By Malik Siraj Akbar
About the writer – Malik Siraj Akbar is a journalist based in Quetta Pakistan. He is working as the Balochistan Bureau Chief of Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper, Daily Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org More about him click here
A confident Baloch guerrilla commander Nawabzada Bramdagh Bugti, 28, believes it is now “impossible” for Islamabad to get him extradited even if he is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan, as claimed by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, or elsewhere in the wake of increasing “international moral support” the “ Baloch national liberation movement” is attracting because of its “legitimacy”.
Bramdagh, the fiercest face of the Baloch insurgency, is a grandson of late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former chief minister and governor of Balochistan who was killed by the Pervez Musharraf regime in a military operation on August 26 2006. Since then, the young separatist has taken the command of the armed Baloch fighters who demand an independent Balochistan. While the senior Bugti only demanded provincial autonomy for the gas-rich Balochistan province, Bramdagh differently interprets his grandfather’s dream. He stands for a free and sovereign Balochistan.
Pakistan has been blaming India for supporting Bramdagh’s armed movement via Afghanistan where Islamabad believes this young fighter is currently hiding. The situation in Balochistan has now transformed into a pain in Islamabad’s nick. On his part, the Baloch leader says if he enjoyed international support, he would vanquish his enemy overnight.
In yet another excusive interview with this writer, the chief of Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and one of the most influential armed commanders of the ongoing Baloch movement once again denied hiding somewhere in Afghanistan. Excerpts:
MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR: How do you feel about possible efforts by Islamabad to pressurize the Afghan government to get you extradited from Afghanistan where you are believed to be currently hiding?
BRAMDAGH BUGTI: I have said it many times that I am not hiding in Afghanistan. I am very much among my Baloch people. With such propaganda, Islamabad is trying to raise non-issues and divert attention from the actual objectives and steady success of our struggle for Balochistan’s separation from Pakistan.
Dynamics of international politics have remarkably changed in the recent times. Our consistent armed struggle has proven it to the world that the Balochs are not terrorists but freedom fighters. Today, there is more “moral support” to us from the western media and the civilized world than ever before. Therefore, even if I am hiding in Afghanistan or somewhere in Europe, I am still confident that my hosts, no matter who they are but fully understand what the Baloch movement stands for, will not get me extradited to Pakistan at any cost.
The government of Pakistan had made failed attempts to implicate Hairbayar Marri and Gazin Marri, the sons of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, in London and Dubai respectively in terrorism charges in the past. These Baloch leaders were tried in the most standard courts of the world where everyone is expected to get equal justice. These courts acquitted the Baloch leaders of terrorism charges and acknowledged that they were only the victims of geo-politics. They had been forced by Pakistan to flee their towns, which had come under intense bombardment, and take shelter either in the Baloch hills or go abroad.
MSA: How popular do you think your movement is internationally?
BB: Blunders committed by Pakistan itself have helped us very much to gain international popularity. When the sons of Nawab Marri were arrested from London and Dubai, the world community was forced have a more realistic look at Balochistan. Luckily, the western media is now covering the Baloch issue more keenly and objectively. The civilized world discreetly buys our demand of control on our resources against a country that is using bombs and tanks on the Baloch population.
MSA: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Primer Manmohan Singh recently mentioned the Balochistan issue in Sharm el-Sheikh. What is your reaction to this development?
BB: Pakistan has been trying to muzzle our voice by all available means. Blunders by Islamabad, such as holding India responsible for the prevailing unrest in Balochistan, have only helped us to internationalize our cause. The Baloch movement is purely indigenous without getting substantial foreign assistance. Nonetheless, I would appeal to the international community to come to our help to get us rid off Pakistan.
MSA: How would you define your guerilla war against Islamabad?
BB: Our guerilla war should be viewed in political terms rather than being interpreted as a terrorist movement. We never initiated this war. The government of Pakistan imposed a war on our people. My grandfather, Nawab Bugti, was forthcoming towards reconciliatory efforts but he was driven out of his home. I wish to emphasize that ours is a war in the self-defense. We admit being weaker against a mighty State of Pakistan that has bombs, tanks and helicopters to attack us. Now, our war will continue until we fully achieve our destination of freedom.
MSA: How do see the recently formed Independent Balochistan Council formulated by the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood?
