Three important developments emanated out of Balochistan in August 2015. First, 400 Baloch nationalist-separatists surrendered and laid down their arms in a ceremony that was part of Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations on August 14 in Quetta; second, news circulated in local dailies of the alleged death of perhaps the most hardened nationalist-separatist in Balochistan, Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the leader of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and third, and the most striking, Brahmdagh Bugti, the self-exiled Baloch nationalist-separatist leader and the grandson of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti announced that he would be willing to enter negotiations with the Pakistani government. Brahmdagh Bugti stated categorically that “if our friends, allies, comrades and the Baloch people want this [peace talks], then of course we will be prepared to talk.”
The abovementioned developments exemplify how the Pakistani state has successfully utilized the carrot-and-stick approach in Balochistan and how it has appreciably moved away from a strategy dependent exclusively on use of force. This strategy was put to its very best under General Musharraf. In January 2005, after a local issue intensified in the Sui area — a stronghold of Nawab Akbar Bugti — General Musharraf appeared on national TV to announce to the Baloch: “Don’t push us. This is not the 70s. They [the Baloch] will not even know what has hit them.”
In retaliation, Balochistan’s political elite, comprising tribal Sardars and the middle class intelligentsia including students, embarked on a war with the Pakistani state as the latter’s use of force was at its very best in bringing the Baloch nationalists into submission. However, such a policy radicalized the Baloch youth and destabilized the province even further.
What change has been effected in Islamabad’s strategy this time? The stick has now been combined with a policy aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Baloch through measures such as induction of the Baloch into, and enhancing their representation, both in the Army and bureaucracy; announcement of general amnesty for Baloch separatists and encouraging them to lay down arms and rehabilitate themselves; increasing financial allocation for Balochistan through the 18th Amendment and 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award; and imparting vocational training to Baloch youth in country’s reputed technical institutions with special incentives. Furthermore, Chinese investment in the Gwadar Port and the projected China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking Gwadar in Pakistan’s south with Kashghar in China’s north, necessitate a peaceful and stable Balochistan. Making his policy absolutely, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, recently stated:
“Balochistan was the cornerstone of the future development of Pakistan and would be the principal beneficiary of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects.”
The man at the heart of Pakistan’s renewed counter-insurgency approach and reconciliation in Balochistan, Lt General Nasir Khan Janjua, who retired from the military recently, remarked recently that “the impression that Balochistan is slipping out of our hands has ended.”
So, was Balochistan really slipping away?
The answer to the question is yes and no, simultaneously. Balochistan is not slipping away because it’s hard to fathom that Baloch nationalists’ secession drive would have succeeded anytime soon or even in the distant future. Ironically, in a survey conducted in August 2012, a huge majority of Baloch favoured provincial autonomy (63%) as opposed to independence (37%). In addition, the nationalist-separatist camp has been beset with political divisions, and a major development occurred in November 2014 where the United Baloch Army (UBA) accused the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) of killing one of their commanders necessitating one writer on Balochistan to reiterate the end of Balochistan’s insurgency. In the same vein, following the death of Khair Bakhsh Marri his youngest son Mehran Baloch was made the Chief of the Marri tribe by Marri elders, which was followed by a statement by Hyrbyair Marri criticizing his brothers, Changez and Mehran and calling for an end to the decadent tribal system. In short, the nationalist-separatists are equally divided over tribal privileges and hierarchies and more importantly, political goals and objectives.
If not physically and as a guerilla unit, the Baloch were slipping away in the ideational context. This implied that the Baloch of both political persuasions (separatists and accommodationists) felt that the nation-state project as instituted in Pakistan worked to the detriment of the Baloch. Ideationally speaking, the feeling and perception of being deprived and exploited lay at the heart of successive Baloch nationalist movements since the independence of Pakistan. It is the rectification of the Baloch mindset where the present overtures of the Pakistani state are aimed, and Brahmdagh Bugti’s intent for negotiations may be counted as a tangible success.
Political developments since 2013 point to a consensus between the provincial government in Balochistan, the federal government, and the armed forces on the need for peace and stability in Balochistan. However, for the recent successes to be concretised further, it is of utmost important that pestering issues between Baloch nationalists (both separatists and accommodationists) and Islamabad relating to missing persons and the division of resources between the centre and province are resolved amicably. As the current security situation stabilizes with the inclusion of recalcitrant nationalist-separatist leaders and as Balochistan is brought back in, the fifth insurgency of the Baloch may well be its very last!