By Najma Sadiq
For quite some time now, there have been seen seemingly inaudible murmurs from Baluchistan. Of late, the voices have become louder, the complaint, among other things, being that its aspirations, views and concerns have not been, or are inadequately, aired in the national press.
To try and right this balance somewhat, one point of view is presented here, that of a Baluch, who has been a part of the political scene more so, of late. The former governor of Baluchistan, Tumandar Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti speaks to ‘The Herald’ about his life – and land.
Eight-thirty on an October morning in 1939, in Dera Bugti, Baluchistan, Akbar felt cold as he stepped out of his house into the wild desert-mountain expanses, For days since his father’s death, tribesmen from all corners had been gathering to pay condolences and last tributes to their late leader; since twilight they had been readying for the dastarbandi ceremony to invest their new chief.
His mind still in a whirl with the sudden changes that had been taken place in the space of few days – being whisked back to Dera Bugti, the converging of countless Bugti, on hearing of their chief’s death, and now the investiture – he gave himself up to being directed and lettings things happen without his volition. There was nothing for him to do anyway. He had been coached the previous evening on what would happen and the demeanour expected of him during the proceedings; that was enough.
The tribesmen settled down and now everyone’s eyes lay intently on him. He was turned to face the direction of the rising sun. A Sahanrak – the enormous, round, wooden tray-like Baluchi dining plate – was placed before him. The shallow centre was filled with water; ringed around the water were a handful each of wheat, jowar, bajra and other grains and pile of silver rupee coins. Flicking off his shoe, he placed his bare right foot in the water of the sahanrak and let its significance seep into his followers. The origins of the ritual, probably pre-Islamic, were lost in the mists of time, but there was no doubt about its import – both an affirmation and a supplication that his “reign” or sardari benefit from his cool and collected wisdom and judgement as expressed by the water in the sahanrak; that there there be rich harvests year after year; that there be prosperity, signified by the silver coins and that all these should be taabay or under the chief’s feet, or in his own words. “That they should not rule me, but I should rule them.”
The Sardari sword – known as Wazir-am-Kundi and a much a mark of the victor over vanquished as a symbol since it was captured by his ancestor Mir Chakur from the Mazari tribe – was hung at his waist. It was heavy and too big for him and tilted over as it touched the ground. It was the same sword that reputedly slashed a man into eight pieces with a single stroke as he sat on his haunches, his arms tied around his knees!
Now came the climax of the ceremony. Fascinatedly watched by then British Political Agent and his retinue, one by one the heads of sub-tribes and their sub-divisions and clans came forward in the fixed order of hierarchy and their status in the tribe, to formally pledge allegiance to their new chieftain. Each one had brought a special length of turban cloth, and each in turn tied the turban around his chief’s head with his own hands. One on top of the other the turbans were tied. When it became too unwieldy, twenty to thirty turbans were removed at a time leaving only the original turban behind, and the ceremony continued. Often, as the wrappings grew, he wouldn’t be able to see anything. His head hurt and he had problems keeping his neck straight, but he had to maintain his strength and dignity before his tribe. Several hundred turbans had been wound and unwound from his head within the space of the morning. Joyful shouts and gunfire filled the air. Twelve-year-old Sardar Akbar Shahbaz Khan of the Rahejas – tribal blue-blood from among whom alone leadership could come – was now the Tumandar of the legendary, indomitable, fearless and death-defying Bugti tribe.
Akbar Khan Bugti betters the imagination of what an untamed tribal chieftain should look like. Over six feet tall with a tough, well- kept physique, he may well have been sculpted from the mountain faces between which he often roamed. At fifty-six, he was as spry and agile as he was as a youth, an excellent horseman and marksman. The years only seem to have sharpened his mental faculties and added to his imposing mien while the anger over the decades over the cavalier treatment of the Baluchis seems to burn in him with an even greater zeal.
Outside his Quetta house, fierce-looking tribesmen stand guard, bristling with guns and bullets. They are an intimidating sight and there was something incongruous about their ushering us in with so much courtesy and respect. Yet all the neighbors declared they felt safer living there than in any part of the city, and those on whose doorsteps the guards scatter themselves, sitting up all night, consider themselves doubly blessed.
