For many Pakistanis, Bugti’s death is a harsh reminder of the death of another politician at the hands of an earlier military ruler – the hanging of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979. The killing of Bugti, an avowed secularist who mocked the Taliban, is also a revealing glimpse of how the military regime treats secular politicians, while it has mollycoddled extremist Islamic leaders.Even before the killing, the government was under siege by a rejuvenated opposition made up of Islamic and national political parties, which have brought a no-confidence motion against the government in Parliament. Bugti’s death is likely to unite politicians of all political persuasions, including many in the ruling party who have been shocked and dismayed by the military’s high- handedness.The unraveling of the Musharraf era is picking up pace. The army now needs to let go and help Pakistan’s politicians map out a path toward an acceptable democracy for a nation that is critical to the world’s stability. ~The International Herald-Tribune
The rioting across Baluchistan prompted by the government’s assassination of Bugti is just the first stage of greater unrest in the southwest of Pakistan. The Baluch insurgency had made some news earlier this year, highlighting the escalation of the war:
To reach the cave Mr Bugti calls home, your correspondent trekked for a week through scorched valleys and moonlit hills, circumventing army pickets. Though half-crippled by thrombosis, Mr Bugti, who claims to have killed his first man at the age of twelve, was in good spirits. “It is better to die quickly in the mountain than slowly in bed,” he said, surrounded by a silent crowd of Bugti gunmen. A fan of Nietzsche and Genghis Khan, he speaks perfect English and delights in punctiliously-pronounced discourses on the love-life of camels and wreaking horrible revenge on his foes. “What is better than seeing your enemies driven before you and then taking their women to bed?” he says.
While Bugti tribesmen harry the army, a mysterious outfit, the Baluchistan Liberation Army, which the government says is also run by the sardars, is attacking policemen and soldiers across the province. Both groups are believed to have received assistance from India, across the nearby porous border with Afghanistan. In the past few years, 400 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the conflict, as well as several hundred people in army attacks. Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission has documented government atrocities, including a massacre of 12 civilians in January.
There was also a small piece in The Economist last year on the worsening alienation and militancy of Baluch nationalists and how foreign oil interests have exacerbated the resentments of an already embittered people:
Unwittingly, outsiders have stoked the conflict. Thirsting for oil, America and India want to build a pipeline through the province, running south from the wells of Central Asia, or, in India’s case, east from Iran. India’s dynamic oil minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar—who also dreams of a pan-Asian gas grid—has suggested that the second pipeline could be completed by 2011. On reaching the coast, the Central Asian pipeline would disgorge into supertankers gathered off the emerging port at Gwadar. Chinese engineers are building the port with an initial loan from China of $200m. As its capacity increases, Gwadar will halve the distance between Xinjiang, the westernmost province of China, and its nearest accessible port—currently some 2,000 miles (3,000 km).
Baluchi nationalists, and especially the BLA, take particular exception to the emerging port. Last May, three Chinese engineers were killed and 11 injured in Gwadar by a car bomb. The nationalists consider it another avenue for the government to plunder their resources. But more important, with an eye on the teeming slums of nearby Karachi, they fear it may draw in millions of outsiders, making the Baluchis a minority in their own land.
It is unfortunate that when this article was published for the 5 May edition of last year, there seemed a reasonable chance of addressing some Baluchi grievances and possibly staving off the widespread unrest and violence that is now breaking out. But now the old desire to be rid of Bugti has been realised, and now Musharraf has probably forever destroyed what miniscule credibility his government ever had in a vitally important part of his country. As a country that has quite a lot riding on just the appearance of Pakistani stability, America has a lot to lose to if the Baluch insurgency grows worse or helps to trigger other resistance to Islamabad. If we don’t want to wake up to news of another coup or Musharraf’s untimely demise, our government would do well to take a more active interest in our most ramshackle of allies’ affairs.