By: Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari
Dated: August 31, 2015
On 27 August 2015, Brahamdagh Bugti, a Baloch insurgent leader and head of militant outfit Baloch Republican Army, expressed his desire to open peace talks with the Pakistani government. Bugti has been waging a guerilla war to seek separatism of Balochistan Province from Pakistan. He is in exile in Switzerland while his BRA continues sabotage and militant attacks on government installations and security forces in the province.
Bugti, in an interview with the BBC, expressed his views and expressed readiness to talk to Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was then visiting UK. Bugti’s offer has been widely welcomed in Pakistan since Balochistan is festering with unrest since more than 10 years now and many mega projects of Pakistan, including Gwadar deep seaport as well as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, the government wants Mr. Bugti to informs them of India’s designs in Balochistan and disavow from India’s agenda, which could then lead to talks with him. The U-turn taken by Bugti to call off militancy, respect Pakistan’s constitution and find a peaceful solution to Balochistan’s unrest may break the backbone of Baloch insurgency in the province. It is important to mention that the current wave of Baloch insurgency owes its seeds to the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti at the hands of Pakistan Army. Akbar Bugti was the father of Brahamdagh Bugti.
Bugti’s desire to hold talks with the government stems from the incessant security operations conducted by Pakistan Army since early 2015, due to which many leading militant commanders have been killed or nabbed. Subsequently, the Balochistan government also announced a monetary package for the militants to surrender their arms and lead a peaceful life. Similarly, the government announced massive development and aid allocation to the Province to initiate development activities and woo youths away from insurgent groups. On 16 June 2015, Balochistan was allocated Rs 54.5 billion (US $540 million) for 2016 Annual Development Programme (ADP), a rise of 7.5 per cent compared to 2015 in which Rs 50.7 billion (US $500 million) was allocated. The Province plans to spend 60 per cent of the ADP, which includes foreign project assistance of Rs 3.33 billion, on new projects and the rest of it on the ongoing schemes. This policy of allocating more money to new projects will increase the throw-forward of development schemes in the Province from the present Rs 124.7 billion to Rs. 141 billion by the end of the next financial year. It is pertinent to mention that the number of ongoing schemes in the Province is 940 and the government plans to start another 1,310 projects during 2015-16. A total of 807 projects were completed during the outgoing year. It means that it will take about seven years to complete all the projects that are being started during the next financial year if the development funds were distributed between new and old schemes in the same ratio of 60:40, the documents shows. The new provincial budget focuses more on infrastructure development, especially in the road, power and water sectors. It also focuses on schemes that are directly and indirectly linked to the CPEC, like construction of international airport in Gwadar.
On 17 June 2015, the Balochistan government announced an amnesty scheme for the insurgents who agree to lay down their arms and join the mainstream society. Under the scheme, low-level fighters will be paid Rs500,000 (US $5,000), while mid-level commanders will receive Rs 1 million (US $10,000). The top commanders will receive Rs 1.5 million (US $15,000). The plan to offer monetary awards was aimed at discouraging the surrendered militants to stay away from rejoining the insurgency.
As a result, many prominent militant field commanders have surrendered to the government. Changez Marri, head of the powerful Marri tribe and brother of Harbyar Marri who is also head of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), also convinced many BLA commanders to surrender themselves to the government who subsequently did, thereby weakening the Baloch insurgency.
Another Baloch insurgent group, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) has also been weakened considerably due to counter-insurgency operations by the security forces. The BLF is considered as the most ideological and strongest group of the Baloch insurgent landscape. Most of these COIN operations were based upon effective and timely intelligence which weakened the group BLF. A major setback to the group took place when Allah Nazar Baloch, BLF’s head was reportedly killed in a COIN operation on 30 June 2015. It also pushed many self-exiled Baloch insurgent leaders to reconsider their goals and initiate peace talks with the government. The BLF is also suffering from desertions. On 14 June 2015, two commanders’ of BLF, along with a group of 57 insurgents, laid down their arms in the presence of PML-N leader Nawab Sanaullah Zehri in Khuzdar District. According to the reports, the commander of BLF Din Jan alias Meeran and Ubaidullah alias Beebarg laid down their arms and vowed to be a part of the national mainstream.
Apart from this, the recent visit of Pakistan Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, to UK carried great significance. Since most of the Baloch insurgent leaders have taken refuge in UK, Sharif made it clear to the UK government that its land was being used for subversion in Pakistan and that the latter does not want to ruin its relations with the former. Apart from handing over evidence to the UK government, Sharif also impressed upon the UK officials that Indian external intelligence agency, RAW, should not be allowed to use London as a base camp to launch terrorist activities in Pakistan.
Sharif’s visit was one step in government’s strategy to ensure that the save havens and hideouts of Baloch insurgent leaders overseas are eliminated. An unnamed top security official said on 30 April 2015 that the Federal Government is seeking to approach five countries and the UN for the extradition of top Baloch insurgents accused of fomenting unrest in Balochistan, as the security agencies have identified 161 training camps of insurgents, nearly two dozen of them are believed to be located in Afghanistan and two in Iran. According to the official, “we are taking up the issue of Baloch insurgents with five countries [India, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Iran and Afghanistan],” adding that Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, Harbyar Marri, Brahamdagh Bugti, Javed Mengal and some other wanted insurgents are commanding their fighters in the province.
On 21 July 2015, the government announced that it has met Mir Sulaiman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat and the most powerful and influential political leader of Balochistan who is currently in self-exile in UK. The government plans to convince Mr. Dawood to return back to Pakistan to play his role in the development of the country.
Given the evolving situation, Brahamdagh also stated in a BBC interview that he is open to negotiations with the government. It is being reported that the first contact between the government and Brahamdagh took place in June this year. The same committee which is holding talks with the Khan of Kalat held a meeting with Brahamdagh. There is seemingly less opposition to Brahamdagh since he is not directly involved in terrorist acts in Balochistan. However, the government wants him to speak publicly and confess his links with RAW and their designs in Pakistan. However, pro-government elements in Balochistan are wary of the return of these Baloch insurgent leaders as a result of a political deal and believe that they may be targeted by the latter under the cover of Baloch culture and traditions.
With the things moving in positive direction, there is a belief that many insurgent leaders could be won over and brought back to normalize the political and security situation in the province. Otherwise, Pakistan’s future multi-billion dollar projects would not materialize in the existing volatile security situation.