July 11, 2021
By Munizae Jahangir & Ahmed Saeed
The biggest challenge for Shahzain Bugti will be within his own clan. The Prime Minister’s Special Assistant (SAPM) newly appointed to mend the state’s relationship with estranged Baloch leaders will have to deal with the many internal family differences that have specifically consolidated since after his grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death.
To end the decades-long insurgency in the country’s largest province, and to mend the Federation’s relations with Baloch nationalists at home and abroad, the federal government has initiated talks with disgruntled Baloch nationalists. To spearhead these latest efforts, Shahzain Bugti has been selected as SAPM on Reconciliation and Harmony in Balochistan.
Yet apart from the fact that there are several critics of Shahzain being chosen for this position, the stiffest resistance is expected from his own Bugti clan.
This was established when soon after his appointment, Sarfraz Bugti, a Senator of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) met with Prime Minister Imran Khan reportedly to share his grievances regarding Shahzain’s appointment on Friday, July 9.
Who is Shahzain Bugti?
Shahzain is a grandson of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, whose murder in 2006 was a catalyst for the recent insurgency in the province. He was elected a member of the National Assembly (MNA) from the Dera Bugti district on the ticket of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), a Baloch nationalist party that was founded and headed by his late grandfather.
After the assassination of the senior Bugti, during General Musharraf’s military operation, the JWP split into two factions, one headed by Shahzain’s father Talal Akbar Bugti, and the second led by Akbar Bugti’s favoured grandson and his appointed political heir, Brahamdagh Bugti. Brahamdagh later changed the name of his faction to the Baloch Republican Party (BRP).
In 2012, the Federal Government banned the BRP, alleging that Brahamdagh was involved in anti-state activities. Currently, Brahamdagh is settled in Switzerland from where he runs his party.
Not the right choice
But even as Shahzain battles with his family differences, he will still have to face unacceptance by other Baloch nationalists.
Akhtar Mengal, the head of the Balochistan National Party (Mengal)
(BNP-M), and former Chief Minister of Balochistan says that Shahzain’s appointment in order to reconcile with the disgruntled Baloch is ‘a joke’.
“The only positive thing about this appointment is that an unemployed Baloch youth has been awarded a job,” quipped Mengal.
Mengal himself had also formed an alliance with the PTI after the 2018 general elections following an agreement over a six-point agenda, which included the recovery of Baloch missing persons. But BNP-M left the alliance, saying that the Federal Government had failed to implement even
a single point of the agreed-upon agenda.
“The Prime Minister himself has no authority,” the BNP chief said, adding, “Whenever I raised the issue of missing persons in front of him, he advised me to talk to the army chief.” He also said that the establishment only wanted to give an impression of being willing to talk. “Talks can only happen when you (establishment) put down your arms. Negotiations cannot happen if they have their guns cocked at the Baloch nationalists,” said Mengal.
Meanwhile, the only one who has actually welcomed the decision was Tabish Bugti, a cousin of Shahzain and Brahamdagh, and grandson of Akbar Bugti.
Tabish welcomed the latter’s appointment as SAPM on Reconciliation and Harmony in Balochistan, but cautioned that the JWP leader did not wield enough authority to address the grievances of estranged Baloch.
“There would certainly be trust issues between Shahzain and Brahamdagh,” Tabish observed. “Brahamdagh knows how little authority Shahzain has and on whose beckoning he will be conducting these talks.”
PM’s statement only for public consumption
One other critic was Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, the former Chief Minister of Balochistan and leader of the National Party. Dr Malik said that neither Islamabad nor the political parties of Balochistan were serious about holding talks.
“The statement made by the Prime Minister is only for public consumption, Islamabad’s mindset has yet to change,” he said.
During his stint as Chief Minister, Baloch had initiated a dialogue with the insurgents and disgruntled Baloch leaders, living in exile. He also met with Brahamdagh Bugti in Geneva, but no substantial steps were taken to ensure lasting peace in the province.
Recounting his experience of the peace talks, Dr Malik said, “I was tasked by the then political and military leadership to hold talks. I did so and met with various groups abroad, but when I came back and apprised [political and military leadership], they and especially the military leadership did not
show any interest in pursuing the peace process with the nationalists.”
A lack of political clout
Meanwhile, Afrasiab Khattak, a senior politician from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said he had admired Dr Malik’s ‘substantial’ efforts for reconciliation in Balochistan. Khattak too is optimistic about Shahzain’s appointment.
“Selecting Shahzain reveals the State’s ‘tokenism’ because he has no standing in this arena – he has neither a solid position nor a role to play,” said Khattak. “What is needed are confidence-building measures,” he asserted. “Five people are released and 15 are picked up in their stead. That is no way to build trust. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch should have been approached [for these talks]. The increasing number of enforced disappearances has disrupted and marred the whole atmosphere. If the state itself is violating laws, what does one expect to happen in Balochistan?”
