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Rediff.com  » News » Why Musharraf had Bugti killed

Why Musharraf had Bugti killed

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August 30, 2006 21:01 IST
There are three reasons why President Pervez Musharraf ordered the killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti on August 26.

The first reason is President Musharraf's standing within the army and outside.

The General has been under pressure within the army on account of his weakening grip on Kashmir. Quite a few generals believe that President Musharraf has lost a lot of ground on Kashmir during the past two years. Former ISI chief Hamid Gul recently told the media that if only Musharraf could allow jihadis to operate freely for a year, they would annex Kashmir. The statement could be a typical Gul hyperbole, but it certainly reflects the frustration building up among the security forces and intelligence agencies.

There is an equal amount of disquiet among the officer cadre over their President's alliance with the US against the Taliban and other terrorist elements on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Besides the army, the General today faces immense pressure from opposition political parties, especially the religious alliance of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. Though the group led by the Jamaat-e-Islami factions has not been gathering strength in the recent past, the leadership certainly has considerable street power which can prove to be a nemesis for the General who is completing seven years of martial rule.

The MMA, once a supporter of the General, is determined to turn the General out of President's House next year. With Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto gathering support outside Pakistan, the heat could become a bit difficult for the General in the months ahead.

Adding to his woes, his own party has been riven with internal conflicts and petty politicking.

The letter written recently by retired generals, academics and politicians, requesting the President to shed his uniform and allow democracy to take root once again in Pakistan, has only added to the despondency and doubt over President Musharraf's rule.

There is considerable doubt among the public about the General's capability to chart a course of progress and enlightenment for the country.

The bravado displayed by the General in the recent past actually betrayed his nervousness and insecurity. It was becoming clear to him that he was no longer the most popular leader which he thought himself to be. Even the usually supportive New York Times, quoting a Western diplomat, said early this month, 'Musharraf is in a weaker position than he has been in the past.'

Early this year, Stratfor, an American policy think tank, had raised the possibility of the US letting the General go. There have been similar noises from Washington, forcing one of the General's avid supporters, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, to defend the General in a New York Times op-ed.

More telling has been President Musharraf's remarks on July 5 that 'I am a soldier; therefore, I cannot contest the election. If people want my leadership, they should cast vote in favor of my supporters. If the people retract their support, I will quit power and say goodbye the same day.'

These are nothing but an expression of desperation on the part of the General who, at one point of time, thought himself to be invincible.

With Nawab Bugti and his rag-tag band of "warriors" taking on the might of the Pakistan Army since January 2005, the General feared a protracted engagement, a possibility which might have caused severe opposition from the army leadership and, significantly, upset his elections plans next year. The killing of Nawab Bugti brought him reprieve from many of these challenges, and reinforced his control.

The second reason is equally personal. On December 14, 2005, when President Musharraf was visiting a Frontier Corps camp in Kohlu, unknown assailants fired eight rockets at him, three falling near the camp where he was supposed to address the paramilitary troops engaged in the military operation against the Baloch tribals.

A couple of days later, an Army helicopter with the inspector general, Frontier Corps, Maj General Shujaat Zamir Dar, and his deputy, Brigadier Saleem Nawaz, was fired at by Baloch insurgents, the first reported incident of its kind of a general officer and his deputy being targeted in their area of command. For Musharraf, nothing would have been more humiliating.

The third reason is economic. Balochistan, with its enormous natural gas and mineral deposits, has for long been viewed as Pakistan's answer to Dubai, a regional trading, transport and energy hub with a deep seaport at Gwadar being built with Chinese cooperation and assistance and the Makran Coastal Highway to link the rest of the region with the outside world.

A quick look at what is being planned in Gwadar will reveal the General's desperation to clear the coast of 'irritants' like Nawab Bugti. Under this plan, the Gwadar Development Authority, in addition to Gwadar port, is planning a network of roads, connecting Gwadar with Karachi, Pasni, Ormara and Turbat.

The Coastal Highway linking Karachi with Gwadar (675 km) is being built simultaneously with the port along with other highways, from Pasni to Gwadar (135 km), Ormara-Gwadar (275 km) and Gwadar-Turbat (188 km), one of the links finally reaching the Iranian border at Gupt.

This network of roads will finally be connected with China through the Indus Highway. Under an agreement, Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are already committed to developing extensive railroad links from Central Asia and the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Arabian coast.

The completion of this communication network will not only facilitate the movement of goods from China and Central Asian Republics to the countries of the Persian Gulf, West Asia, East Africa, the Indian Ocean and beyond through Gwadar, the countries of these regions will also have an easy and short route for access to Central Asia for trade and economic co-operation.

Besides the road network, there are plans to set up an international airport equipped with all modern aviation facilities, including runways to handle wide-bodied 747 aircraft. Likewise, plans are afoot to lay a railway network to complement the road network extending across Pakistan; the first of the proposed route is 550 km long, linking Gwadar to Quetta-Zahidan.

The master plan for Gwadar reveals that it will be based on the development of about 45,000 acres that would comprise airport, industrial zones, export processing zones, beach development, resorts, housing facilities and all civic amenities like schools and hospitals over the next 50 years.

Thus, Gwadar will, in the next decade or so, become a place of great strategic value for Pakistan, extending its reach from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean to South-East Asia and the Far East.

Another dimension to the region's critical importance to Gen Musharraf's future plans is its global potential as an energy transmission and distribution hub, linking West Asia and Central Asia with energy-starved Asia.

Clear indications are on the ground. In the last week of November 2005, Pakistan began constructing a 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, the largest in the country, linking Sui Southern Gas Company's main transmission and distribution line to Karachi. The pipeline will also form part of the company's integrated liquefied natural gas import project due to be completed in 2009.

Much has been written about the investment by China and Islamic Development Bank in the Gwadar project. Less talked about is American interest in the region.

Nawab Bugti, as quoted in the Pakistani newspapers Nawa-e-Waqt and Jung, had said that Pakistan was developing the deep-sea port to provide facilities to the US Central Command. He alleged that the American plan was to 'control the maritime oil and international shipping and all other trade, in addition to challenging Iran'.

Another Baloch leader, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, speaking at a conference in Washington organised by the World Sindhi Institute on May 18, 2001, repeated the same sentiments and said the West was keen to have free access in the coastal areas of Balochistan for the export of Central Asian raw material and for the safety of its oil interests in the Arabian peninsula.

Even if one were to discount these claims, one geographical fact cannot be forgotten: Next door to Balochistan is Iran, the latest "axis of evil" for President George W Bush and his advisers.

Wilson John

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