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memri
October 26, 2009 No.
2589

Baluchistan Underground Guerrilla Commander: Our War Will Continue Until We Achieve Freedom [From Pakistan]; It Should Be Viewed As Political Rather Than Terrorist; We Never Initiated This War; Our Small Children Refuse to Sing Pakistani Anthem

In a recent interview, underground Baluchi rebel commander Nawabzada Bramdagh Bugti discussed the objectives of the armed movement in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, arguing that freedom from Pakistan is the only solution to the problems faced by the Baluchi people.

The gas-rich province of Baluchistan is the geographically the largest province of Pakistan, situated along Iran and Afghanistan. The interview was conducted by senior Pakistani journalist Malik Siraj Akbar, who is the Baluchistan bureau chief of Lahore-based Daily Times.

In the interview, the 28-year-old rebel commander, whose whereabouts are unknown, rejected any suggestions for reconciliation with the state of Pakistan.

About Pakistan's charge that Afghanistan and India are supporting the Baluchi secessionist movement, the rebel commander argued that the Baluchi movement is an indigenous movement for independence and such accusations by Pakistan have now helped internationalize the issue.

Bramdagh Bugti, who is accused by Pakistan of operating from Afghanistan, consistently described the Pakistani Army as Punjabi Army, a reference to the control of the people from Punjab over military and civil service jobs in other provinces of Pakistan. In recent months, Baluchi rebels have resorted to killing ethnic Punjabi teachers and government officials posted in Baluchistan province.

Bramdagh Bugti is the grandson of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former chief minister and governor of Baluchistan who was killed by the Pakistani Army in an August 26, 2006 operation. The elder Bugti's killing has added fuel to the rebel movement in Baluchistan in recent years, with schools refusing to sing the Pakistani national anthem.

Following are excerpts from the interview: [1]

"Pakistan Has Been Trying to Muzzle Our Voice… Blunders by Islamabad… Have Only Helped Us Internationalize Our Cause"

Q: How do you feel about possible efforts by Islamabad to pressurize the Afghan government to get you extradited from Afghanistan where you are believed to be currently hiding?

A: "I have said it many times that I am not hiding in Afghanistan. I am very much among my Baluchi people. With such propaganda, Islamabad is trying to raise non-issues and divert attention from the actual objectives and steady success of our struggle for Baluchistan's separation from Pakistan.

"Dynamics of international politics have remarkably changed in the recent times. Our consistent armed struggle has proven to the world that the Baluchis are not terrorists but freedom fighters. Today, there is more 'moral support' to us from the Western media and the civilized world than ever before. Therefore, even if I am hiding in Afghanistan or somewhere in Europe, I am still confident that my hosts, no matter who they are, fully understand what the Baluchi movement stands for, and will not get me extradited to Pakistan at any cost.

"The government of Pakistan has failed in attempts to implicate Harbeyar Marri and Gazin Marri, the sons of [nationalist Baluchi elder] Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, in London and Dubai respectively, on terrorism charges. These Baluchi leaders were tried in the most standard courts of the world, where everyone is expected to get equal justice. These courts acquitted the Baluchi leaders of terrorism charges and acknowledged that they were only the victims of geo-politics. They had been forced by Pakistan to flee their towns, which had come under intense bombardment, and take shelter either in the hills of Baluchistan or go abroad."

Q: How popular do you think your movement is internationally?

A: "Blunders committed by Pakistan itself have helped us very much to gain international popularity. When the sons of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri were arrested from London and Dubai, the world community was forced to have a more realistic look at Baluchistan. Luckily, the Western media is now covering the Baluchi issue more keenly and objectively. The civilized world discreetly buys our demand of control on our resources against a country that is using bombs and tanks on the Baluchi population."

"The Baluchi Movement is Purely Indigenous… Nonetheless, I Would Appeal to the International Community" For Help

Q: Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Primer Manmohan Singh recently mentioned the Baluchistan issue in a statement signed in Sharm el-Sheikh. What is your reaction to this development?

A: "Pakistan has been trying to muzzle our voice by all available means. Blunders by Islamabad, such as holding India responsible for the prevailing unrest in Baluchistan, have only helped us to internationalize our cause. The Baluchi movement is purely indigenous without getting substantial foreign assistance. Nonetheless, I would appeal to the international community to come to our help to get us rid of Pakistan."

Q: How would you define your guerrilla war against Islamabad?

A: "Our guerrilla war should be viewed in political terms rather than being interpreted as a terrorist movement. We never initiated this war. The government of Pakistan imposed a war on our people. My grandfather, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was forthcoming toward reconciliatory efforts but he was driven out of his home.

"I wish to emphasize that ours is a war in self-defense. We admit being weaker against the mighty State of Pakistan that has bombs, tanks and helicopters to attack us. Now, our war will continue until we fully achieve our destination of freedom."

Q: How do you see the recently formed Independent Baluchistan Council formulated by Mir Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat (i.e. the erstwhile state in Baluchistan)?

A: "I have read about it only in the media. I am not in touch with the Khan of Kalat. However, I deeply admire every sincere effort that is made for an independent Baluchistan."

