On 26 August 2006, Pakistani army stormed thestronghold of the chief of the Bugti clan, and a prominent leader of theBalochistan separatist movement, Akbar Bugti and killed him in the encounter.
In December 2005, only months before the military operationthat would be carried out against Bugti, Musharraf had said:
... there are two or three tribal chiefs and feudal lords behind what’s 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.
Over 1,60,000 Displaced in the Conflict
Following Musharraf’s comments, Baloch nationals entered into talks regarding a parliamentary committee in December 2005. This development had come after months of failed attempts of the armed forces to capture Bugti in his town of Dera Bugti.
The army bombings of Dera Bugti resulted in indiscriminate killing, and displacement of close to 1,60,000 people in the region, according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s 2006 report. The siege forced Bugti and his supporters to shift bases to Bhamboor hills where they would eventually meet their end. Dawn reported that the operation to capture Bugti went on for three days before it achieved its goal.
Bugti’s Death and Anti-Pakistan Protests
Bugti’s death, however, resulted in massive protests when entire Balochistan, from university students to separatist leaders, united against the Pakistani regime. All opposition leaders throughout the country condemned the killing. Bugti was not simply a separatist leader heading an anti-regime movement, but he had once been at the heart of mainstream politics, having served as governor and chief minister of Balochistan.
TIME magazine said of Bugti in 2006:
Bugti was not just a local, or even a Baluch hero, but a nationally respected politician whose cause resonated throughout the country. In using force to take out the small problem of an avowedly secular and anti-Taliban insurgent group (with reasonable demands, if not reasonable means), the military-led government of President Pervez Musharraf may find that it has simply highlighted the larger issue of military rule on the day before Musharraf’s hand-picked Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz faces a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.
Shifty Claims About Bugti’s Death
General Musharraf, the then president and army chief of Pakistan, claimed that even though the army had taken control of the area, their goal was to take Bugti in custody alive and that he had died inadvertently when the bunker where he was hiding caved in.
Another claim suggested that Bugti killed himself when he was cornered by the Pakistani forces. Different versions of the manner of Bugti’s death further added to the growing discontent against the government.
The case of alleged murder of Akbar Bugti dragged on against Musharraf for a couple of years until earlier in January 2016, Musharraf was acquitted of the charges.
‘I’d Rather Death Come to Me While I’m Fighting for a Purpose’
In a satellite telephone interview with the TIME magazine in May 2006, Bugti had rather prophetically said:
It’s better to die — as the Americans say — with your spurs on. Instead of a slow death in bed, I’d rather death come to me while I’m fighting for a purpose.
Akbar Bugti was 79 years old at the time of his death. By then he had already buried his sons and grandsons in the fight for Balochistan’s independence. Some sources claim that this fierce chief’s tryst with violence started as early as the age of 12 when he killed a man for the first time.
Currently, Balochistan remains a conflict-ridden territory, which has recently also become a reason for escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment during his Independence day address in 2016. However with no imminent conclusion to the conflict in sight, the people of Balochistan continue to grapple with their uncertain fate.
(This article was first published on 26 August 2016. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of Akbar Bugti)