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Violence erupts in Baluchistan Province after killing of nationalist leader

The Pakistani province of Baluchistan has been shut down by a strike and violent protests since the killing of Akbar Bugti (who was the Chief of the Bugti tribes and President of Jamhoori Watan Party) during a military operation on 26 August 2006.

The Nationalist parties’ alliance announced the strike and protests on 27 August to protest against the killing. Across the province, many banks and federal government offices were ransacked and set on fire. All the main markets and shops are closed. Provincial schools, colleges and universities are also closed. There is almost no traffic on the main highways. The partial strike was also observed in Sindh province. The provincial government imposed a curfew in Quetta and in other cities. The police and paramilitary forces use tear gas and bullets to disperse the protesters.

Contradictory claims
The Musharaf regime has, so far, made contradictory statements and claims about the unrest. A government and military spokesman first claimed that Akbar Bugti was killed in a combat military operation in the Bhimboore mountain range, near Kohlu District. General Musharaf immediately congratulated the security forces on the “successful” military operation. Government spokesman gave the impression that the killing of Akbar Bugti was a final blow to the insurgency in Baluchistan. After three days of killings, however, both military and government spokesmen are now saying that Akbar Bugti was not targeted but killed by accident. It is clear the government is not ready to take the responsibility for this killing because of increased opposition to the nationalist leaders’ death. The military officials say that they wanted to arrest Akbar Bugti and when military officers entered the cave where he was hiding with his supporters, the cave collapsed and Akbar Bugti and military officers were killed.

Nobody knows the facts, as the government banned the media and civilians entering the area where Akbar Bugti died. But one thing for sure is that Akbar Bugti was killed in a military operation. His body has not been found because it is still under the rubble. Some media reports suggest that Akbar Bugti’s hideout cave was attacked by a gunship helicopter, which fired missiles at the cave. The government has also accepted that military operations are continuing in some areas of Baluchistan (In the past, the government never publicly accepted that a military operation is going on in Baluchistan). Some media reports also suggested that Special Commando Forces are used in the operation.

It is clear that government has changed its stance because of staunch opposition from all the political parties, human rights organisations and intellectuals to the death of Akbar Bugti and the ongoing military actions. Even senior leaders of the ruling party, the PML, have criticized the killing.

Nationalism will rise
The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti will give rise to the nationalism, not only in Baluchistan, but also in Sindh and NWFP provinces. It is likely that nationalism in Baluchistan can take a more violent turn and separatist ideas will dominate the movement. In Sindh and NWFP, the established nationalist political parties will make gains. The killing of Akbar Bugti will increase the sense of alienation amongst the masses in the small provinces. The last 58 years of Pakistani history shows that every military campaign in the country gave rise to the nationalism. The government military campaigns in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, gave rise to insurgency and nationalism. Vicious military repression in the Sindh, in the 1980s, gave birth to the armed struggle and nationalism in that area. The present Musharraf regime refuses to learn from the past mistakes. Brutal government military operations in the former East Pakistan, in 1971, gave birth to a new country called Bangladesh.

The situation can get out of control in Baluchistan, if the regime continues to use military force against the nationalist parties and youth. In the absence of a strong working class voice, big sections of radicalised youth can join the ranks of nationalist political parties but also insurgency and armed groups. Nationalist consciousness will rise sharply. Even the trade unions and working class in the province can also be affected by the strong waves of nationalism.

From a traitor to a hero to a martyr
Akbar Bugti was never a darling of nationalist forces in Baluchistan, because he was always very close to the Establishment. Before 2005, he was treated as a “traitor” by to the Baluch cause. He was a typical Baluch tribal chief, showing no mercy for his opponents and dissidents. He was responsible for the killing of many innocent people. He became governor of Baluchistan, in 1973, when military operations by the government were conducted in the province. The nationalist movement considered this move by Akbar Bugti as a betrayal of the Baluch cause.

Akbar Bugti twice became Chief Minister of Baluchistan. This clearly shows that he was never against the Establishment. But events in his tribal area forced him to change his ideas and strategy. Since March 2005, Akbar Bugti took very hard stance against the military Establishment. Many people died in the ensuing violence between the security forces and Akbar Bugti’s armed militia.

In his death, and in the manner in which it was carried out, Akbar Bugti will likely become a martyred hero for Baluch nationalism. He has become a sign of resistance and courage, at the age of 79. Many who opposed Akbar Bugti in the past are now paying tribute to his struggle.

The Socialist Movement (CWI) disagrees with the ideas and tactics of Akbar Bugti. He was a supporter of a rotten tribal and capitalist system. We always criticised his views on women and the tribal system. We also exposed his atrocities, committed against tribal people. But we also condemn his killing and reject the claims of the government. We consider the killing a political blunder on the part of the Musharaf regime, as it will aggravate the situation in Baluchistan. The working masses of Baluchistan will be the hardest hit by deepening violence and instability.

Khalid Bhatti

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