Thursday, November 19, 2015

Despite Bugti, a peaceful Balochistan will remain a distant dream

Brahumdagh Bugti, in his recent statement has invited all Baloch political parties for negotiations to sort out their differences. Years in exile have mellowed the young Bugti, who was once viewed as a firebrand proponent for an independent Balochistan.

Malik Siraj Akbar, a senior Baloch journalist based in Washington, DC, noted in one of his articles in The Huffington Post that,

“In the past, Mr Bugti, 34, who leads the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), had insisted that Pakistan should first recognise the Baloch right to statehood and then ask them to sit on the negotiation table. The BRP, in the meanwhile, has had to pay a heavy price for its stance as the Pakistani authorities arrested, tortured or even killed hundreds of young BRP activists due to their support for the free Balochistan movement. Many of them, including Bugti, were forced to flee Balochistan and live in exile owing to threats to their lives.”

While Bugti’s overture for peace should be encouraged, it is imperative that we notice his volte-face. He stands in contradiction to what he was doing in the past. In the short run, one might consider it a positive step to creating peace in the insurgency-struck province, but in the long run, it does very little to offer the prospect of peace in the province, mainly because the road to a peaceful Balochistan is arduous and complicated.

Earlier in August, when Mr Bugti said that he would halt his struggle for an independent Balochistan and coexist with Pakistan, if his allies agreed, the Baloch Liberation Front, a hard-line Baloch organisation deeply criticised his hasty judgment and expressed disapproval.

Therefore, there are certain separatist groups that will not support Mr Bugti when it comes to considering dialogue with Islamabad.

How does Mr Bugti plan on changing their staunch hopes for an independent Balochistan or maximum provincial autonomy?

I believe that Mr Bugti’s call for negotiations with the Baloch leadership is a very naïve step. This is because the differences amongst the Baloch leadership are not the main problem in the restive province, but Islamabad’s inaction in addressing the grievances of the alienated Baloch.

Secondly, Islamabad has not yet created a conducive environment for Mr Bugti to return to Pakistan. So far, Bugti has only met with Dr Malik Baloch, the Chief Minister (CM) of Balochistan, who admitted to Bugti that he is powerless when it comes to resolving the conflict. Considering the successive government of Dr Malik Baloch has not done anything to restore peace in the insurgency-struck province so far, it makes sense that he is powerless.

Some also endorse the fact that the intensity of violence and the sense of deprivation have further increased amongst the alienated Baloch ever since Dr Baloch was elected as the first non-tribal chief minister of Balochistan.

So yes, Dr Malik Baloch is powerless.

There is a trust deficit between the separatist leaders and Dr Malik Baloch. The general belief is that Dr Baloch is in cahoots with the establishment in plundering the resources of Balochistan.

The question, in light of these facts, is:

Will Islamabad take Mr Bugti’s call for dialogue seriously without any direct involvement of Dr Malik Baloch?

Most probably not.

Islamabad is well informed of the fact that Mr Bugti’s party is not as politically active as the other separatist groups anymore. The more pertinent parties are the ones who are aggressively opposing the state. So initiating a process of dialogue with him would not restore peace in Balochistan entirely. For Islamabad, Mr Bugti has been ‘neutralised’. Their focus would be more on other dissenting groups.

Another question, driven by an immense amount of curiosity, is:

Why is Bugti considering initiating a process of dialogue after almost eight years of exile?

To me the answer is fairly simple. When he became a recluse after the assassination of Nawab Bugti, he was about 24-years-old and was politically immature.

The killing of Nawab Bugti and the grievances of the Baloch people gave him many reasons to resist state oppression without compromising on the idea of an independent Balochistan. He must have realised now that the road to an independent Balochistan is full of ambiguity. And now that he lives in Switzerland, with pending asylum, if he leaves the country his request for asylum would be revoked. So if he is to return, he realises that he must return to a Balochistan that is part of Pakistan.

Secondly, Bugti’s campaign for an independent Balochistan has not really received enough support from the western world. Some western countries have deeply condemned the human rights violations being committed in Balochistan, but have not bolstered the calls for separation.

The next question we need to address is:

What would bring peace in Balochistan?

I paint this sordid picture with a heavy heart. The fact is that the two sides in the Balochistan issue are radical in their own regard. The establishment crushes Baloch insurgents through violence, and the Baloch insurgents, like the Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Army, insist they can achieve independence through guerrilla warfare. As long as these two sides continue their respective approaches in Balochistan, a peaceful Balochistan will remain a distant dream.

The dialogue between the Baloch leaders and the federal government did not have any positive outcome. While everyone agrees that there should be peaceful dialogue and there should be peace in Balochistan, no one seems to know how to manage that.

Balochistan is justified in saying that the state has caused harm to the neglected province, but at the same time the lack of leadership in Balochsitan has not done much to alleviate the pains of the Baloch people either.

So far, neither the Baloch separatists nor the sardars, like Bugti, have shown any seriousness or maturity in solving the issues faced by Balochistan. Not that Islamabad has fared any better.

In recent times, these grievances have managed to carve out an entirely new dimension of separatists; this dimension is most visible in the youth with a non-tribal background, and when push comes to shove, they will neither be convinced by tribal leaders like Mr Bugti nor by Islamabad.

So, what now? Who will step up and glue all these broken pieces together?

I do not wish to ruffle any feathers, but let me suggest a completely outrageous idea.

How about we let the people of Balochistan decide?

Form a committee of regular people; teachers, doctors, shopkeepers, farmers, parents, people like you and me. And let them decide what their issues are how and they should be solved.

Instead of the Baloch leaders and the federal government, the common people of Balochistan should get a shot at deciding their affairs

Simple, but crazy, isn’t it?

from The Express Tribune Blog

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