The mornings of tribal chieftains are given up to their tribesmen. They came from near and far, to exchange haal or to prevent problems and seek advise or a solution. But this morning was kept free by appointment.
“How much time do you have?” I ventured to ask Sardar Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti, so that I could allot my priorities accordingly.
“I can stay up and talk without break from this moment until the same time tomorrow morning. Can you? Your colleague will vouch for that. He has sat with me overnight a number of times – and has fallen asleep.”
Everyone laughed and relaxed. The day was ours. Outside the rain pelted softly. Before we had even settled down comfortably on the cushions, a traditional drink – the first of an endless round and variety – and a mountainous array of dried fruits were placed before us.
Baluchi custom sends women about to give birth, to her parental family home. Akbar Bugti was born in July 1927 in Parkhan District, Loralai, at the house of his mother’s brother. He grew up in Dera Bugti for the first eight years, attending the local school there as well as being coached by private tutors.
When he was five years old, he was handed his first shotgun. “It was a small bore shotgun – not 12 or 16 but 28 bore – one of the smallest. I sat on my haunches and fired. Immediately I was thrown back and the gun fell from my hands.” But it had not frightened him, accustomed as he was to the presence of guns and gunfire since birth. Thereafter, three Bugti elders began to instruct him on Baluch customs and principles, tribal affairs and how to deal with them. Minor cases of dispute began to be sent to him and the elders would sit with him and direct him on how to question complainants and defendants, and how to arrive at a decision. From the age of seven he sat in on jirgas with his father to listen to cases being conducted and add to his knowledge of tribal administration. He learnt early to lead, to take command, to be king.
There was a short season of primary school in Quetta but the great 1935 earthquake that leveled the city followed soon after. When he visited Quetta again, they could not find their bearings to their house amidst the uniform, anonymous rubble. 40,000 had died. His father then brought Akbar and Ahmed to Karachi and they settled into the Karachi Grammar School. “Lots of Europeans then – upper-class Karachiites including Hindus. Yusuf Haroon and Hidayatullah were our seniors.”
But then the brothers were living with Allama I.I. Kazi and his German wife, Elsa Kazi. There were other out-of-town boys too were placed in the Kazis’ care mostly from different parts of Sind. “The Kazis were childless and they treated us like their children. Later Kazi Saihib became Vice –Chancellor of Sind University. They were a very devoted couple and finally when Mrs. Kazi died, he committed suicide by throwing himself into the river near Giddu Bunder. Without her, he found life empty.”
Akbar Bugti’s deep voice, though always gracious, was measured and emotionless. The only time he seemed to allow warmth and animation to come into his voice during the entire day was when he spoke of Elsa Kazi.
“They were both wonderful but Mrs.Kazi was the more accomplished and true intellectual. She talked of everything under the sun. She was poetess, writer, dramatist, painter, and philosopher of sorts. Yes, she influenced me considerably.”
After his father died and he became Tumandar of the Bugti tribe, Akbar and his brother became Wards of the State. As he was a minor, a regent administered the tribe in his place. The regent was Akbar’s father’s half-brother, and reputed to have murdered Akbar’s father.
Like suddenly changed with a wrench. ”We became wards of two terrible agencies,” he said “one of the government of Baluchistan and the other of Sind, since we also had property in Sind. After the dastarbandi ceremony, all the money that was passed from the late chief to his sons was counted by the Political Agent and taken away and placed under the state until we were adult. The government decided to send the Bugti boys to Aitchison College, Lahore.
“We were miserable for days. There was one consolation though. We were allowed to spend our summer holidays with the Kazis every year as we were not permitted to go to Dera Bugti at all.”
Perhaps it was for their safety since there couldn’t have been cordial feelings where murder was suspected. And a Baluchi son was unlikely to forget or forgive.
But Aitchison turned out to be rewarding. As much attention was paid to sports as to studies and Akbar excelled in them. He captained the swimming and polo teams, played in the cricket team and was good in athletics too, breaking a shot put record.
