Three developments of importance emanated out of Balochistan in August 2015. First, four hundred 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). Third, and most striking, Brahamdagh 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. Brahamdagh 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.” Commenting further, Bugti stated, that “it would be foolish for anyone to refuse a political dialogue if it is offered in the right spirit.”
The mentioned developments exemplify how the Pakistani state has come to utilize both the stick and carrot in regulating conflict in Balochistan and how it has appreciably moved away from a strategy dependent solely on the utilization of force. This strategy was put to its very best during General Musharraf’s leadership. In January 2005 after a local issue intensified in the Sui area, the stronghold of Nawab Akbar Bugti, General Musharraf went on television to announce to the Baloch: “Don’t push us. This is not the Seventies. They [the Baloch] will not even know what has hit them.” In retaliation, Balochistan’s political elite comprised of tribal Sardars and the middle class intelligentsia including students embarked on a war footing with the Pakistani state as the latter’s use of force was put it to its very best in order to browbeat the Baloch nationalists into submission. However, such a policy radicalized the Baloch youth and destabilized the province even further.
What has changed 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 people through measures such as induction of the Baloch and catering to 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 Balochistan’s youth in reputed technical institutions of other provinces 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 necessitates a peaceful and stable Balochistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated recently that “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, 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 both yes and no. Balochistan is not slipping away because it is 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 majority of Baloch were found favouring 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 their father, Khair Bakhsh Marri, Mehran Baloch the youngest son was credited as Chief of the Marri tribe by Marri elders, which was followed by a statement by Hyrbiyar 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 Brahamdagh 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 center 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!
Image: Banaras Khan-AFP, Getty