in his private dungeons for many months. “But those days are over,” he adds.

    MNA Hamadan, a Rahija Bugti, could not imagine getting elected if the Nawab had been alive. Kalpar Bugtis are also gradually returning to Dera after being thrown out by the Nawab for decades.

    Nawab’s fort-like house in Dera Bugti, now crowned by a Pakistani flag hoisted on its roof top, is in ruins. It was briefly occupied by a Bugti elder Ghulam Nabi Shambani but now lies vacated for government officials to stay. Nawab’s house in Sui is now in the possession of Ghulam Qadir Maisuri, who now calls the shots in Dera Bugti.

    It’s the money, perks and power-personified in Ghulam Qadir these days that moves things around here. He runs a force of around 700 private militia named as Bugti Amn (peace) force. The ‘kitchen expense’ of Rs4.2 million monthly, earlier given to the Nawab by the PPL, now goes to Ghulam Qadir.

    In return, he provides security to gas pipelines and fights the ‘farari’ rebels whenever there is a problem. He claimed that half of this amount is given to the employees as salaries and the rest is spent on fuel, food and lodgings.

    “I am not taking ‘bhatta’ from each employee like my predecessors and have hired Bugtis from all sub-tribes,” he claimed in a meeting. “Believe me, they are a happier lot now.”

    The Faustian deal between the Nawab and the establishment of favouring each other benefited non-Balochi industrialists and people who used Sui gas for decades. The biggest sufferers were the people of Balochistan, particularly Dera Bugti residents.

    Most locals still cannot afford a pair of shoes. The Human Development Index rates Dera Bugti district, which is also home to Loti, Pirkoh and Uch gasfields besides Sui, as the worst district in Pakistan at 0.285 (the best is Jhelum at 0.703). On paper Dera Bugti has 2,085 teachers for 8,992 students, which at 5.77 students for one teacher is perhaps the highest in Asia. But most of these teachers have never attended any school, if at all they exist on ground.

    Surrounded by this acute poverty, the PPL executives have created a private oasis almost like Aramco in Saudi Arabia.

    They shuttle between Sui and Karachi on private jets and airstrips. They blame the Nawab for not letting them develop the area but, as politician Rauf Khan Sasoli says: “They can’t be exonerated so easily for this lapse”.

    Amidst these clouds of gloom, however, a few rays of hope have appeared. Sui town has been provided gas, although in just a three-mile radius, after half a century. Water supply from Guddu Barrage has also been initiated. Electricity transmission is being raised from 100KV to 3300KV. A new cadet college and FC model schools and a mega hospital is already bringing about a sea change.

    A missing link for opening up Dera Bugti to the outside world is the approval of the road from Baker to Rakni on DG Khan border. There is some issue over the route but MPA Tariq Maisuri is confident that it will be completed in six months.

    There is just one major functional road that links Dera Bugti via Sui with the rest of Pakistan through Sindh and Punjab.

    “Nobody can stop development if they complete a metal road from Dera Bugti to Rakni via Phallawak,” says the MPA. Already, Phallawak lands are sending around 100000 cotton bales in DG Khan. Water table is good around here and about 2000 diesel tube wells are functional.

    “The problem is that the people do not have opening to the rest of Pakistan,” says Ghulam Qadir. “This will be death to the rebels as they cannot stop people from development.”

    “Innocent people get killed everyday because of mines that the fararis plant on unmetalled (katcha) pathways,” says Ghulam Qadir. “This is making them unpopular.” It’s a tribal structure here and not many locals understand the popular political ideologies. Anybody who holds the gun and the purse runs affairs around here. “And it ain’t any of Nawab’s children or grandchildren this time,” said a local official on the condition of anonymity.

    The family of Nawab Bugti is obviously getting desperate. They are divided lot and totally oblivious to the new realities on ground. Many believe they have to make a decision. Either they have to become relevant or be part of history. The dice around here is beginning to roll against them. New hopes in Dera Bugti.

    A drive through troubled Balochistan-4
     

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