When he was between eight and ten years old Akbar was betrothed to a second cousin, an incident of which he has no memory. Soon after his 15th birthday, the respective mothers and other relatives suddenly turned up in Lahore and Akbar was informed that he was going to be married. It was a quiet affair and in 1943, when only 16, his first child was born. For two consecutive summers he and his brother Ahmed along with the Kazis and their wards, vacationed at a hill-station thirty miles near Simla, his family accompanying too, staying at an adjoining separate house.
By now Akbar had begun to hear of the Nationalist Movement for Independence by the Indian Congress. “I had not heard of the Muslim League though, but only of Gandhi and the Swadeshi Movement and Gandhi’s call to boycott British goods. Near Soldier Bazaar where we lived in Karachi, people had made a huge bonfire and were throwing in British manufactured stuff. I got carried away as well by the intense feeling, and took off my tie and solar hat and threw them into the fire. Then I acquired a Gandhi cap. I still have it.”
Since 1939 when Akbar became Tumandar until 1944, he had not been to Dera Bugti. “In the meantime trouble began to grow against the Sarbara (regent). People didn’t like his ways and representations were made to bring me back. I knew nothing about all this until I was suddenly taken to Dera Bugti during the vacations. I was taken to another house of ours in Sibi which was quickly renovated. My formal education came to an abrupt end. In January ’45 my second child was born. A retired government official was appointed to tutor me in administrative matters. All of ‘ 45 there was trouble against the Sarbara and in April 1946 I was finally officially recognized and installed as chief, with direct authority over by tribe, by the government.” At eighteen, boyhood came to an end.
(Highlighted box) :-
“Of course,” said the Nawab, “you must remember that I killed my first man when I was twelve. “ That is how Sylvia Matheson’s definitive book on the Baluchis, ‘Tigers of Baluchistan’ begins. “The man annoyed me” had been his explanation. “I’ve forgotten what it was about…. I’ve rather a hasty temper you know… as the eldest son of the Chieftain, I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in my own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition.” The boy Bugti grew up with a dual personality – one that warmed to Elsa Kazi and the ways of the twentieth century, and other that grew up with tribal law in which murder was not a capital offence.
Marri-Bugti country, spread over 7000 square miles, are among the harshest lands in Baluchistan. Rain is rare and temperatures rise to heights that are a torment even to the toughened Bugtis. Tribal life with its disputes over livestock, scarce water, horses and women, the war parties and temporary truces, contained as usual under thesardari of the new Tumandar. In a barren land, quarrels flared over basics of life. The blood-revenge, necessary to honour, kept up unabated and the occasional accusation of adultery known as siyakari broke the monotony of murders. The Tumandar had his hands full with the daily kutchery. These included rare divorce cases and complaints of maltreatment of wives by husbands. Although strictly adhering to the traditional restrictions of women — and they had little to be thankful for in Baluchi society, not even having the right to inherit — the new chieftain, on occasion, didn’t hesitate to publicly punish the offending man.
“Something I gave him a lecture, and the shame he feels to be so spoken to in an open kutchery serves the purpose. Sometimes it’s more than a lecture – a couple of strokes on the back so that he knows what it feels like physically, mentally, psychologically.” Echoes of Elsa Kazi?
In 1948 Akbar Bugti was sent for administraitive training to the C.S.P Academy in Lahore which followed the lines of the British I.C.S. At partition, Baluchistan was not a full-fledged province but still a centrally administrated area, and in 1950 he became one of the two advisors on the Baluchistan Advisory Council towards bringing about provincial status as promised by Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan “But it was like an assembly without powers. We could effect nothing whatsoever,” he murmured resignedly.
In 1953, England’s Queen was crowned; Akbar Bugti and Nawab Khair Buksh Marri were also in invited. It was Akbar’s first trip abroad. “It was a fine ceremony and I was struck especially by Queen Salote of Tonga; she was seven feet tall and with her huge bulk, she was an impressive figure indeed.”
Political disillusionment set in when “we were lumped together into this terrible scheme known as One Unit which ended all the aspirations of the people here for their advancement.
“And to think I had opted for Pakistan! It was in 1946 that we first heard of the Muslim League. We knew as much about them as they did about Baluchistan, which was vague. When we were called upon to decide whether to join India or Pakistan, I called all the elders together and the pros and cons were weighed. My people asked by opinion as they had no knowledge of the world outside. I said I thought Pakistan was best because even if we had wanted to join India, there was no direct land-link and an unnatural situation would have arisen as with East Pakistan.
