Balochistan: Islamabad Continues to Chase Exiled Leader
Brahumdagh Bugti, a political activist and tribal leader, recounts his escape from Pakistan almost five years ago. Despite Islamabad’s public campaign to see him captured and killed, Bugti continues to openly champion the cause of the state’s indigenous population.
Below is an article published by The New York Times:
A slim figure in a dark suit, Brahumdagh Bugti, 30, could pass for a banker in the streets of this sedate Swiss city. But in truth he is a resistance leader in exile, a player in an increasingly ugly independence war within Pakistan.
He has been on the run since 2006, when he narrowly escaped a Pakistani Army operation that killed his grandfather and dozens of his tribesmen in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. And since then, the government’s attempt to stamp out an uprising by the Baluch ethnic minority has only intensified, according to human rights organizations and Pakistani politicians.
The Baluch insurgency, which has gone on intermittently for decades, is often called Pakistan’s Dirty War, because of the rising numbers of people who have disappeared or have been killed on both sides. But it has received little attention internationally, in part because most eyes are turned toward the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas.
Mr. Bugti insists that he is a political leader only, and that he is not taking a role in the armed uprising against the government. He was caught up in a deadly struggle between his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former minister and a leader of the Bugti tribe, and Pakistan’s military leader at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over control of Baluchistan’s rich natural resources and the establishment of military bases in the province.
Baluch nationalists have never accepted being part of Pakistan and have fought in five uprisings since the country’s formation. Their demands range from greater control over Baluchistan’s gas and natural resources, fairer distribution of wealth (Baluchistan suffers from the lowest health, education and living standards in the country), to outright independence.
When the Pakistani Army shelled their ancestral home in Dera Bugti in December 2005, Mr. Bugti took to the hills with his grandfather, who was 80 and partly disabled, and they camped for months in mountain caves. Then, in August 2006, the military caught up with them. “I escaped, but he could not,” Mr. Bugti said.
From a hide-out two miles away, he watched the military assault, a furious three-day bombardment by attack jets, helicopter gunships and airborne troops. On the evening of the third day, the government triumphantly announced that Nawab Bugti had been killed. Thirty-two tribesmen died with him, Mr. Bugti said. The day after learning of his grandfather’s death, Mr. Bugti gathered his closest tribal leaders, and they urged him to leave and save himself, he said.
Pakistan and neighboring Iran were hostile to the Baluch, and the only place to go was Afghanistan, though it was consumed by the war with the Taliban. It took 19 days, on foot, to trek from a mountain base near Sibi to the Afghan border. But he had an armed tribal force and scouts with him and made the escape without incident, crossing into Afghanistan along a mountain trail, he said.
Although he had few contacts there, tribal links and traditions of hospitality assured him a welcome. He sent for his wife, his two children — a third was born in Afghanistan — and his mother, and after an elaborate dance to confuse government watchers, they crossed the border to join him days later.
Yet Afghanistan was not a safe haven. The family moved about 18 times over the next 18 months, and despite never going outside, he said, they became the target of repeated suicide bomb attacks by the Taliban and Qaeda militants, who they believe were sent by the Pakistani military. At least one bomb attack, in the upscale residential Kabul neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, was specifically aimed at Mr. Bugti, a Western diplomat and an Afghan intelligence official said.
The Pakistani government has branded Mr. Bugti a terrorist, the leader of the militant Baluch Republican Army, and has made no secret of its desire to kill or capture him. It has repeatedly demanded that Afghanistan hand him over and has accused India of supporting Baluch rebels through its consulates in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s remonstrations over Mr. Bugti became so insistent that the United States and other NATO members urged Afghanistan to move Mr. Bugti elsewhere, Western diplomats and Afghan officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the politics involved. In October 2010, he and his family arrived in Switzerland and sought political asylum.