The recent killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a targeted army action by Pakistan government has put a question mark on the future of both the existence of Pakistan as a country and also that of its President General Musharraf.
Media reports since the Bugti assassination have highlighted the long struggle of the Baluch tribes against the federal government in Islamabad. They have predicted the Baluch nationalism and its three tribes realigning under the leadership of one of the other customary tribal leaders. The Bughti, Marri and Mengal tribes constituting the Baluchis have their own customary leaders. Each of them has carried on a living conflict with the federal government getting in and getting out of the power circle in Islamabad at different times in the last 60 years.
The expectation is that with Akbar Khan as the martyr they have now a symbol to consolidate their struggle against Islamabad and Pakistan President in particular. Marri tribal leader Sardar Akhtar Khan, a former Chief Minister of Baluchistan has been quoted in The Friday Times predicting that ?this incident has cut our last link, if there was any, with Pakistan?. If that prediction accurately reflects the Baluch feeling, Pakistan has much to fear for its future. Bugti was hardly the illiterate tribal warlord living on extortion and armed rebellion. Oxford-educated Bugti was an ardent fan of Pakistan and mainly responsible for the accession of the several tribesmen into Pakistan fold. Why then did he and his tribesmen rebel?
It is said that the rebellion was mainly on account of the differences between the local people and the federal government over sharing of natural resources of the Baluch area. These differences got caught in the army-politician divide in that country ever since Pakistan was formed. Though the Bugti and his followers had joined the Pakistan government several times in the past, there was invariably a separation. The 50-year-old revolt of the Baluchis reveals the inconsistency in the claim on which Pakistan was formed?that the Muslims of undivided India constituted a separate nation of their own by virtue of their religious affiliation and hence the partition.
At the beginning of the army take-over under Musharraf, the ultra-conservative were with him as the army was deeply involved in the support and sustenance of Islamic orthodoxy and the training and direction of terror groups for action in Jammu and Kashmir and other places. The army take-over meant a return to the days of the last military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who set up the orthodox clergy as a counter to the politicians and a string of madrasas with their government-supported staff of ulemas as his support base.
The fundamentalists would thus support Musharraf and his army cohorts against the politicians. Before 9/11, the army-Taliban entente provided a strong bargaining chip for Musharraf with the US Administration on the one hand and a powerful force for his domestic battle against the traditional politicians who were demanding return to democracy on the other. The frontier with Afghanistan was the cocktail of tribal passions, religious orthodox and terror outfits.
With two failed assassination attempts reminding General Musharraf that he is skating on thin ice, the expected revolt in Baluchistan could become the last straw that could fell his regime, which needs to get a new vote in 2007. He is accused of being too close to the American regime, which is the current demon in Pakistan, especially of the mullahs and maulavis who are behind the terror machines exercising daily in that country.
The General himself has been patronising the terror machine. However, following 9/11, the Americans twisted his arms and forced him to change sides, beginning with the ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. So the political environment is full of cries of ?betrayal? against the General Musharraf. The army'sown loyalty to him is of suspect. The last two assassination attempts at him revealed the hidden linkages between the army and the terror groups.
There is little doubt that Musharraf is doing a tight rope-walk. He is under tremendous pressure from the global community to come down hard on the terror network. His domestic compulsions force him to take an opposite line. How long Musharraf can manage this balancing act is anybody'sguess. The fate of both?Pakistan and its current President?hangs in balance.