“Earlier, there had been a stand-still agreement with certain British Indian States like Hyderabad Deccan and with the Maharaja of Kashmir and the Khan of Kalat. The Khan had put the matter of joining India or Pakistan to his Assembly and both the upper and lower houses had unanimously voted to stay independent. Then in 1948, the Pakistan government moved troops to Kalat – a brigade surrounded the palace and invaded Kalat — Colonel Shah, Minister of Interior, sat in Quetta controlling the whole operation. Some cannon shots were fired across his (the Khan of Kalat) palace to impress him and he was obliged sign on the dotted line; unconditional surrender and accession to Pakistan. Similarly in India, police action was pushed in Hyderabad and the Nizam had to do the same.
“That was the first time people became aware of unrest in this region. The Khan’s younger brother, Agha Abdul Karim, revolted and took to the hills with a large body of people. When the position became untenable, he crossed into Afghanistan and camped in Sarlat. For some months there were skirmishes. Senior official interceded. They took an oath on the Holy Quran that if they returned they would be guaranteed safety and dealt with leniently and differences would be amicably settled. No sooner did he (Agha Abdul Karim and his companions) come he was handcuffed, locked up, and he and his men sentenced to prison sentences of 18, 14, 10 years. That was the first taste of Pakistan that Baluchistan got. It built up antagonistic feelings and got worse.
“Baluchistan had one seat in the Constituent Assembly. Though there was the electoral college that constituted of the members of the Shahi Jirga of Baluchistan of which I too was a member, the ticket was ioven to Dr. Khan Saheb, elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a government-nominated man. We protested. The Political Agent was called in. We announced boycott of the elections as a test. But it went through. He was selected or elected. After some time someone took the matter to court, a legal flaw was found in the elections and he was unseated.
“In the meantime, there were some changes in the state laws, Members of the national assembly became the electoral college. Again through maneuvering, Dr. Khan Saheb got the ticket. It was terrible. Had Baluchistan had half a dozen seats we would have given him, or anyone else, one as khairaat or bakshish. But we had only one seat and that was going to a non-Baluch, which was unfair and unjust. We went kamarbasti to Karachi and confronted him. We asked how a person who had fought for rights could justify such an action and appealed to his better judgement. He resorted to anger, because he had no defense to offer, then walked out on us. We were flabbergasted. At that time he was Chief Minister of West Pakistan against the very interest of his own brother and his own party. Then we went on a campaign.”
“There were 80 members in the National Assembly – 40 each from East and West Pakistan. In the West Pakistan quota, one had been vacated by Dr. Khan and another member was absent. So we thought if we could get 20 firm votes, I could win. We weren’t very confident as I was young and raw and the rest were all old fogeys, but one had to try. Twenty people made firm promises to us. On the morning of the voting we placed a couple of men to watch who were going to the Governor-General’s house – who were being called in and offered something or threatened. Those that went in, we knew, were lost. At the end of the count, I had 18 votes, Dr. Khan Sahib 20.”
“Who went back on his word?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“They are dead now.”
“Just for the record …. ”
“I won’t name the others but one was Jalal Baba who was rewarded by being made a Deputy Minister. He wanted a reward from us too. We asked him what that was and he said a motor car. We said ‘fine’. – I had one, and my brother had one, Malik Sher Mazari had one. They were all parked below. When Jalal Baba came in, we all took out our car-keys and started jingling them to attract his attention so that he could choose whichever car he wanted. But he wouldn’t even look at us! We realized then he’d got a bigger prize. The others, I must admit, wanted nothing from us. When the results were out, Mian Iftikharuddin who was in the opposition, flared up at me. ‘Why didn’t you tell me your position was so strong? He asked. I could’ve got you two more, maybe six more votes.
“The seat was again vacant — by-elections held – and this time I was elected unopposed. No great achievement, but shortly after I became Minister of State, Feroz Khan Noon handed me responsibility. But in those days there was a lot of manipulation behind the scenes – Iskander Mirza’s antics preparing ground for Martial law.
