As we sit down in his Geneva home for an interview, Nawab Brahumdagh Bugti is a worried man. The President of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) is flooded with messages about military operations in and around his hometown Dera Bukti in Balochistan. “It’s been like this since the morning. It doesn’t stop. Pakistan will destroy the world”, he says adding “Narendra Modi has seriously altered the global discourse about our part of the world by highlighting the plight of the Balochis – we are very grateful to him and India.” Excerpts:
What are these operations you mention?
These are military operations to annihilate the Balochi people. Today it is Dera Bukti, tomorrow somewhere else. Unspeakable violence and deaths, massacres of our women, children and men, aerial bombardments, bombs, shooting, killings – Balochistan is a war zone. When the blood-drenched and shell-shocked face of little Omran from Aleppo (Syria) was shown on televisions screens across the world this week, our daughter was so shocked she asked if this is possible. We told her she had survived something similar but others in Balochistan were not so lucky. My sister and her daughter were killed in 2012. My uncles were picked up and tortured. People are killed, maimed and massacred everyday. That’s how bad it is. I want the world to know our story. I am appealing to the international media to tell our story.
You speak of increased violence recently. Why?
There have been five rounds of military operations against the Balochis who, when Partition took place in 1947, were not given the choice to decide their own destiny even though there was a part of Balochistan under direct British rule. In other words, we had to go with Pakistan. The first round of violence against us started in 1950. The current one – by far the most deadly – started in 2002. My grandfather Nawab Akbar Bugti (head of the Bugti tribe, the largest in Balochistan) who led our struggle against Pakistan was assassinated in 2006. He had held responsible positions including that of Interior Minister and Governor of the province of Quetta which is the capital of Balochistan. The Chief Minister of Balochistan today is a puppet of Islamabad, a man who cannot even go to his own village without heavy protection. It has been downhill for the past ten years since my grandfather’s assassination. The recent statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighting our plight was a thunderbolt that struck Islamabad out of the blue. Balochis worldwide are overjoyed. The escalation of violence against us in the past weeks is the result of that.
What did you think of Narendra Modi’s appeal?
We had been writing to the Indian government and various embassies for years. When the situation turned for the worst in 2006, I wrote to the Indian diplomatic presence in Kabul to highlight our cause. They said they will look into it. Narendra Modi is the first Indian prime Minister who has spoken up for us. For the some six million Balochis represented by or affiliated to the BRP, it was the voice of a concerned neighbour, a human being, the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy and a global statesman. He didn’t say he was sending in the army, he didn’t offer us economic assistance nor was there any talk of asylum to Balochis in distress. Neither are we expecting that. The reason Pakistan went into a tailspin on this is because a) it was unexpected and b) what the Indian Prime Minister has highlighted is true. We request him to continue supporting our cause.
Here I would like to make a request to the Indian media – the Baloch cause has nothing to do with Kashmir. These are two separate issues. It is important to understand the basic difference. Our struggle against Pakistan is 70 years old. The Baloch people are secular and culturally, linguistically and politically different from the Punjabi-speaking people of Pakistan. Balochi, our language is banned in our schools where children read English, Urdu, Arabic and Farsi. Killing a people’s cultural and linguistic identity is to complete their annihilation and genocide. I hope our Balochi identity will be seen for what it is. I am not a Pakistani. I am a Baloch and now with my family, an asylum seeker in Switzerland.
Have you been in touch with the Indian diplomatic presence in Geneva?
We have written to them and sent them all the information. We hope we will be able to meet them in the coming days. We have been writing to all diplomatic missions in Geneva as well speaking at the various UN forums whenever possible. People must understand that Pakistan will destroy the world. The multilateral diplomatic and economic presence in Geneva must understand the seriousness of what Pakistan is capable of doing. It's a rogue state.
Harsh words there?
No, just the reality.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed Narendra Modi’s statement. Is that new?
Not really. What people do not know is that Hamid Karzai has always been sympathetic to the Baloch cause. When I decided to leave Balochistan after the assassination of my grandfather in 2006, I walked for over 50 days to enter Afghanistan through dangerous routes. I had sent word to Hamid Karzai before I set out on my journey and he welcomed me with open arms. We remained in constant touch and he kept a look out for me while I lived there. He alerted me to two assassination attempts by the Pakistan government while I was in Afghanistan. I escaped one of them narrowly and my house was blown up minutes after I fled.
You must have seen the Taliban from close quarters in Afghanistan. What are they doing now?
Destroying Afghanistan with active assistance from Pakistan. These are terrorists trained by Pakistan. Yes, and let me tell you they are trained by serving Pakistani army officials from all levels. These are not retired generals and colonels. These are people who train and recruit little children from madrasas in Pakistan to go and fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
If you lead Balochistan one day what will you build your economy on or is that hypothetical?
Sooner or later, but hopefully sooner, Balochistan will be a free country. The voice of over six million people cannot be suppressed. Balochistan is siting on oil and gas and the first wells were discovered in 1950. Gwadar is in Balochistan yet Balochis light their stoves and hearths with sticks and stones as if we are living in the stoneage. For decades my grandfather tried to negotiate something for the Balochi people. He had three demands - ownership of resources, equal share and provincial autonomy. The talks went on aimlessly and in bad faith from Islamabad while there was no let-up in violence. My grandfather was killed in a military operation in August 2006. Balochistan erupted in protests against Islamabad when that happened. It was then I decided our demand for independence from Pakistan was the only way out.
Washington provides a lot of military aid and support to Pakistan. Have you tried to meet their diplomatic presence in Geneva which is a key multilateral spot in geopolitics?
We have been sending them mails and information. We want them and the world to know that Pakistan is a rogue nuclear power and it can destroy the world. We want them to see how Pakistan and its military-politico establishment are using Islamic extremism for their own benefit, against its own people. We have urged the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy to bring pressure upon funding agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stop helping Pakistan. We have been requesting them to cut military aid to Islamabad.
(Bugti smiles and shakes his head from side to side).
What was the sentiment for Indian people among the Baloochis before Prime Minister Modi’s statement?
Let me share some details with you. In Dera Bugti, we lived in a Fort. As the head of the tribe, it was our responsibility to protect people. When the atrocities against the Balochis increased many of them took refuge in our Fort. Among them were Hindus, Muslims and people of all religions. There is a mosque in our Fort as well as a temple. You will never see a Baloch burning an Indian flag like you see Pakistanis doing it every day. The Balochis have always held India and Indians in very high esteem. The Prime Minister’s statement must be seen in this context. We were overjoyed to hear the Prime Minister – his voice was heard all around the world. I believe one day Balochistan will be free and maybe, just maybe, what the Prime Minister has said is the inflection point. We are fighters and we will fight our own fight now that the world is beginning to see our story. Thank you Narendra Modi.