Bugti's killing will haunt Musharraf

The Baloch leader's death has set the pace for a long-term divide between the already disgruntled elements within Balochistan and Islamabad.

Gulf News

A week after the killing of Nawaz Akbar Bugti rocked Pakistan's opposition political circles, the bold face put across by the south Asian country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, appears to carry little meaning.

The General's response to news of Bugti's death was simply to congratulate his security forces for their operation in the south western Balochistan province.

Not only was that seen as a great affront by Bugti's supporters, the gesture was far from being politically savvy.

Pakistan is clearly in the midst of emerging unrest after Bugti was killed while surrounded by a group of military officers.

The government claims that the cave in which Bugti and the officers were standing close by simply collapsed after an explosion unleashed by an unknown reason. The casualties included four military officers along with Bugti and his followers.

Pakistan's opposition politicians have jumped in the fray, accusing the government of deliberately targeting Bugti.

A marked man

Some of the late Bugti's own statements to the media before his death, claiming that he felt like a marked man, have just not helped reinforce the Pakistani government's case of his death being purely accidental.

On Friday, a small group of Bugti's tribal followers and government officials, surrounded by a large contingent of security forces, attended the last rites for the burial of his mutilated body.

If Bugti had died from natural causes, it is possible that protests in Balochistan would not have lasted days after his death and his funeral may have become no more than a short-lived event.

But his killing has only set the pace for a long term divide between the already disgruntled elements within Balochistan and the centre of Pakistan's political gravity in Islamabad.

Bugti may be a proclaimed offender for Pakistan's military-led ruling establishment but he has become a hero for his own people.

Indeed, official attempts to malign his character, ranging from publicity to reports of the first murder he committed at age 12 to maintenance of private prisons in areas he controlled, do not appear to have pacified the protestors.

Pakistan's opposition leaders have chosen the moment to up the ante, with protests planned in the next fortnight.

The writing on the wall seems to suggest that the momentum of anti-government protests is bound to grow after Bugti's death.

It would still be premature to argue that the days of General Musharraf's own political order are numbered.

Pakistan's political history has time and again borne evidence to unpredictable events leading to unknown consequences. And yet, the anger which for now seems to have been raised following Bugti's funeral is not without its dangers to Pakistan's unity.

Years ago in 1979, the hanging of the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under the watch of the late General Muhammad Zia ul Haq the last military ruler before General Musharraf gave way to widespread anger in the southern province of Sindh.

More than 27 years later in 2006, Bhutto's political legacy is carried forward by his daughter, Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister herself who has lived in exile for almost a decade.

Notwithstanding General Musharraf's public proclamations against Benazir for the alleged corruption surrounding her government, he has squarely failed to erase the Bhutto legacy from Pakistani politics.

Bhutto was similarly buried in the presence of a small group of close family members after he was hanged on a controversial charge of ordering the assassination of a political foe.

General Zia ul Haq refused to consider calls from within and outside Pakistan, seeking clemency for the late Bhutto.

Tragic history

General Musharraf's handling of the political fallout from Bugti's death amply suggests that he needs to catch up with lessons from Pakistan's tragic political history.

Overseeing the emergence of yet another martyr and refusing permission to Bugti's family members to take over his burial arrangements just can not change what appears to lie ahead in Pakistan's coming political outlook.

Bugti's memory for many of his own people in the south-western Balochistan province is likely to live on as that of a martyr.

In time, efforts to erase his legacy are bound to backfire. General Musharraf for now may have charge of Pakistan, but the past week has given birth to a new era of defiant politics in the south Asian country.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.