Every few days there’d be a reshuffle and change of Cabinet. This went on for a month. Until one day we stayed away from office to see if the newest change would hold, instead of making laughing stocks of ourselves. No use being Minister for a day and half ! Sure enough that night, troops moved in and took their positions. Early next morning it was announced – the Constitution was done away with, parliament and parties dissolved, cabinets dismissed, Martial Law imposed and Ayub Khan became the Chief of the M.L.A. Some time before this the Khan of Kalat was brought into the picture as one of the excuses for Martial Law.
He’d been abroad and returned a month or so earlier and was staying with Iskander Mirza who claimed that Bahawalpur had been agitating for their rights and suggested that if he (the Khan of Kalat) were to show some token agitation, some armed force, that was all that was needed to bring Kalat State back to life. And Mirza would also be needing a few lacs for himself. So the Khan replied, “We’re Baluch and don’t have much money, but Bahawalpur has let them give the money and we’ll give the muscle. So it was all settled, the Khan being a simple man and not knowing he was trapping himself in a great intrigue.
“I first became aware of it through the papers which gave the matter a false buildup. Azadi ka jhanda on the Khan’s qila and Pakistan in danger, and all that sort of nonsense. Two days before Martial Law, I was in the corridor and overheard Noon and Iskander Mirza. I joined them; Mirza turned to me and said ‘Well, Akbar, tumhara Khan ka dimmak Kharab ho giya. I’d called him for a meeting and he refused to come.’
I was disturbed and told him it was not possible, I would fetch him myself. He said, ‘No you’re my Minister. I won’t send you. I told him that apart from being a Minister, I was a Baluch too and so was the Khan. He was my elder, it was perfectly in order for me to go to him. He looked at me fixedly and said, ‘It’s too late,’ and abruptly walked away.
“I realized that something was terribly wrong, something hidden. The next day the Army moved in, demolished part of his place with cannons, arrested him, and placed him under house arrest in the Punjab. And a big hoo-ha was made – that Baluchistan would have been up in flames if this action had been taken. Poor Khan was really had.”
“Trouble started again in Baluchistan not only because of the arrest and deposition but also in demand of provincial rights and against One Unit. Mohd. Nauroz Khan Zarakzai, who was over 90, and his sons and other men had taken up arms. Again, as with the Khan’s brother, he and his sons were lured back by oaths on the Quran that no harsh treatment would be meted out if only they gave up the revolt. When they returned they were thrown into a military detention camp in Quetta known as the Coolie Camp, because after the Great Earthquake, the coolies brought in from outside to clear the debris had stayed there. It was concentration camp with barbed wire – searchlights, heavily armed guards. Several hundred Baluch were tortured. Military Courts were established. Seven were ordered hanged, seven sentenced for life, others for various lengths of time. Nawab Nauroz Khan and one of his sons got life sentences. Another son and a nephew were executed – hung in Hyderabad and Sukkur jails. That added fuel to the fire. More trials joined in the fire. More trials joined in the fray and more got arrested. So was I, Mengal, Bizenjo and Khair Baksh Mari (Sherenoff) who was later released by mistake!
“I was in twelve different jails for the next seven and half years after being tried by the Military Court. First at Coolie Camp, then Machh, Hyderabad, Karachi, Sukkur, Multan Montogomery, Lyallpur, Mianwali, Lahore. Oh! It was a Grand Tour spent mostly in the Punjab and all during Ayub’s time.”
“In the last few years, foreign money has been pouring into Baluchistan. The Western and Arab World have suddenly discovered a place called Baluchistan and its importance ever since the Russian presence in Afghanistan. But most projects are ‘pocket’ schemes – they go into the pockets of officials and blue-eyed notables. The sizes of the ‘pockets’ have increased, they’ve become gunny bags. A little trickles into ‘development’, but no government consultations are held with tribal elders on projects. It doesn’t win the loyalty of the locals or gratefulness to foreigners, whatever their intentions are. You can pour in millions, but you can’t buy Baluchistan and the Baluchis.”
“What was the rationale behind your being shifted from place to place ?”