Malik Siraj Akbar, editor-in-chief of the online publication The Baluch Hal, says that Shahzain’s appointment will help the Federal Government dispel the impression that Akbar Bugti’s family is anti-state.
But he also said that the Shahzain as SAPM lacked the political clout necessary for this job.
“Shahzain is very inexperienced, both as a politician and a tribal leader. He does not seem to have the rich political experience, the extensive network of contacts and the charisma vital to successfully even initiate a dialogue with Baloch nationalists,” he said.
According to Malik Siraj, even Brahamdagh’s influence in the province is also overstated, as he has not set foot in Balochistan since 2006.
“He is no longer profoundly relevant to Balochistan’s political and tribal landscape,” he said. “While it would be a big deal if he decides to negotiate with the government, end his exile and return to Balochistan, even Brahamdagh cannot influence the Baloch armed groups operating inside the province.”
According to other commentators with extensive knowledge of politics in Balochistan, Shahzain may have the apparent backing of the political leadership and military establishment but he clearly lacks the
stature among Baloch tribes, a prerequisite to complete this difficult task.
The biggest hurdle Shahzain may face is building trust amongst his own cousins. Family sources tell Voicepk.net that Shahzain’s father, Talal Bugti, was estranged from his father, Nawab Akbar Bugti, who had actually banished him from Dera Bugti.
Nawab Bugti wanted his younger son Salal to be his heir, but after Salal’s murder in 1992, the senior Bugti began grooming Brahamdagh as his successor. Brahamdagh too had lost his father Rehan (the Nawab’s other son) when he was little. After Nawab Akbar Bugti’s assassination, Brahamdagh had to leave the country, leaving Talal to fill the void as successor.
Political marriages and conflicts
Family sources tell Voicepk.net that due to arranged marriages and now divorces within the clan the conflict between Shahzain Bugti and his cousins, Brahamdagh Bugti and other nationalists including Mehran Marri have deepened.
Akbar Bugti had arranged the marriage of Shahzain Bugti with Sherbaz Mazari’s maternal granddaughter, Maryam Mazari, who was also a niece of Akbar Bugti. But the marriage ended in a divorce, much against Akbar’s wishes, after which he banished Shahzain. Family sources also claimed that Shahzain has not paid any child support to Maryam and their children.
After the bitter divorce between Shahzain and Maryam, Akbar Bugti then asked Brahamdagh to marry Maryam’s younger sister, who is now his wife. Family sources claim that it would therefore be impossible for Brahamdagh to develop any trust in Shahzain.
Besides the Bugtis, the Marris are amongst the most influential tribes of Balochistan, with Mehran Marri as one of its most powerful figures. Mehran is also in exile and is running a campaign for an independent Balochistan – he is married to Brahamdagh’s sister.
If not Shahzain, then who?
Tabish Bugti named Ghazin Marri as the most suitable candidate to hold reconciliation talks, as he is widely respected by all major tribes in the province. Ghazin returned to Pakistan in 2017, spending nearly 18 years in self-exile. He is a son of one of the most powerful Baloch nationalist leader,
Nawab Khair Buksh Marri and another brother of Mehran Marri.
In the past President Zardari engaged with Ghazin Marri to bring the Baloch nationalist leaders to the negotiating table. However, those efforts were abandoned for inexplicable reasons.
“Ghazin is a tall political figure of Balochistan, and is also very polite,” says Tabish. “He has a standing not only amongst his tribesmen but also has cordial relations with us, the Bugtis. I believe he would be the best
person to lead such talks.”
But Malik Siraj Akbar says that ushering in regional peace is a challenging task, and therefore politicians with experience, like Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Dr Malik Baloch, or Nawab Aslam Raisani should lead such efforts.
“I would not naively assume that these people can bring all parties on the negotiating table or end the conflict overnight, but at least with them leading the talks, it will be an indication that the government is serious about engaging with the Baloch.”
Since 1947, the situation in Balochistan has been perpetually volatile, with at least four waves of violent insurgencies which lead to military operations in the province. There have always been attempts to resolve the issue through talks between the state and nationalist groups but these efforts never brought about lasting peace in the region.
It appears that by appointing Shahzain Bugti the state has only signalled to the Baloch nationalists that they are not serious in engaging with them. Certainly, an end to military operations and enforced disappearances must be a prerequisite to peace talks with the Baloch.
Akbar Bugti famously said when driven to the mountains after his home was bombed by the Musharraf government, “You cannot negotiate with the barrel of the gun.”