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The Bugtis and Balochistan

On the evening of 15 Feb 1973, my unit 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) pulled out from Nabisar where we were concentrated for training close to our Forward Defended Localities (FDLs) in the southern desert and entrained pell mell the next morning at Mirpurkhas for Sibi enroute to Quetta. We were told that we had to cope with a sudden “internal security” situation arising in Balochistan. At Ibad Railway Station, a few kilometers short of Jacobabad, our troops special ran full speed into a stationary goods train parked on the parallel line. Sabotage? With four dead and over a dozen or so badly injured, we limped into Sibi late on 17 Feb.

If Capt (now Maj Gen about to retire) Fahim Akhtar Khan had not led volunteers to climb to the topmost railway wagon perched perilously on top of two other wagons laden with ammunition and explosives to rescue those trapped under their weight, at least seven more would have died. Fahim’s bravery in battle during 1971 in the desert and in 1973 in Balochistan notwithstanding, that particular memory of outstanding selflessness at great personal risk “above and beyond the call of duty” remains forever etched in my mind. Barring exceptions like Fahim rising to two-star rank, brave and combat experienced officers seldom make it past the rank of major. Such attributes are great obstacles to advancement in most armies of the world, Pakistan is no exception in merit often being a disqualifier.

From Sibi my rifle company was heli-lifted into Quetta to secure the Governor’s House, the rest of the battalion led by Lt Col (later Brig) Muhammad Taj, SJ and Bar (one of the most decorated soldiers in the Pakistan Army)  racing in by road. At about this time we were told that the Federal Government had dismissed  both the Balochistan Governor Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and the Chief Minister Ataullah Khan Mengal, we were to escort the new Governor into his official residence. A month or so later Governor Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti honoured 45 Punjab (our sister battalion in 60 Brigade) and ourselves with a “Barakhana” (an Armed Forces lunch or dinner for jawans for a special occasion) to congratulate us “for saving Pakistan” or words to that effect. Some non-violent protest about the then “renegade” Akbar Khan Bugti apart, the Baloch leaders shown the door by him “to save Pakistan” circa 1973 did not take to the streets to militate against what was clearly an extra-constitutional exercise not in democratic good taste.

The real problem started when military operations against Marri tribals kicked off from Sibi on 21 May 1973, the hottest day of the year at about the hottest place on Earth. By the late afternoon helicopters were lifting the dead and decapacitated (due to heat stroke and heat exhaustion) of the leading battalion 46 Baluch. We reached our first objective Talli Tangi, the defile on the route to Maiwand without any opposition by late afternoon. With experience of desert conditions behind us we had applied wet handkerchiefs on the back of our necks and (despite our brilliantly theoretical Brigade Commander’s repeated admonitions) our helmets (the cause of 46 Baluch’s woes) were lodged in our accompanying transport. Military operations began in earnest a few days later, real bullets and all, when all three battalions of the Brigade started taking casualties. At defiles like Talli Tangi which my rifle company was tasked to securing, Marri tribals came at us night after night. We inflicted many casualties and suffered some despite having no great expertise in “frontier warfare”. Our luck ran out a few months later when 44 Punjab lost 16 dead in one go near Kohlu when one of our pickets was surrounded, cut off from the rest of the battalion and overwhelmed once out of ammunition.   At  the  outset  of  1973  one  was skeptical about a military operations being needed, by the time I left in January 1974 hardened guerillas trained by the Soviets in Afghanistan made me into a believer, reluctantly perhaps but a believer nevertheless. My unit suffered more casualties in Balochistan than any other unit, and one daresays inflicted far more casualties than any other unit during battle, after all the guerillas coming at us were not throwing flowers. There is a time for a political dialogue and a time for military solution, sometimes both are necessary in tandem.

Events in Bugti area must be separated from the rest of Balochistan.  Even  though  there  have  been  a  number  of  incidents of sabotage in different areas of the Province, the work of saboteur squads from the main Bugti tribal force in Dera Bugti, and mercenaries thereof, cannot be taken to be a concerted rebellion. The Dr Shazia-rape incident was used to try and sabotage the gas installation at Sui. But for the ultimate sacrifice of several dedicated soldiers of the Defence Security Group (DSG), this country would have faced an economic disaster of the greatest magnitude for an extended period. As it is, during a very cold winter more than 40 million people all over Pakistan went without heating for days. One can be forgiven for being skeptical about the altruistic aims and objectives of those using the rape case as an excuse to send raiders to destroy the Sui Purification Plant. For the good of Pakistan? For the good of Balochistan? Terrorism is a mechanism whereby small means are used to achieve major objectives, in this case the whole country was being held hostage! The subsequent ambush on the FC “Bambhore Rifles” convoy on 17 March was not unexpected, besides sabotaging the Parliamentary Committee (on Balochistan) deliberations the grave provocation was a deliberate act meant to incite military reaction and with a fait accompli confront the Baluch  populace  about  the  affront  to Baloch honour. Don’t the lives of our soldiers count? Give our military hierarchy credit for keeping their cool.

Balochistan definitively needs major political and economic initiatives. The Province is in a state of utter backwardness, poverty is endemic and the masses live in the Dark Ages, mostly under cruel and callous Sardars. It is a situation ready-made for exploitation and that is what the “Last of the Mohicans”  is gambling on, fudging the issues in desperately attempting to make Bugti motivated interests in Sui synonymous with greater Baloch deprivation. One must be prepared for collateral civilian damage when the Bugtis are disarmed, to allow them otherwise would invite endless trouble. Bugtis can be quite callous about using non-combatants who do not fall in line with their diktat as pawns. Shaikh Rashid normally does go overboard but when he called Akbar Bugti a “warlord” and not a politician (he never was), he was right on the mark. Few leaders are more autocratic or ruthless than the head of the Bugti clan, anybody associating democracy with Nawab Sahib needs to have his head examined. When we started operations in Kahan and Kohlu in August 1973 we had to pass through Dera Bugti, his private jail had one of his sons as an inmate.

Bugtis’ disarming  should not be seen as a military operation, but as a police action by the law enforcement agencies necessary to put down crimes instigated by a warlord who considers himself outside the pale of any law except that which suits him. Problems in the rest of the Province have to be addressed politically, they are far removed from the contrived grievances of the Bugtis as annunciated by the fulminations of their hereditary chief.

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“It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.mumtaz.

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