“Increasingly harsher conditions as one got used to each. Special instructions were given for that. Then the Mengals – fathers and brothers and hundreds of their people suffered. There were military operations, aerial bombardment, many died. Ayub found he couldn’t crush with military action and now thought of negotiation instead. He called the Shahi Jirga and arranged for face-saving tactics. Amnesty was announced. We were all released and had a good laugh notwithstanding the long sufferings and losses. All the cases were withdrawn; things like murder, conspiracy, almost a dozen things under the penal code, including anti-state activities and working for the dissolution of the state!”
“What were the trials and treatment like?”
There was an officer in charge of the Special Summary Military Court No. 2 – Major Sher Ali Baz – a specialist in the art of torture for extracting so-called confessions. The same man was called in for the Agartala case and later the ‘Pindi Conspiracy case. He went on to become Brigadier. I remember one young man he tortured. It was inhuman – he was nailed to the wall. Three wooden nails were driven through the left palm. Chillies were put in his eyes. Then with fish-hooks his flesh was plucked from different parts of the body. For 28 continuous days and nights he was made to stand so that his legs became as fat as an elephant’s. His shalwar had to be torn. They tied bricks to his testicles. The terrible thing was that he was innocent — but by the time they realized he was innocent, he was blind and crippled.
“As for my trial – it was prosecuted by a crude colonel. The magistrate was a refined man but when he tried to ask me some questions, the Colonel rebuked him; ‘You do your job, you’re just a babu of this court, keep writing.’ It was just a kangaroo court. I remember it was winter and bitterly cold that year. I was sentenced and packed off to Quetta and then Machh. Nawab Nauroz Khan was brought there too and court assembled in the jail premises where he was sentenced to death.
“A week later the jail was again heavily surrounded by military units. I felt it was my turn now. Sure enough the Deputy Superintendent came in next morning and told me I was wanted. My trial had already taken place and this was to finalize the verdict. You see, they send it to the Judge Adjutant General of the Army who gives it some legal shape and then it was signed by the CMLA. The officer looked at me and read out, ‘You are sentenced to death and a fine of rupees five lacs.’ I wasn’t aware of it at that moment but I was told later, that I was smiling as I heard this. So many thoughts pass through your mind when you think you’re about to die. I was wondering from whom they were going to collect five lacs if I was going to die. Maybe that’s when I smiled. The officer had stopped for a minute. I think he was looking for a reaction – an appeal for mercy – but he got none. Then he read on; ‘And further, the CMLA has commuted the sentence of death to transportation for life.’ Then he looked up at me to see if I would beam or something – he was disappointed again.
“The mercy petition for Nauroz Khan’s son was rejected. He was executed next morning. I pleaded but they wouldn’t let me see or meet him a last time. Nor did they give his father the opportunity to meet him.
“How did you pass your time during all those years in jail. Was any reading material provided, radio or games?”
“None whatsoever, except for a terrible newspaper called Pakistan Times and that too, only in the Punjab. Much of my time was spent in solitary confinement. In Sahiwal, I spent two years in solitary. After two weeks I’d lost my voice although, I didn’t know it until the Superintendent came to say something to me. When I tried to answer, only a squeak came out. I realized I was losing my voice. After that I would sing or talk to myself regularly just to keep the vocal chords exercised and working!
“Rare interviews with relatives are allowed. But it is not for merciful reasons. One looks forward to it, but the C.I.D. sits there listening to every word so that much of the joy in gone – you can’t speak freely. Afterwards, you are even more shattered because once more you’ve had a taste of what you’re missing. Jail is dehumanizing. You feel like a vegetable rooted to one spot. Sometimes they water you, sometimes they don’t — you have no say in the matter. I’ve lived in all classes in jail – A Class, B Class, and C or Royal Class. In Royal Class, unless you have some means, you barely survive because jail functionaries make money by giving you less food and pocketing the difference.
“The first priority when we would be shifted from one to jail to another was to set up our lines of communication. On one occasion I’d sent a letter to Ataullah Mengal’s house for anti-government handbills because a NAP man was staying at his house. Mengal had prior knowledge of what was going to happen and had already cleared out everything. But just as the police were leaving after a fruitless search, one of the men saw a paper sticking out of a shirt pocket. It was my letter and the NAP fellow was arrested as a recipient.”
