Three Sardars and a General

Print edition : February 10, 2006
B. MURALIDHAR REDDY in Islamabad

Marri tribesmen with AK-47 rifles in Kohlu district, some 400 km southeast of Quetta, Balochistan's capital.-BANARAS KHAN /AFP

"THERE are two or three tribal chiefs and feudal lords behind what is going on in Balochistan. The past governments have made deals with them and indulged them. My government is determined to establish its writ. It will be a fight to the finish," Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf thundered at an editors' meeting in Lahore on December 30. Musharraf accused the tribal chiefs of obstructing development projects in the province to keep their stranglehold on the people and perpetuate their power. "These are all the same people who are creating disturbances in Gwadar, Kholu and other parts of Balochistan and who are taking briefing from the same source; we know the sources too," he said in an oblique reference to India.

Musharraf said the concern expressed by New Delhi over the situation in Balochistan was a reflection of its nexus with those involved in the disturbances. Subsequently, in a television interview, the President claimed that Islamabad had evidence of financial and material help extended by India to the `miscreants'.

WHO are the feudal lords Musharraf is referring to and how are they perceived by the civil society of Pakistan in general and Balochis in particular? It is well known that Musharraf has the three Sardars of Balochistan in mind when he talks of the `obstructive' tribal chiefs and feudals. The first and foremost is Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who has been engaged in conflict with the Pakistan federation over the issue of gas royalties as well as development of the region since 1948.

The second is Sardar Khair Bux Marri, a legendary figure in all the Baloch rights struggles, and the head of the militant Marri tribe. His tribe bore the brunt of the Pakistan Army's onslaught, and many members of the Marri tribe took shelter in the mountains to continue with their armed struggle, which lasted until 1975. After the suppression of the revolt, he lived in exile in Kabul and London and came back after working a deal with the Zia regime in the early 1980s. He mostly kept to himself after his return. But recently, he was indicted in the murder of Balochistan High Court Judge, Khuda Bux Marri. It was rumoured that his son Mir Ballach Marri actually pulled the trigger in the elder Marri's presence. His son is now hiding in the Marri tribal area and supposedly leading the current resistance.

Last but not the least is Sardar Attaullah Mengal, the first Chief Minister of Balochistan and a known `hardliner. During the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister, his son Akhtar Mengal became the Chief Minister of Balochistan.

Sanalluah Baloch, a Member of the Pakistan Senate from the Balochistan National Party (BNP), scoffs at the suggestion that the Sardars and other Baloch leaders are largely responsible for the woes of the province. The fiery orator is thorough with his facts and figures. "From the 1948 accession to Pakistan till today, Baloch nationalists have ruled the province for only 37 months - the nine-month rule of Attaullah Mengal, a year of Akhtar Mengal and 16 months of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. During Attaullah Mengal's term, the province's first university, medical college and board of secondary education were set up. The same NAP government established the first industrial city of the province, in Hub. The government was dissolved after nine months because it was doing so much for the people. As for Akbar Khan Bugti's rule , the Benazir government could not agree with him on the rights of the province. Then Nawaz Sharif made a commitment with his ally Akhtar Mengal that after the passage of the 13th Amendment, he would announce a mega constitutional package on provincial autonomy. Unfortunately, he could not come up with a package even after 14 months despite... debating the matter for long... . Since 1948, 23 Governors have been appointed in Balochistan, but only 10 of them belonged to the province while the remaining were outsiders," he says.

On the charge that Baloch nationalists are politicising development issues to serve the Sardars' interests, he claims that before establishing the Gwadar port, nationalists wanted a marine biological institute and a mineral development research institute near Saindak, but the demand was not accepted.

Some 35,000 paramilitary troops are stationed in Balochistan at a cost of approximately Rs.15,000 a month while there are only 12,000 teachers with an average monthly salary of Rs.6,000 each. "We want the government to abolish the FC (Frontier Constabulary) and instead raise an army of teachers. I bet no one would oppose the opening of universities and schools in Balochistan," he says.

About the charge that the Baloch nationalist leadership belongs to the Sardars and the Nawabs and is meant to protect their interests, Baloch said he belonged to a middle-class family which was never involved in politics. "Similarly, Rauf Mengal is the son of a small shopkeeper. All the representatives from the nationalist parties belong to the middle class. Even in Akbar Khan Bugti's party, Senator Amanullah Karnani comes from a very poor family".

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