Saturday, January 29, 2005

A First Hand Account of Life Inside Dera Bugti


The 'jhuggis' of Afghan Refugees now rented out to Bugti refugees

Army Commandos Beat up Police as Operation Sui Gathers Steam

Special SAT Report

DERA BUGTI, Balochistan, January 27: Hundreds of poor Dera Bugti tribesmen and their families have been driven out of their homes and forced to become tenants of Afghan refugees inside Pakistan.

This shameful tragedy is going on as the Pakistan Army has taken over the area and prepares for the ultimate assault after a political drama of holding talks with nationalists, to silence national and international critics.

In at least one encounter the Army troops beat up even local policemen who have crossed over into Sindh to save their lives, a correspondent for the South Asia Tribune has reported after traveling widely in the area.

In a rare first hand account from the heart of Operation Sui, the SAT correspondent interviewed Dera Bugti refugees who confirmed that the Army operation had begun, although officially it was not being admitted for political reasons. The name of the correspondent is not being revealed as Army authorities would immediately arrest or deport him from inside the operation area.

Pakistan Army SSG commandos raided the local Dera Bugti Police Station on Sunday, Jan 23, beat up the policemen and took away the two doctors of Pakistan Petroleum Ltd, who were detained by the police in the Shazia Khalid rape case, the correspondent reported.

The SSG attack highlighted the continuing clash between the Army and the Police over attempts to cover up the rape case and to protect the Army officers accused of the crime.

The South Asia Tribune correspondent reported: “An attack force which locals call "jharee pashk" (meaning wearing a multi colored dress) took the two doctors away after thrashing the policemen on duty. The cops abandoned the police station and ran for their lives, crossing into Kashmore in Sindh province.

(The Sui police took the Medical Chief of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) Dr Muhammad Usman and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Muhammad Ali into custody for investigations as to why the lady doctor was shifted to Karachi without securing permission from the Sui police, Balochistan Home Minister Shoaib Nausherwani told The News. He added that after investigations the doctors were released the same afternoon.)

The manner in which the SSG troops snatched the doctors from the police gave rise to immediate fears that these doctors may be killed because they could pose a threat to the rapists belonging to the Army.

The Sui-Dera Bugti-Dera Allah Yar, road was opened by the troops on Tuesday and some public transport was allowed but after a thorough search of passengers carried out by different agencies including Army commandos, the FC, regular Army troops and the Police. Check posts have been set up at various places. A very small number of passengers were observed on the roads, while transporters have doubled and tripled the fares.

In the town of Sui, the authorities showed a little flexibility and people sheltering in nearby desert and on hilltops were allowed to buy some goods. But prices were too high and there was shortage of goods in the shops.

A convoy of fresh stocks was seen heading for Dera Bugti from an unknown route to meet shortages in the city. This aid is believed to be provided by Balochs for their tribal brother.

According to an estimate, more than 700 families have moved from the Sui town and have got scattered in nearby hills, the desert or the neighboring cities of Dera Allah Yar and Dera Murad Jamali. Some have moved up to 150 miles from their homes.

The local administration is still claiming that they did not force any one to leave their home or migrate. But as a matter of fact, they have been forced by the targeted firings and harassment by security forces.

Some 60 to 70 people are missing and witnesses claim at least 30 persons were taken away by the Army. Officials are not admitting any detentions.

On the night before Eid al Azha, 53 persons were arrested from different residential colonies of Sui. Later 26 were detained while others were released after being told to leave the township.

Baloch sardars have offered shelter to some refugees in Dera Bugti Town or the hilltops nearby, but those who have migrated from Sui are fearful that they wont be secure in Dera Bugti as well.

All fear that sooner or later troops will invade the Dera Bugti Township. Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti himself is under siege. He is not in a position to visit the affected areas and his people himself.

The Army operation started the very first day on arrival of regular armed troops in the area, though the strategy is a little different as compared to Wana in Waziristan. Troops are trying to sweep out the local population and have already shifted it at least 25 kilometers from the town.

Strategically the troops have surrounded the area from three sides: Sui-Kashmore, Sui-Dera Bugti and Sui to Lehri. They have left one side open for people to leave for bordering Sindh Province’s Naseerabad and Jafarabad Districts.