“And the consequences to you?”
“Well a special team came down from Karachi to interrogate me. There were no signatures, of course, I said it was indeed a very good counterfeit and whoever wrote it was definitely an expert. The Superintendent must’ve really come under fire. Cases were made against us for ‘seditious and rebellious treason’ and God knows what else. We were brought to Karachi and a special trial was held in jail in camera by a Class 3 magistrate. The trial was just the usual farce, and we took no interest. On the basis of that one letter I was sentenced to three years hard labour, which was a joke – you can’t add any more years to life imprisonment with hard labour already! My co-accused was acquitted while a retrial was ordered for me. Then came Ayub’s general amnesty and I was set free. This was after my first sentence – death – and I’d spent 20 months in jail.
“Then came Ayub Khan’s elections. Khair Buksh Marri and Ataullah Mengal were elected to the seats for Baluchistan. I couldn’t stand being an ex-convict. At the first Assembly, Marri and Mengal spoke up about all the atrocities in Baluchistan. At that time Z.A. Bhutto who was then Foreign Minister spoke to me – he held me responsible, said Kalabagh was angry with me. At a meeting in Baluchistan the atrocities were brought up again. Two days later, Ayub had his meeting where he said, “there’s someone here who was sentenced to death. I commuted it to life imprisonment. Now he’s getting people to agitate against me and the government! He named no names but I was sitting there and people understood at once. Next day I wasn’t allowed to speak at our own meeting. Tents were demolished. I was arrested before the meeting. Thereafter Mengal and Bizenjo and others were arrested. Marri vanished before they could get him. Life sentence was re-imposed on me.
“Anyway, my brother Ahmed approached Mr A. K. Brohi to defend me. There were old ties and attachments – or so we thought. When we were with the Kazis, their home was the gathering place of Sindhi intellectuals. Mr. Brohi was then a poor, struggling law student and Mr. Kazi had appointed him as our private tutor. So Mr. Brohi said of course — anything for my old pupil, won’t even charge any fees’ – and he took up Mengal’s case too. After attending a couple of sessions in the Punjab High Court, he received a letter from Ayub Khan – a veiled threat. Immediately Mr. Brohi collapsed and withdrew from the cases.”
“Didn’t he offer any explanation?”
“He didn’t have to since I was in jail. To my brother he offered the lame excuse that he was too busy – that nothing could be done anyway. Another lawyer was found at the last minute but he was unprepared and the case was dismissed. I heard about these letters much later.”
“By the way, Mengal and I are responsible for three or four new laws on our statute books. They were brought in to ‘deal’ with one man, but they apply to everyone.
For example, there was a change in the Ward of Courts Law — pertaining to minors. Under that they took over all my property – I became a minor all over again in jail ! Even my cars were taken away.
“There was an interesting incident – this was when there was all that action against the Baluch and the Agartala matter. Mujib and Bhutto were locked up too. I was detained in Mianwali. The last days of Ayub’s rule. I had gone on an extended fast – I lost 75 pounds – and was shifted to Mayo Hospital, Lahore. From the hospital verandah we could see the processions and action. Casualties would be rushed to Mayo and we’d get first-hand information. One day there was a lathi charge and tear-gassing. A few people, to escape, jumped over the wall into the hospital grounds. My armed police guards left me and fled for their lives! I was left alone and I could have easily escaped if I wanted to. But I knew it was the end of Ayub. Bhutto and Mujib and others had to be released. This was in ’79 – the Round Table Conference had failed. There was Ayub’s broadcast and Yahya’s takeover. Air Marshal Nur Khan became Governor of Baluchistan. Our properties were restored and other festering matters dealt with.
“Nur Khan was the only one who made a genuine effort to find out and tried to resolve problems as much as he could. But probably most things were beyond his authority and powers as Governor. During his time people were breathing more freely. Soon after, Yahya visited all the provinces. We demanded provincial status one-men, one vote. He later announced the dissolution of One Unit. He started on the right foot. Even people who didn’t like him, gave him credit.
How do you view the future?