BB: I have read about it only in the media. I am not in touch with the Khan of Kalat. However, I deeply admire every sincere effort that is made for an independent Balochistan.
MSA: Let’s assume that you manage to get independence for Balochistan. Do you think an Independent Balochistan is viable?
BB: We keep hearing this propaganda by the Punjabis and Islamabad that an independent Balochistan will not survive. We think differently. The Baloch movement has matured to a large extent. We know the importance of independence. We will preserve it by hook or by crook. The Balochs are so conscious about their rights today that if I compromise on their movement with the Pakistani establishment, my own followers will definitely desert , replace and kill me. Today, our small children refuse to sing Pakistan’s anthem. They burn the “Punjbai flag”. Do you not think this is a significant headway?
I am not an idealist. Like every other movement in the world, the Baloch movement also has its weaknesses and shortcomings. I have never claimed to be running an ideal movement. Challenges are there. But I want to tell Islamabad not to worry about the Balochs. We can manage ourselves. Punjab deprived our people of right to education. We will educate our people. We do not need the sympathies of the Punjab.
MSA: One can see the rise of a Marri- Bugti confederacy in Balochistan. Do you agree? (Recently a son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri married Bramdagh’s sister)
BB: Marri and Bugtis have lived together for ages. We share borders with each other. More importantly, we believe we are faced with a collective enemy. Therefore, we are more united today and we wish to extend this unity in order to achieve our goals.
However, it would be misleading if you narrowly look at our popular resistance movement to, what you call, a mere “Marri-Bugti confederacy”. Today, Turbat district, where there is no tribal system at all, is the home to separatist movement. After the killing of Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch, Turbat has brought itself at par with Dera Bugti and Sui in the resistance movement. Hence, you should know that the movement for an independent Balochistan is equally popular among the people who are well educated and have never lived under tribal system.
MSA: The PPP government has constituted a constitutional committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani to address the Baloch grievances. What do you say about it?
BB: I have one thing to say about the PPP government: It is suppressing the Balochs more brutally than the Pervez Musharraf regime. There is no let-up in the situation in Balochistan under the PPP government. The military operation is taking place unabated. More cantonments and check posts are being established. (This interview was taken before Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani’s announcement this week that the federal government had decided to withhold the construction of cantonments in Balochistan, which was a bone of contention between Islamabad and the Baloch nationalists, note by the interviewer) Political activists are being kidnapped and subjected to inhuman treatment. Baloch press is being muzzled. Even then, if someone expects us to still negotiate with the people who ruined our lives then you are not being fair with us.
MSA: But isn’t there still a possibility of confidence building measures? What would your recommend the PPP government to do so that you would agree to negotiate?
BB: Our demands are simple. Withdraw the Punjabi army from Balochistan and declare the independence of Balochistan.
MSA: Your demands are perhaps too high for Islamabad to meet. Can you not compromise on something less than that?
BB: The PPP government has declared a war against us. They want us to negotiate on gun-point which we will never do. Recently, the Herald magazine ran a cover story saying that Dera Bugti was a no-go area. If the area is not under military operation then why does the government not allow entry to the independent media to see the ground realities in that conflict-stricken area?
As far as compromising on something less is concerned, you see our fight with Pakistan is not on water or gas issues. We are fighting for our independence. They have illegally occupied our land. We neither demand anything from them or agree to give anything to Islamabad. Therefore, the best formula for Islamabad is to withdraw from our land and grant us freedom. Once that is done, there would be peace and tranquility in Balochistan. Later on, we will decide about the nature of relations an independent Balochistan would like to keep with Pakistan.
MSA: Your supporters are believed to have kidnapped and subsequently killed around 20 Baloch policemen in Naseerabad district. The local Balochs have expressed their resentment to these killings. Likewise, why are the Baloch separatists target killing the Punjbai teachers in Balochistan?
BB: I do not call the BLA [Baloch Liberation Army] and BRA [Baloch Republican Party] as my supporters. They are my brothers. I fully endorse all their operations. If they resort to extreme actions then they surely have suffered the same level of brutality by the Pakistani forces.