The idea is to cut the resistance manpower when the operation goes into full swing. The Telephone Exchange at Sui has been shut down and there is no any public transport available in the area. Those who came here have said that they had to travel miles on foot from Sui-Reeri Faqir, Sui-Khaten, Sui-Uch, before they could get any transport.

Army, Frontier Constabulary, The Bhambore Rifles & Sibi Scouts, have been deployed every where. Tough and insulting search of every passenger, whether male or female, is being carried out at every check post.

The correspondent also visited the city of Dera Allah Yar and sent this first hand report: “When you enter the city of Dera Allah Yar from Dera Murad Jamali, you see a lot of men wearing the traditional Bugti dresses, with their huge "puggris " (head scarves) on their heads. They are refugees from Sui sitting with their hosts in the area. Though healthy, their expressions are cold and dead, worried about their future and for their loved ones they had left behind.

We approached a roadside hotel and talked to Arsala Khan Bugti and his son Sahib Dad. Arsala Khan was a low grade worker with PPL at Sui. All the conversation was in Balochi.

Q: Arsala what happened exactly at Sui?

Arsala: What had to happen? It had become a matter of routine at Sui. The “Sarkari Lashkar" (State troops) used to insult us every day, but that day they crossed the limits.

Q: What do you mean by crossing the limits?

A: (Sahib Dad replied instead of Arsala. The son seemed to be educated. He had a one-year diploma of medical technician and is known as doctor in his town) By traditional hesitation of Haya they insulted our guest, they raped the madam. This is unforgivable. If they could do it with our guest, they can do it with our own families as well. They don't know guests are more respectable to us. We can die, and we can kill, literally kill the offenders.

Q: Then what did you people do to teach a lesson to the offenders?

Arsala: We the PPL Employees protested first and said to our officers to take action against the offenders. Our delegation of the union went to meet Madam (Dr. Shazia Khalid) but DSG (Which Arsala calls the dee eye jees) did not let us see her. We complained about their behavior in our tribal way of hal hawal. We told the facts to our men of the tribe and the elders, who took it seriously and started the armed protest against DSG (Defence Security Guards). Then furious firing started and we saw the worst bullets rain at Sui. They (security forces) targeted our homes and firing claimed more or less four lives.

Q: Why more or less. You yourself did not see the dead bodies?

Arsala: (his face got red with anger) Who the hell was able to come out of the homes. It looked like we were in Iraq. Women and kids were shocked and terrified. They could not prepare food for two days. Thank God I had my own Datsun, we managed to escape from there safely. But I am worried about my brother whom I left behind to look after the house and stuff. The phone lines are dead and we are out of touch at such a hard time.

Q: Sahib Dad what do you think of the incident?

Sahib Dad: The Punjabis just want to do as they did in Bangladesh. But they will never let us become a free people because of our natural resources. So Bengali people were luckier than us.

Q: Sahib Dad you are educated and seem to be mature how can you blame the whole of Punjab or Punjabis?

Sahib Dad: Why shouldn`t I, do you see any sort of protest in Punjab? Has any one come out to protest on the roads, doesn`t all this show the silent support to the Army?

As we had no answer and before leaving requested them for some pictures but they rudely refused and started questioning whether we were agents of agencies. We proved our identity and calmed them down. Then Sahib Dad brought to our knowledge the situation of refugees in a shelter almost half a kilometer from the town area.

We went to their huts and jhuggis, where kids of Pashtoon and Baloch tribesmen were playing around. Kharghi Bugti, who had a vegetable shop in Sui, told us he was staying with an Afghan refugee family, paying them a rent. When he left his home two weeks back, amid heavy firing from security forces, his wife was pregnant and had to deliver the twin babies in open desert at night.

Kharghi burst into tears narrating his story. “We escaped by foot and could walk only 5 miles from Sui as my wife was pregnant. My wife gave birth to twins in the cold of a desert night. As we could not provide proper clothes or heating at night one of the newly born babies died of cold, probably pneumonia, the very next morning. I buried him there in my "Puggri" (head scarf). The second baby survived and I have named him Fouj Din, in memory of the armed invasion at our homeland.”

On my insistence he let us visit his shack (jhuggi) where I managed to get a picture of the newly born Master Fouj Din (above).

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