October Issue 2015
Setting the Table
“If this is what our friends, allies, comrades and the Baloch people want, then of course we will be prepared to talk to Pakistan,” remarked Balochistan Republican Party (BRP) chief, Brahamdagh Bugti, in a recent interview with the BBC. Grandson of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti who was killed in 2006 in General Musharraf’s tenure, Brahamdagh claims that he wants “to resolve all issues politically and peacefully.”
Bugti’s statement came in August, after the Pakistan government reportedly approached him and the Khan of Kalat through emissaries, for commencement of a negotiation process to put an end to the ongoing Baloch insurgency — the fifth one — that has been raging in the province for over a decade.
“We will send the recommendations of the recent meetings held with the Khan of Kalat to the federal government and the prime minister,” Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch said of his meeting with the Khan of Kalat. “We believe in dialogue, and all channels are being used to find a negotiated settlement to the issues facing the province,” he added.
“We are ready to meet him as we want a political solution to the problem,” Bugti remarked, referring to Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was in London at the time when Bugti issued the statement.
While the possibility of a dialogue is being welcomed by many quarters, not everyone is on the same page. “The Baloch are unhappy,” says human rights activist Abdul Qadeer Baloch, better known as Mama Qadeer. “Even Brahamdagh’s own party workers and followers are unhappy with his statement,” he adds. Qadeer maintains that without addressing what he dubs the ‘core’ issue between the federal government and the Baloch people, negotiations are not possible.
“There are so many people who have been killed and dumped. Brahamdagh’s own party members are among the missing persons. So obviously people are unhappy,” Qadeer says. “Yes, negotiations might sound like a great idea, but what about the dead? What about their families? What about those who gave their life because they believed in the BRP?” he asks.
Journalist and analyst Shahzada Zulfiqar holds a similar view.
“The masses aren’t happy,” asserts Zulfiqar. Moreover, a lack of certainty in Bugti’s statements seems to suggest that he probably isn’t ready to talk just yet. “He has used ifs and buts, which implies that he isn’t necessarily ready to talk. But there’s also a chance that he might have realised that militancy hasn’t worked for a decade now,” Zulfiqar adds.
Further he indicates that Bugti might be under pressure to give a more reconciliatory statement. And that pressure, Zulfiqar maintains, is possibly multi-pronged.
“The Pakistan government may have gone to the Swiss authorities claiming that they’re harbouring people who are involved in killing our people. This pressure could’ve compelled Bugti to issue this statement,” he suggests. “This is also why he denies any links to the Baloch Republican Army. He wants to give the impression that his separatist movement is non-violent. He had to leave Afghanistan as well owing to similar pressures.”
Following Akbar Bugti’s killing, Brahamdagh had taken exile in Afghanistan in 2006. In October 2010, his family moved to Switzerland and sought asylum. The news website www.swissinfo.ch has dubbed Bugti ‘Switzerland’s most wanted asylum seeker.’
“The most difficult thing is waiting for my political asylum request to be processed. I have not received any response from the immigration authorities for the last five years,” shared Bugti in a recent interview. “I cannot travel outside of Switzerland. As a politically active person, this is very hard for me; I feel I am not able to do my best for my people by remaining in one country. Even my family cannot accompany me on a vacation.”
Zulfiqar claims that this lack of documentation also makes Bugti’s position vulnerable.
The BRP spokesperson Sher Mohammad Bugti says the party is formulating a strategy for the negotiation process. When asked for comments on the BRP chairman’s statement, Sher Mohammad Bugti said: “The central committee is formulating a strategy. And we’ll soon reach out to the media to explain our stance.”
The spokesperson declined to give any further comments.
Reports suggest that Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch met Brahamdagh Bugti after flying to Switzerland on his recent trip to the UK.
“The chief minister was away for two days during his recent London trip,” says a source close to the Balochistan chief minister, on condition of anonymity. “He went to see Brahamdagh Bugti, to follow up on the government’s meeting with the Khan of Kalat. The government wants Bugti on the negotiating table,” the source added.
Zulfiqar believes that if the government of Pakistan can at least get one of the separatists group to talk, it would definitely put a damper on the Baloch separatist movement. Mama Qadeer maintains that Brahamdagh hasn’t taken anyone on board regarding the invitation for negotiations from the Pakistan government.“Brahamdagh takes decisions on his own, without consulting anyone else,” says Qadeer. “He did not take anyone on board. That is why people are upset.”
However, if there are negotiations between the Baloch separatists and the Pakistan government, what should the former take up as their foremost demand?“The same cause for which Brahamdagh Bugti is in exile. The same cause for which countless people are being killed. That should be the agenda on the negotiation table,” asserts Qadeer, adding that Bugti should have been clear about his conditions for talks with the Pakistan government.
“He shouldn’t have just issued the statement that he was willing to negotiate. He should also have highlighted the points that would be high on the agenda during the negotiations. It is very important to clarify all the conditions on which he would be willing to talk.”
“The solution lies in protecting the rights of the Baloch people,” says Zulfiqar. “The government would have to pass legislation that protects those rights and address the concerns of the locals.”
Qadeer maintains that negotiations will not be possible if there is no accountability and action against those responsible for the missing persons.
“The ongoing military operation needs to be stopped,” Qadeer says. “More than 75% of the Baloch people want a separate state for themselves. This is because of the kill-and-dump policy of the military operation”
Zulfiqar sees more bloodshed in the near future: “Once Gwadar Port becomes operational, the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) routes are constructed, and the Chinese arrive, the government would resort to further clenching the iron fist.”
This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a journalist and writer based in Lahore.