We had formerly warned all the Balochs not to serve in the Pakistani security forces against the Baloch fighters. Likewise, the policemen in Naseerabad, despite being Balochs, were being disloyal to their mother land when they tried to operate against the very people who are struggling for their independence. However, every effort was made to spare the laborers and innocent people who were kidnapped.
As far as the target killing of teachers is concerned, I do not understand why the Pakistani authorities and the media shout only when one Punjabi teacher or barber is killed. Why not a single word is uttered when Baloch towns after towns are bombarded by the Pakistani authorities? I have said it many times: target killings are a justified reaction of the Baloch against the policies of the Punjabi army.
MSA: Doest that mean you endorse these target killings?
BB: I said before that target killings are the reaction to an action. If one Punjabi teacher is killed, one hundred more Balochs are also killed in response by the security forces. The government functionaries destroy all the livelihood of the poor Baloch tribesmen by bombarding their homes, goats and sheep with helicopters and jet airplanes. What are the other ways left for us? Why should we no react?
I was reading an article, which I admire, by a Baloch writer who said we were not carrying out enough target killings. There is a need for more such killings. These killings, according to that writer, should be intensified and expanded to the Punjab. If Panjab does not review its attitude towards the Baloch then I believe the Balochs would be justified to even enter the towns of Punjab to eliminate the Punjabis who are killing the Balochs. So, don’t force us to that extent.
MSA: Now that your cousin Mir Aali Bugit has been elevated as the chief of Bugti tribe and Shahzain Bugti, the son of your uncle Talal Bugti, is also planning to return to Dera Bugti, what is the justification on your part to oppose the Bugti tribe?
BB: Islamabad has had a long policy of divide and rule in Balochistan. It does not surprise me if they pit my cousin against me. This is not a long-term solution to the Baloch problem. When the government took over, it promised to end the military operation in the first four months. On the contrary, today, we are witnessing more violence in Dera Bugti. Neither the military operation has ended nor have the attacks by the Baloch ‘freedom fighters’ declined.
The experiment of brining Mir Aali to Dere Bugti completely failed. The so-called Nawab of Bugti tribe lives amid unprecedented fear and uncertainty. He is afraid of the very people who surround he does not even trust them. He does not allow them to get out of Dera Bugti. If Mir Aali was truly in control of the affairs in the district then why would he not allow the independent media to visit Dera Bugti?
MSA: Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi often ridicules your movement by saying that you cannot get independence by burning Pakistani national flag or target killing teachers.
BB: Why are you quoting a man who is paid a salary from Islamabad to speak and act against us? We do not care what Magsi or Raisani have to say about us. Because they are both confused people. Raisani once calls for the deployment of the Frontier Corps and then he tells the Herald that if he were powerful enough, he would drive all the security forces out of Balochistan. Every statement of the Chief Minister contradicts his previous one. We are fighting for a greater cause without caring much what Raisani or Magsi have to say about us.
MSA: Nawab Bugti gave the call for a single Baloch party. You have been asking the Baloch nationalists to give up parliamentary politics. Now, why isn’t your appeal taken seriously by the Balochistan National Party and National Party (NP).
BB: In my views, true nationalistic politics is that of armed resistance. We need to reject (Pakistan’s) parliamentary politics. The Balochs should increase their support for the armed groups. It does not make a big difference if the BNP and NP do not back the forces that vocally demand an independent Balochistan. All I want to tell my people is that we should unite. The government is eliminating the Baloch identity. The sooner we unite the better.
We already have a single Baloch party present in shape of the Baloch National Front (BNF) which is an organized group of around ten political parties. The Baloch people should strengthen the BNF so that our voice for an independent Balochistan becomes clear and loud enough for our people and the rest of the world.
MSA: Do you think your movement is successfully heading towards its destination?
BB: We are not talking about destination right now. I know it is still too far. So let’s not talk of the percentage of progress that we have made so far in our journey. Nonetheless, I am glad that we are increasingly progressing in our movement in terms of educating our people about the movement. Some years ago, no Baloch could even imagine talking about independence. On the other hand, its reassuring that our women and small children today hate Pakistan and fearlessly demand an independent Balochistan. Is this not a remarkable change in a country where dissent is stringently crushed? If we compare the level of consciousness among the Baloch with what was there on the ground three years ago, then one can conclude that we are gradually winning.