`A great tragedy is unfolding'

Print edition : February 10, 2006

Nawab Akbar Bugti. - AFP

Interview with Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the Sardar or hereditary ruler of the Bugti tribe, gave this satellite-phone interview to Frontline's Praveen Swami, his first to an Indian publication, from a mountain hideout. He addressed Pakistani claims that India is sponsoring the insurgency in Balochistan, and provided a first-hand account of the fighting in the Dera Bugti area.

President Pervez Musharraf said recently that India was aiding the insurgency in Balochistan. What do you have to say about this?

He is using his favourite weapon - lies. His objective is to defame the legitimate demands of the people of Balochistan. We are fighting a war to defend our rights and our country, not for anyone else's interests.

Baloch insurgents, including your followers, have been using a variety of sophisticated weapons, including rocket launchers and heavy machine guns. How do you have these weapons if there is no external support?

What is the need for us to take anything from anyone? All the weapons we use are widely available in this region and can be purchased for just a few thousand rupees. When the United States of America financed the jihad against the Soviet Union's forces in Afghanistan, sophisticated armaments were pumped into this region. As is well known, they even supplied the mujahideen state-of-the-art equipment like Stinger missiles. After the jihad ended, the weapons stayed on. President Musharraf knows all this well, since it was the Inter-Services Intelligence which distributed them to groups in Afghanistan, Iran, Jammu and Kashmir - and, of course, in Balochistan.

There is concern about what consequences the fighting in Balochistan might have for the region, particularly the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, which is perceived as a keystone for building peace. Do you share these concerns? Will there be attacks on the proposed pipeline?

India-Pakistan peace is something India and Pakistan have to deal with, not us. The Iran-India pipeline will pass through our country. We want our rights - which include, among other things, a fair share of the revenues that will be generated from the pipeline - to be respected. We have a right to our natural resources and national wealth. If we are deprived of these rights, as we have been, we will fight for their restoration. We are not against development, but against exploitation. So by all means build a pipeline, but ensure that the Baloch people receive a share of the benefits.

The media have had little access to the front in Balochistan, and we have only sketchy reports of the fighting. Can you give us a picture of what is going on, particularly in the Dera Bugti area?

We have been under sustained attack from jet aircraft for the past few days. Apart from helicopter gunships, these aircraft have been strafing and bombing the heights on either side of the Sui and Loti valleys. As people have reported, there has also been a lot of artillery fire from long-range weapons. Two regular army brigades which were based in Sui have also been committed to the fighting. A couple of days ago [the interview was conducted on January 12], some 24-25 tanks also arrived in Sui, although they have not yet been used in fighting. Hundreds of people, overwhelmingly civilians, have died. Just last night, the shelling in the Dera Bugti area claimed 16 lives, bringing the total number of the dead up to 43; 161 people have been injured. Eighty-five per cent of the victims have been women and children. And this is only one tiny part of the province I am speaking of, from first-hand knowledge.

When the fighting in Balochistan began in 2003, a senior leader had described it as the last stand of the tribes of the region - as a kind of final battle in which the people of the province would either prevail or perish. Do you also see it that way, or are you open to negotiations?

For there to be negotiations, the government first has to be willing to talk. No one has offered to talk to us; there have been no feelers whatsoever. The truth is that they want to kill the leaders of the people of Balochistan; to crush us using force. Yesterday, when the Pakistan Army arrived at my home in Sui, one of those tanks I told you about was driven up to the front gate, after which they ordered everyone to come out and arrested all my servants. Why send a tank there? It was a message. A very great tragedy is unfolding in Balochistan, and sadly the world is not paying attention.

You saw the fighting in Balochistan from 1973 onwards. How do you compare the conflict then and now?

Well, in 1973 the fighting was restricted to just some areas. Also, the Baloch people were not so well armed or prepared. This time, the fighting is much more ferocious and spread across the entire country [Balochistan]. Another significant factor is that all the tribes, be they Bugti, Marri or Mengal, are all involved.

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