“I don’t know if we have a future,” he replied. “The development going on doesn’t tell you what it really is? We only know what the papers say. Quetta is a show-piece. While I was in jail in Ayub’s time, there was a lot of talk about crores being poured into Baluchistan’s development. I started computing the crores that were claimed. By the time I was released it came to several billions in Baluchistan. But I came back to the same old desert, I saw the same broken roads and houses. I saw no great difference except that certain military roads and cantoments had been constructed. But military roads are not for the people.
“It was the same in Bhutto’s time. Ayub built six long military roads. Bhutto added twenty more links, and airfields and helipads, and landing fields. I don’t think any Baluch has any private aircraft or helicopters. At the tail end of Bhutto’s time, cantonments and pucca forts were built to house their own forces – not Baluch.’ This continued till early last year. In Dera Bugti a fort was completed which was started in Bhutto’s time. In Kaghan, Nathiagali, Pat and Marri areas, Jhalawan and Sarawan areas, there are a dozen forts, In all there are 38 – some completed, some under construction, for permanent troops to be housed. I asked, under what heads do you call this development? The reply was, Baluchi tribals are employed in building. I say they are digging their own graves. Mazduri to fortify the army is called development.”
‘In January this year there was a lot of hoo-ha about 44 lacs being spent on the inauguration of Quetta pipeline. Political bribery. The Britishers did the same when they laid the railway line. Two purposes then – the Afghanistan war, and to bribe the locals. Now it’s happening for the second time. Sui gas, which is a product of Baluchistan, has been supplied to all of Pakistan for 20 years or more. Now, when the gas is nearly depleted – only 10 -15 years worth left, they give Quetta a small pipeline and make a big story of it.”
“In the last few years, foreign money is pouring into Baluchistan. The Western and Arab world have suddenly discovered a place called Baluchistan and its importance ever since the Russian presence in Afghanistan. But most projects are ‘pocket’ schemes – they go into the pockets of officials and blue-eyed notables. Now the sizes of the pockets have increased, they’ve become gunny bags. And a little trickles into ‘development’. But that doesn’t win the loyalty of the locals or gratefulness to foreigners, whatever their intentions are. You can pour in billions but you can’t buy Baluchistan and the Baluchis. No government consultations are held with tribal elders on projects.
“The point is that today Baluchistan, especially the coast, is of greater superpower interest than the Punjab. As a vital strategic link, this can unfortunately be a battlefield where we’ll be crushed under foot. Already, one is not safe is one’s own land. In Bhutto’s time, many people were forced to leave their homes, hearths and families and settle in another country ! This regime announced amnesty several times – but we’ve had experience of amnesty before. Less than 100 took advantage of it and half of them were Pakhtuns, not Baluch. The guerillas who stayed away are, the ones who helped bring together the Marris and Bugtis and the temporary ceasefire preceding the final peace.”
“What about education?”
“There are small colleges with handfuls of students here and there. The idea is not to bring true education but to keep the students away from Quetta where they might consolidate their strength. It’s safer to keep them dispersed. People who have a college or even a middle-school education are maladjusted because there are no corresponding jobs. When I was Governor, I sought to have mobile dispensaries and mobile schools so that they could follow the semi-nomads and nomads. That’s the only way until there’s full development to enable people to settle down. But nothing came of it. You should have institutions to suit people, not the other way round.”
Almost eight hours had slipped by since the interview had begun. Coffee, tea and soft drinks had made endless rounds with lunch fitted in somewhere in between without once interrupting the flow of conversation. The Tumandar hadn’t asked whether we would care to join; he simply took it for granted as the hospitality extended to guests. Many questions were left unasked. It was his life I’d come to hear about. At times I felt we were drifting off the central theme, talking only of politics but then came the realization that as a Baluch and a tribal chieftain, deeply disturbed about the future of his land and people, all that Akbar Bugti had spoken of was his whole life. A greater urgency was building up as he approached his sixtieth year and no satisfactory solution to the dilemma of his people, appeared in sight.
Outside, the rain fell in torrents. It was time to leave. The countless other questions would have to wait. Saying our goodbyes, we stepped out from the storm within to the storm outside.
The interview was done for HERALD some 30 years ago by veteran journalist Najma Sadiq who was associated with Dawn Newspaper for decades.