"Today, Our Small Children Refuse to Sing Pakistan's Anthem"

Q: Let's assume that you manage to obtaim independence for Baluchistan. Do you think an Independent Baluchistan is viable?

A: "We keep hearing this propaganda by the Punjabis and Islamabad that an independent Baluchistan will not survive. We think differently. The Baluchi movement has matured to a large extent. We know the importance of independence. We will preserve it by hook or by crook. The Baluchis are so conscious about their rights today that if I compromise on their movement with the Pakistani establishment, my own followers will definitely desert, replace and kill me.

"Today, our small children refuse to sing Pakistan's anthem. They burn the 'Punjabi flag' [a reference to Pakistani flag]. Do you not think this is significant headway?

"I am not an idealist. Like every other movement in the world, the Baluch movement also has its weaknesses and shortcomings. I have never claimed to be running an ideal movement. Challenges are there. But I want to tell Islamabad not to worry about the Baluchis. We can manage ourselves. Punjab deprived our people of right to education. We will educate our people. We do not need the sympathies of the Punjab [the province accused to rule all over Pakistan]."

Q: One can see the rise of a Marri-Bugti confederacy in Baluchistan. Do you agree? (Recently a son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri married Bramdagh Bugti's sister, bonding the Marri and Bugti tribes.)

A: "Marri and Bugtis [influential tribes in regions of Baluchistan] have lived together for ages. We share borders with each other. More importantly, we believe we are faced with a collective enemy. Therefore, we are more united today and we wish to extend this unity in order to achieve our goals.

"However, it would be misleading if you narrowly look at our popular resistance movement to, what you call, a mere 'Marri-Bugti confederacy.' Today, Turbat district, where there is no tribal system at all, is the home to separatist movement. After the killing of [Baluchi nationalist leaders] Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch, Turbat has brought itself at par with Dera Bugti and Sui [areas] in the resistance movement.

"Hence, you should know that the movement for an independent Baluchistan is equally popular among the people who are well educated and have never lived under tribal system."

"The PPP Government [Led by President Asif Zardari]… Is Suppressing the Baluchis More Brutally Than the [Former Military Dictator] Pervez Musharraf Regime"

Q: The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government of President Asif Zardari has set up a constitutional reforms committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani to address the Baluchi grievances. What do you say about it?

A: "I have one thing to say about the PPP government. It is suppressing the Baluchis more brutally than the [former military dictator] Pervez Musharraf regime. There is no let-up in the situation in Baluchistan under the PPP government. The military operation is taking place unabated. More cantonments and checkposts are being established. [2] Political activists are being kidnapped and subjected to inhuman treatment. Baluchi press is being muzzled.

"Even then, if someone expects us to still negotiate with the people who ruined our lives then you are not being fair with us."

"Our Demands are Simple - Withdraw the Punjabi Army from Baluchistan and Declare the Independence of Baluchistan"

Q: But isn't there still a possibility of confidence-building measures? What would you recommend to the PPP government to do so that you would agree to negotiate?

A: "Our demands are simple. Withdraw the Punjabi army from Baluchistan and declare the independence of Baluchistan."

"Recently, [Pakistan's] Herald Magazine Ran a Cover Story Calling Dera Bugti [District in Baluchistan] A No-Go Area [for Correspondents]; If the Area is Not Under Military Operation - Why Doesn't The Government Allow Entry to the Independent Media[?]"

Q: Your demands are perhaps too high for Islamabad to meet. Can you not compromise on something less than that?

A: "The PPP government has declared a war against us. They want us to negotiate at gunpoint which we will never do. Recently, the [Pakistani] Herald magazine ran a cover story calling Dera Bugti [district in Baluchistan] a no-go area. If the area is not under military operation, why doesn't the government allow entry to the independent media to see the ground realities in that conflict-stricken area?

"As far as compromising on something less is concerned, you see our fight with Pakistan is not on water or gas issues. We are fighting for our independence. They have illegally occupied our land. We neither demand anything from them nor agree to give anything to Islamabad. Therefore, the best formula for Islamabad is to withdraw from our land and grant us freedom.

"Once that is done, there will be peace and tranquillity in Baluchistan. Later on, we will decide about the nature of relations an independent Baluchistan would like to maintain with Pakistan."

"We Warned All Baluchis Not to Serve in the Pakistani Security Forces Against the Baluchi Fighters"

Q: Your supporters are believed to have kidnapped and subsequently killed around 20 Baluchi policemen in Naseerabad district. The local Baluchis have expressed their resentment to these killings. Likewise, why are the Baluchi separatists target-killing Punjabi teachers in Baluchistan?

A: "I do not call the BLA [Baloch Liberation Army] and BRA [Baloch Republican Party] my supporters. They are my brothers. I fully endorse all their operations. If they resort to extreme actions then they surely have suffered the same level of brutality by the Pakistani forces.

"We warned all Baluchis not to serve in the Pakistani security forces against the Baluchi fighters. Likewise, the policemen in Naseerabad, despite being Baluchis, were being disloyal to their motherland when they tried to operate against the very people who are struggling for their independence. However, every effort was made to spare the laborers and innocent people who were kidnapped."

