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A Turning Point in Balochistan

 A turning point in Balochistan

Brahamdagh’s Volte Face & the Way Forward

It seems that the government’s efforts to persuade dissident Baloch leaders for holding talks on the Balochistan issue are bearing fruit. In August, after meeting with senior Balochistan Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud Khan, promised to consider returning to Pakistan if “right conditions” are created in Balochistan to address the grievances. But the real breakthrough came when the Baloch separatist leader Brahamdagh Bugti, in an interview with the BBC Urdu on August 26, expressed his willingness to resile from his demand for independence from Pakistan and to live in peace with the state. This is indeed a watershed moment for the state of Pakistan.

Brahamdagh Bugti finally emerged from his sanctuary with a white flag when he offered to negotiate with the government. The expression of willingness by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s favourite grandson, who heads the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) from self-exile in Switzerland, to negotiate with Pakistani authorities is indeed a remarkable event. It is the same Brahamdagh who had always remained firm in his stance for an ‘independent’ Balochistan. Nevertheless, this development signifies a paradigm shift because it is for the very first time in the decade-long insurgency that he has agreed to find a political settlement within Pakistan’s constitutional framework.
At this juncture, it is important to analyse as to what are the factors, both internal and external that which have effected this change.

First of all, international pressure is one of the most significant factors that have compelled Brahamdagh to take an altogether different position from what he had traditionally taken. Mr Bugti leads the outlawed Baloch Republican Party (BRP) which creates unrest in Balochistan. Pakistan has been approaching Western governments with the argument that they should not shelter those who commit acts of terrorism in Pakistan. It seems that the government’s efforts have paid off. It is because a changing regional environment has a bearing on how Western governments respond to Pakistan’s strategy vis-à-vis Balochistan.

Secondly, the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent rapprochement between Afghanistan and Pakistan under President Ashraf Ghani have reduced the Indian clout and footprint in Afghanistan. This has minimized Indian support to Baloch insurgents via Afghanistan which has resulted in weakening of the BLA.

Thirdly, it is worth mentioning here that despite ten years of armed struggle, the Baloch insurgency has remained a low-intensity guerrilla conflict. Right from the start, the separatist movement and its leadership remained divided along political and tribal lines. So, military operations that have been considerably ramped up in the province have further damaged the insurgents’ comparatively limited capacity. Moreover, discord with other tribes has also resulted in the BLA’s debilitation.

For instance, in 2007, the Marri and Bugti tribes, which formed the core of the insurgency in its initial years, separated ways. So the insurgent movement fractured between the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), led by the Bugti tribe, and the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), led by the Marri tribe. The killing of the scion of the Marri tribe, Mir Balaach Marri, in a missile attack further fuelled suspicions in the Marri tribe that somehow Brahamdagh was involved. The latter reportedly had to leave Pakistan after this development.

Fourthly, with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the pipeline, securing peace in the province is considered an imperative and there have been reports of widespread destruction and casualties as a result of operations by the military. Among the areas where alleged insurgents have been targeted and killed is Dera Bugti. For the Bugtis, the stakes are particularly high because of Pakistan Petroleum Ltd’s presence in their area. Brahmdagh’s supporters, who were employed at the Sui gas fields, lost their livelihoods — not to mention jobs in the Levies, the police and various government departments — when they decided to support him so there was pressure building on him on that score too.

It was decided to provide financial assistance to those who surrendered to the government: fighters were offered Rs500,000 while mid-level commanders were offered Rs1 million to Rs1.5 million. Since then, thousands of insurgents have laid down their arms.

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Fifthly, the death of Nawab Khair Bux Marri, who was considered the spiritual head of the Baloch insurgency, was also a fatal blow to the insurgency. His death not only weakened the insurgency but further fractured the Marri tribe’s resistance against the government between the Hairbyar Marri-led BLA and the United Baloch Army led by Mehran Marri, another scion of the Marri tribe.

Sixthly, on June 15, under the National Action Plan (NAP), the Balochistan Apex Committee offered general amnesty to the Baloch youth who laid down their arms and renounced violence. It was decided to provide financial assistance to those who surrendered to the government — fighters were offered Rs500,000 while mid-level commanders were offered Rs1 million to Rs1.5 million. Since then, thousands of insurgents have laid down their arms. For instance, only on August 14, 2015, four hundred Baloch separatists surrendered and renounced fighting against the state of Pakistan. During the ceremony marking their entry into the mainstream, the separatists put their weapons one by one on a table decorated with Pakistan’s National Flag and each of them received Pakistan National Flag and flowers from the children standing there. The surrendered separatists expressed their emotions and feelings and vowed that they would never fight against the state. “We will remain peaceful and loyal to Pakistan and will live rest of the life as a Pakistani national,” they said. Engaging in dialogue with dissidents and launching development projects will complement each other and bring the Baloch people back into the mainstream.

In the end, it is apt to say that the two most prominent separatist leaders, Brahamdagh and the Khan of Kalat, are willing to talk; the external support to Baloch insurgency has weakened; and the proposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) equips Pakistan with the ability to turn around the socioeconomic conditions of the impoverished and neglected Baloch masses. This, then, is an ideal opportunity for Pakistan to pacify the Baloch insurgency. The government should welcome the shift in the position of Brahamdagh Bugti and engage him in talks to move toward bringing an end to the years-long insurgency and make the Baloch people partners in the development of the largest province in area and an important strategic location of the country.

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