August 27, 2006Foreign Affairs

Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti: Dead or Dangerous?

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

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

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.

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