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Afghanistan: Pakistani Tribal Leader's Killing Touches Nerve

  • Amin Tarzi

Will Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai continue to so friendly? (epa) WASHINGTON, August 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As Pakistan faces a backlash after the killing of Baluch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti on August 26, Islamabad has rejected criticism from New Delhi and Kabul, calling the incident an internal affair.

Violent protests have raged in Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan, since Baluch tribal leader Bugti was killed in unclear circumstances during an attack by Pakistani security forces on his cave hideout on August 26.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz survived a confidence vote on August 29 -- only the second time a no-confidence motion has been made in parliament against a prime minister since Pakistan's establishment in 1947.

Bugti's relationship with the central government in Pakistan was marked by highs and lows, but in general the tribal leader had advocated more economic and political autonomy for Baluchistan through insurgencies and by using the Jamhuri Watan Party, which he founded and has led since 1990.

There are reports that Bugti -- who actually served briefly as governor of Baluchistan in the 1970s -- was a backer of the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), a group that advocates violence in seeking an independent Baluch state.

While Pakistan deals with the fallout from Bugti's death, Islamabad has made it explicitly clear that the entire affair is an internal matter, specifically telling Afghanistan and India to refrain from meddling.

Reaction From Kabul, New Delhi

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman and the country's National Assembly have condemned Bugti's killing. During a debate in the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council), members of parliament on August 28 debated the issue. While some Afghan lawmakers pointed out that Bugti's killing was Pakistan's internal affair, many called the action by Pakistan "an inhumane act." Pakistan says it did not intend to harm Bugti and that he was killed by explosives that went off after a Pakistani bomb attack.

Bugti's case is "indeed the internal affair of Pakistan, but it also has a connection with the people of Afghanistan, because we have always defended the rights of the Baluch and Afghans [Pashtuns living in the Northwest Frontier Province]," Kabul-based Tolu Television quoted an unidentified Afghan parliamentarian as saying. Another unnamed Wolesi Jirga member condemned Bugti's killing on "behalf of the people of Afghanistan," and expressed sympathy to the "Baluch tribe and all freedom fighters of the world."

The Indian Foreign Ministry called the killing of Bugti "unfortunate" and a "tragic loss to the people of Baluchistan and Pakistan." Indian media has generally been much more critical of Pakistan's handling of the affairs in Baluchistan.

Islamabad's Concerns

Substantiated or not, since 2003 Islamabad has accused its arch-nemesis India of setting up camps in Afghanistan to train Afghans and Pakistanis as terrorists to destabilize Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan.

Pakistan charges that with the presence of Indian troops in Afghanistan, New Delhi is encircling Pakistan with consulates and commandos and is financing militant organizations, namely the BLA.

While Karzai has repeatedly said that Afghanistan's relations with India "in no way" have an impact on ties between Kabul and Islamabad, the similar reaction from New Delhi and Kabul regarding Bugti's killing certainly does not help to quiet Islamabad's anxieties (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 26, 2006).

Responding to a question about Afghan and Indian concerns about Bugti's killing, Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said on August 29 that his country's Foreign Office has issued a clear statement on the comments made by Kabul and New Delhi, deeming them a "violation of all diplomatic norms."

Sultan added that these comments "point to the fact that if something happens in Baluchistan, [we know] who is involved in it." He did not elaborate but left no doubt that Pakistan sees an Indian hand with Afghan collaboration in Baluchistan unrest.

The Bugti affair once again brings attention to the need for Kabul not to exacerbate its already troubled relationship with Islamabad. While Pakistan needs to accept Afghanistan as an independent country -- one not subservient to its demands -- Kabul has to be careful not to play the Pashtun and Baluch card or get involved in the Indian-Pakistani games so much that Islamabad goes on high alert.
Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad in October 2005 (epa)

ACROSS A DIFFICULT BORDER. The contested border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is some 2,500 kilometers long and runs through some of the most rugged, inhospitable territory on Earth. Controlling that border and preventing Taliban militants from using Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan is an essential part of the U.S.-led international coalition's strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan. Officials in Kabul have been pointing their fingers at Pakistan for some time, accusing Islamabad or intelligence services of turning a blind eye to cross-border terrorism targeting the Afghan central government. Many observers remain convinced that much of the former Taliban regime's leadership -- along with leaders of Al-Qaeda -- are operating in the lawless Afghan-Pakistani border region.... (more)


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