Last Friday morning a tractor trailer carrying a wedding party hit an anti-tank mine in north-eastern Balochistan. In the resulting explosion thirty people - mostly women and children of the Masori clan of the Bugti tribe - died. The area, as we know, is presently engulfed in a raging armed conflict between the Pakistan military and Baloch insurgents.
The death of these women and children has opened up a brand new front - this time in the press - between the two warring sides.
Earlier reports from Islamabad kept alluding to the incident having taken place in the ‘Bekar area of Dera Bugti district’. Later these reports proved to be incorrect, but that didn’t stop the military regime from swiftly laying the blame for the landmine deaths on the Bugti tribesmen.
As Dawn reported on Saturday:
ISLAMABAD, March 10: Security personnel have arrested several tribesmen for their alleged involvement in laying mines in strife-hit areas of Balochistan, a senior official of the interior ministry told Dawn on Friday.
But subsequent reports indicate that the incident in fact took place outside the Bugti tribal zone altogether.
The official said that all those detained were members of the Bugti tribe. Now that outlaws’ camps have been dismantled by security forces and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti has fled the area, he said, “followers of the tribal chieftain” were planting landmines to further their anti-state agenda.
Balochistan government officials later revealed to the press that the incident had actually taken place in the ‘Rakhni’ area. This fact was later confirmed in Sunday’s Dawn by the pro-regime Sardar of the Khetran tribe, Sardar Abdur Rehman Khetran, who said that the ‘incident had occurred in the Khetran area in Barkhan district’.
According to maps Rakhni lies midway between the town of Barkhan and the hill station of Fort Munro. Apparently the area is inhabited by the Baloch tribe of Khetran, so the Khetran sardar ought to know what he was talking about.
So it did not come as a surprise to learn that the Bugtis were dismissive of Islamabad’s claims. The first Bugti reply came in Sunday’s Dawn :
Then yesterday Akbar Bugti himself told Dawn:
ISLAMABAD March 11: Jamhoori Watan Party leader Shahid Bugti…dismissed as baseless the government’s claims that Friday’s landmine blast had occurred in Dera Bugti area or it had anything to do with the Bugti tribe’s struggle for its inalienable rights.
Talking to newsmen at Parliament House, senator-elect Bugti condemned the landmine explosion in which 28 people were killed, contradicting the government’s allegations against his tribe.
He said the incident had occurred in Barkhan district some 140km from Dera Bugti.
What does one make of these conflicting statements? And whose mines really did killed the innocents of the wedding party?
QUETTA, March 12: Jamhoori Watan Party chief Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti has alleged that security forces have planted landmines from Pakeel to Barkhan in areas controlled by them.
Talking to newsmen by satellite phone on Sunday, the Baloch leader expressed deep concern over the death of innocent Bugti people in a landmine explosion in the Kharcha area of Barkhan, saying the blast had taken place in an area controlled by security forces.
Apparently over the past few months the military has also been busy laying mines to encircle the Marri and Bugti tribal areas in an effort to restrict the movements of the marauding insurgents.
As this mine exploded at a distance of some 140 km from the heartland of the Bugtis – whom the Establishment has decided to blame for the explosion – it is more than likely that this particular landmine was not laid by the Baloch but by the security forces themselves.
Would Islamabad own up if one of its landmines killed a large number of innocent civilians? I leave it to the reader to answer this question for himself.