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From rebels to loyalists

The government efforts to lure the Baloch nationalists back home and to encourage them to surrender are being viewed with some scepticism

From rebels to loyalists
Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Daud Khan.

More than two years after the installation of the Baloch-Pashtun nationalist government in Balochistan with backing from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), two serious moves have been made to persuade some of the self-exiled Baloch leaders to return home and lure the fighters on the ground to surrender by offering them monetary incentives.

The first move hasn’t achieved any breakthrough yet because the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud Khan, the Baloch tribal chief considered most likely to return home from his self-exile in the United Kingdom, has put certain conditions before he could come back to Balochistan. However, it is the first time since he left Pakistan in 2006 that he agreed to discuss the possibility of his return home with a delegation of ranking Baloch tribal elders that travelled to London to meet him. He later said he will consider returning to Pakistan if “right conditions” were created in Balochistan by addressing his grievances.

As he explained, the military operation in Balochistan would have to end and the grand Baloch Jirga that had advised him to go abroad and highlight the Baloch rights’ issues at the international level could satisfy and convince him it is the right time to return home.

In fact, some leading members of the grand Baloch Jirga including Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, chief of Jhalawan and senior provincial minister belonging to the PML-N, Nawab Mohammad Khan Shahwani, Sardar Kamal Bangulzai, Mir Kabir Mohammad Shahi and Mir Khalid Longove travelled all the way to UK to request the Khan of Kalat to return to Balochistan and play his role in restoring peace in his native land. They are also part of the ruling coalition in Balochistan and had the mandate from Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch to seek reconciliation with the Khan of Kalat. However, the Khan of Kalat still isn’t convinced that the Balochistan government is sufficiently empowered to take decisions regarding the province, including putting an end to the alleged extrajudicial killings of Baloch nationalists and separatists.

Efforts to bring home Mir Suleman Daud Khan have been continuing for months, but these received a boost sometimes back when the Balochistan Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution seeking renewed government support for the move.

Read also: An insurgency best exiled

Another recent happening is the statement by Brahmadagh Bugti, grandson of late Nawab Akbar Bugti living in self-exile in Switzerland, that he won’t refuse peace talks with the government and could even give up the demand for an independent Balochistan if the Baloch people so desired. This has raised hopes that finally a framework for peaceful resolution of the issues in Balochistan could be developed.

Such reconciliatory statements weren’t heard in the past as the Baloch separatists only talked of fighting for creation of an independent Balochistan state and seeking international guarantees before entering into any talks with the Pakistan government.

The second move by the government is visibly making progress as more than 500 separatist Baloch fighters, or ferraris as they are commonly referred to, have surrendered in recent weeks and more are expected to lay down arms in the future. Those willing to quit fighting are being offered amounts ranging from 0.5 million to 1.5 million rupees under the “Peaceful Balochistan” initiative recently launched during the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to the provincial capital, Quetta.

Brahamdagh Bugti

Brahamdagh Bugti

Simply put, it is to reward Baloch insurgents who agree to give up fighting the state of Pakistan. Those who conceived the plan are hoping that money would tempt the fighters to turn from rebels to loyalists. Besides, it is believed the promise of monetary handout would stop these fighters from accepting payments from powers hostile to Pakistan. Pakistani authorities, particularly those in Balochistan, have publicly alleged that Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies were sponsoring acts of sabotage in the province. Islamabad has been claiming that Baloch separatists are sheltered in neighbouring Afghanistan and India is able to use the Afghan soil to destabilise not only Balochistan but also the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

It is too early to predict how the “Peaceful Balochistan” plan would fare once the surrendering Baloch fighters begin receiving the promised monetary incentives. Such plans involving money often run into problems in Pakistan due to lack of oversight and corruption, but one will expect the military to handle this in its customary professional and disciplined way. The decision who gets the minimum Rs500,000 or the maximum Rs1.5 million would obviously depend on the strength and status of the fighters laying down arms, but it would be tricky and possibly controversial. Questions would also arise whether those surrendering are really insurgents or not. If this initiative can deliver in Balochistan, there would be calls for trying it out in other conflict-hit areas, particularly in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Balochistan’s Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, who along with the late Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri’s estranged son and presently Irrigation Minister Nawabzada Jangez Marri, has played a key role in persuading the Baloch insurgents to surrender, sweetened the reward for the surrendering men by promising that they would be settled in their homes in an honourable way and the state would provide education, healthcare and other facilities to their children. One can only hope that such promises would be kept.

As such mass surrenders of Baloch militants is something rare, doubts would certainly be cast concerning its authenticity and chances of success. Past surrenders of Baloch nationalists, notably of Nawab Nauroz Khan Zarakzai in 1959 and the government’s failure to keep his word to spare his life and those of his colleagues would continue to haunt all future efforts at reconciliation. Lt General Mohammad Nasir Khan Janjua, commander Southern Command of Pakistan Army, tried to allay such concerns by telling the 400 surrendering Baloch fighters at a televised ceremony at the Quetta Police Lines on August 14 that this Independence Day would herald the beginning of their friendship and the end of enmity. He advised them not to feel ashamed for putting down their arms, but to raise their heads as they had done this out of conviction.

Similar surrender ceremonies have been held in Dera Bugti, Khuzdar and elsewhere and those laying down arms include Bugti, Marri and tribesmen from smaller Baloch tribes. The militants are said to belong to different armed groups, though the Balochistan Liberation Army and others have denied that these men were their members.

Recently, there have been unconfirmed reports that Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the head of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), was killed in an operation by the Frontier Corps in the Mekran division, but the group has issued a denial. It would have been unthinkable in the past that Baloch insurgents in Mekran, which is a stronghold of Dr Allah Nazar Baloch’s BLF, would surrender, but this seems to be happening. Is it because Dr Allah Nazar Baloch is dead? We don’t know this yet, but his death would be a big blow for the Baloch separatists as he was one guerilla commander who stayed put in Balochistan and fought it out unlike the other separatist leaders who took refuge in Western and Gulf countries.

Rahimullah Yusufzai

rahimullah yusufzai
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]

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