November 13, 2011

A drive through troubled Balochistan
Amir Mateen
Friday, November 11, 2011

DERA BUGTI: Who will benefit from the massive new gas reserves said to have been discovered here, bigger at least 10 times than the original Sui deposits, now that the new Nawab Aali Bugti has left his ancestral lands and the rest of the family is fighting over the legacy of Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Obviously the political and material vacuum left by his death in Dera Bugti is being filled by others. People that the old Nawab would have called as his enemies.

The biggest news is that if things go well we might not need natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan. Drilling is already on at Zin (Toba) which promises to offer reserves 10 times more than of Sui; another survey in Zamurdan close to Rhojan in Rajanpur is complete and 80 percent survey has also been conducted in Kanchas (Cup) close to DG Khan border.

The Chinese are also conducting a 3D seismic survey for exploration in Sui for deeper reserves. This means new vistas opening for not just Dera Bugti but also for Balochistan, provided the establishment, for a change, allows the locals a fairer share in the bounty.

Life is changing fast around here. It is obvious that if the heirs of the Nawab do not return to Dera Bugti soon, there will be nothing left to claim, not just from the old natural resources but the new finds as well. Nawab’s family is already out of the electoral battle.

Nobody could ever win elections from Dera Bugti without the approval of the Nawab for as long as he lived. Incumbent MPA Tariq is a Maisuri. Maisuris are the biggest Bugti sub-tribe (around 40 percent) but are considered less prestigious in comparison to Nawab’s royal Rahija Bugtis (around 15 percent). Tariq Maisuri says the last time he dared to challenge the Nawab by contesting elections against him in 2002 he was thrown in his private dungeons for many months. “But those days are over,” he adds.

MNA Hamadan, a Rahija Bugti, could not imagine getting elected if the Nawab had been alive. Kalpar Bugtis are also gradually returning to Dera after being thrown out by the Nawab for decades.

Nawab’s fort-like house in Dera Bugti, now crowned by a Pakistani flag hoisted on its roof top, is in ruins. It was briefly occupied by a Bugti elder Ghulam Nabi Shambani but now lies vacated for government officials to stay. Nawab’s house in Sui is now in the possession of Ghulam Qadir Maisuri, who now calls the shots in Dera Bugti.

It’s the money, perks and power-personified in Ghulam Qadir these days that moves things around here. He runs a force of around 700 private militia named as Bugti Amn (peace) force. The ‘kitchen expense’ of Rs4.2 million monthly, earlier given to the Nawab by the PPL, now goes to Ghulam Qadir.

In return, he provides security to gas pipelines and fights the ‘farari’ rebels whenever there is a problem. He claimed that half of this amount is given to the employees as salaries and the rest is spent on fuel, food and lodgings.

“I am not taking ‘bhatta’ from each employee like my predecessors and have hired Bugtis from all sub-tribes,” he claimed in a meeting. “Believe me, they are a happier lot now.”

The Faustian deal between the Nawab and the establishment of favouring each other benefited non-Balochi industrialists and people who used Sui gas for decades. The biggest sufferers were the people of Balochistan, particularly Dera Bugti residents.

Most locals still cannot afford a pair of shoes. The Human Development Index rates Dera Bugti district, which is also home to Loti, Pirkoh and Uch gasfields besides Sui, as the worst district in Pakistan at 0.285 (the best is Jhelum at 0.703). On paper Dera Bugti has 2,085 teachers for 8,992 students, which at 5.77 students for one teacher is perhaps the highest in Asia. But most of these teachers have never attended any school, if at all they exist on ground.

Surrounded by this acute poverty, the PPL executives have created a private oasis almost like Aramco in Saudi Arabia.

They shuttle between Sui and Karachi on private jets and airstrips. They blame the Nawab for not letting them develop the area but, as politician Rauf Khan Sasoli says: “They can’t be exonerated so easily for this lapse”.

Amidst these clouds of gloom, however, a few rays of hope have appeared. Sui town has been provided gas, although in just a three-mile radius, after half a century. Water supply from Guddu Barrage has also been initiated. Electricity transmission is being raised from 100KV to 3300KV. A new cadet college and FC model schools and a mega hospital is already bringing about a sea change.

A missing link for opening up Dera Bugti to the outside world is the approval of the road from Baker to Rakni on DG Khan border. There is some issue over the route but MPA Tariq Maisuri is confident that it will be completed in six months.

There is just one major functional road that links Dera Bugti via Sui with the rest of Pakistan through Sindh and Punjab.

“Nobody can stop development if they complete a metal road from Dera Bugti to Rakni via Phallawak,” says the MPA. Already, Phallawak lands are sending around 100000 cotton bales in DG Khan. Water table is good around here and about 2000 diesel tube wells are functional.

“The problem is that the people do not have opening to the rest of Pakistan,” says Ghulam Qadir. “This will be death to the rebels as they cannot stop people from development.”

“Innocent people get killed everyday because of mines that the fararis plant on unmetalled (katcha) pathways,” says Ghulam Qadir. “This is making them unpopular.” It’s a tribal structure here and not many locals understand the popular political ideologies. Anybody who holds the gun and the purse runs affairs around here. “And it ain’t any of Nawab’s children or grandchildren this time,” said a local official on the condition of anonymity.

The family of Nawab Bugti is obviously getting desperate. They are divided lot and totally oblivious to the new realities on ground. Many believe they have to make a decision. Either they have to become relevant or be part of history. The dice around here is beginning to roll against them. New hopes in Dera Bugti.

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