"Pakistani Authorities and Media Shout Only When One Punjabi… is Killed [by Baluchi Rebels] - Why Isn't a Single Word Uttered when Baluchi Towns are Bombarded by the Pakistani Authorities?"

"As far as the target killing of teachers is concerned, I do not understand why the Pakistani authorities and the media shout only when one Punjabi teacher or barber is killed. Why isn't a single word uttered when Baluchi towns are bombarded by the Pakistani authorities?

"I have said it many times: Target killings are a justified reaction of the Baluchis against the policies of the Punjabi army."

"If Punjab Does Not Review its Attitude Toward the Baluchis… The Baluchis Would Be Justified to Even Enter the Towns of Punjab to Eliminate the Punjabis"

Q: Doesn't that mean you endorse these target killings?

A: "I said before that target killings are the reaction to an action. If one Punjabi teacher is killed, one hundred more Baluchs are also killed in response by the security forces. The government functionaries destroy the livelihood of the poor Baluchi tribesmen by bombarding their homes, goats, and sheep with helicopters and jet airplanes. What are the other ways left for us? Why should we no react?

"I was reading an article, which I admire, by a Baluchi writer who said we were not carrying out enough target killings. There is a need for more such killings. These killings, according to that writer, should be intensified and expanded to Punjab.

"If Punjab does not review its attitude toward the Baluchis, then I believe the Baluchis would be justified to even enter the towns of Punjab to eliminate the Punjabis who are killing the Baluchis. So, don't force us to that extent."

"When the Government Took Over [after February 2008 Elections], It Promised to End the Military Operation… Today, We Are Witnessing More Violence"

Q: Now that your cousin Mir Aali Bugti has been elevated as the chief of Bugti tribe and Shahzain Bugti, the son of your uncle Talal Bugti, is also planning to return to Dera Bugti, what is the justification on your part to oppose the Bugti tribe?

A: "Islamabad has had a long policy of divide and rule in Baluchistan. It does not surprise me if they pit my cousin against me. This is not a long-term solution to the Baluchi problem. When the government took over, it promised to end the military operation in the first four months. On the contrary, today, we are witnessing more violence in Dera Bugti. Neither the military operation has ended nor have the attacks by the Baluchi 'freedom fighters' declined.

"The experiment of bringing Mir Aali to Dera Bugti completely failed. The so-called Nawab of Bugti tribe lives amid unprecedented fear and uncertainty. He is afraid of the very people who surround him; he does not even trust them. He does not allow them to leave Dera Bugti. If Mir Aali was truly in control of the affairs in the district, then why would he not allow the independent media to visit Dera Bugti?"

Q: Baluchistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi often ridicules your movement by saying that you cannot get independence by burning the Pakistani national flag or target killing teachers.

A: "Why are you quoting a man who is paid a salary from Islamabad to speak and act against us? We do not care what Magsi or [Chief Minister Nawab Aslam] Raisani have to say about us because they are both confused people. Raisani once calls for the deployment of the [para-military force] Frontier Corps and then he tells the Herald [magazine] that if he were powerful enough, he would drive all the security forces out of Baluchistan.

"Every statement of the Chief Minister contradicts his previous one. We are fighting for a greater cause without caring much what Raisani or Magsi have to say about us."

"True Nationalistic Politics is That of Armed Resistance"

Q: Nawab Bugti gave the call for a single Baluchi political party. You have been asking the Baluchi nationalists to give up parliamentary politics. Now, why isn't your appeal taken seriously by the Balochistan National Party (BNP) and the National Party (NP)?

A: "In my views, true nationalistic politics is that of armed resistance. We need to reject (Pakistan's) parliamentary politics. The Baluchis should increase their support for the armed groups. It does not make a big difference if the BNP and NP do not back the forces that vocally demand an independent Baluchistan. All I want to tell my people is that we should unite. The government is eliminating the Baluchi identity. The sooner we unite the better.

"We already have a single Baluchi party present in shape of the Baloch National Front (BNF) which is an organized group of around ten political parties. The Baloch people should strengthen the BNF so that our voice for an independent Baluchistan becomes clear and loud enough for our people and the rest of the world."

"Some Years Ago, No Baluchi Could Even Imagine Talking About Independence"

Q: Do you think your movement is successfully heading toward its destination?

A: "We are not talking about destination right now. I know it is still too far. So let's not talk of the percentage of progress that we have made so far in our journey.

"Nonetheless, I am glad that we are increasingly progressing in our movement in terms of educating our people about the movement.

"Some years ago, no Baluchi could even imagine talking about independence. On the other hand, it's reassuring that our women and small children today hate Pakistan and fearlessly demand an independent Baluchistan. Is this not a remarkable change in a country where dissent is stringently crushed?

"If we compare the level of consciousness among the Baluchis with what was there on the ground three years ago, then one can conclude that we are gradually winning."

Endnotes:

[1] www.balochwarna.com, Pakistan, September 11, 2009

[2] Since the interview was conducted, Pakistan has announced the postponement of the construction of military cantonments in Baluchistan.