July 24, 2022
Immediate political dialogue is the need of the hour, however such talks can only be initiated by taking Baloch separatists into confidence first. This requires goodwill gestures, including the release of missing persons, but it does not appear that Pakistan’s military establishment is willing to approach the Baloch crisis as anything but a security issue.
This was stated by speakers on the webshow The Battle for Balochistan. Journalist and anchorperson, Munizae Jahangir, hosted the show, which included President of the National Party and Chief Minister of Balochistan (2013 – 2015), Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch; Governor of Balochistan (2003) and Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (2013 – 2017), Lt. Gen. (R) Abdul Qadir Baloch; and professor, author and Coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Regional Office in Turbat, Ghani Parwaz.
On the question of young Baloch treading the path of militancy and guerilla warfare because of a perceived lack of faith in Baloch politicians, Parwaz clarified that it is not so much as politicians letting these people down than it is the acceptance of the fact that true authority lies with the Pakistan Army.
Dr. Malik Baloch expressed that the solution to the Balochistan question lies either with the military or the militants, while politicians are nothing more than just well-wishers nowadays. Referring to the efforts rendered during his tenure as Chief Minister of Balochistan, he said that negotiations with Nawabzada Brahamdagh Bugti in Geneva 2015 could have yielded success.
“We had a very positive response,” he said. “We were incredibly grateful for how Nawabzada Brahamdagh Bugti conducted himself with us, and the issues he discussed with us were all nationalist concerns. We urged him to accept the constitution and to forgo challenging the state.”
Expressing his view that Bugti’s demands were all very valid, Dr. Malik Baloch lamented that despite having sent him and Lt. Gen. (R) Qadir Baloch to initiate dialogue in the first place, the Army – not the separatists – backed out.
Concurring with Dr. Malik Baloch, Lt. Gen. (R) Qadir Baloch stated that Bugti never put forward any demand that was objectionable. Furthermore, the self-exiled grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti also offered to bring Javed Mengal, head of the Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LeB), and Mehran Marri, current leader of the United Baloch Army (UBA), to the negotiating table.
“Upon our return, we informed then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of what was discussed, after which we had a meeting at the General Headquarters (GHQ) where we put up our recommendations,” he said. “It was unfortunate that the eventual outcome was not what should have been.”
Lt. Gen. (R) Qadir Baloch further provided that, per his understanding, it appeared that the military was not satisfied with an agreement with just Bugti, and wanted to proceed with talks with the other separatist and militant groups on their own terms.
“The situation is extremely serious. It is now being handled as a security issue, and will never give us the results we desire, that is there be peace in the country,” he posited, adding that the cause and narrative of the discontented Baloch has so much appeal that mature, intelligent and well-educated men and women, such as Shari Baloch, are ready to carry out suicide attacks.
Parwaz lamented how little regard politicians, bureaucrats and the establishment in the Center give to the grievances and plight of Balochistan’s people. He further said that if talks must resume with separatist leaders, then the Army should either not interfere or surrender all authorities to the civilian leadership per the Constitution of Pakistan.
“Pakistan’s history has made one thing clear, and that is the military possesses most powers. The Constitution may state that powers lie with the civil governments and leadership, and that the military is answerable to civilian regimes, however this is not the case,” he said.
Dr. Malik Baloch held that the only solution to the crisis in Balochistan is political, not military.
“The dictator, Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf, ignited a fire that has been burning for the past 20 years. The Baloch people are in a constant state of revolution,” he stated. “The one and only solution to the problem is dialogue. Disappearing and murdering people will only cause more hate, it will never yield peace.”
On attempting to build bridges and dissuade much of this hate, Dr. Malik Baloch was of the view that confidence-building measures should be implemented.
In response to the question whether separatist leaders will now agree to restart negotiations, Dr. Malik Baloch stated that the situation is a far cry from how it was in 2013.
“I cannot say for sure whether separatists can be brought back on the negotiating table,” he said. “But I am a democrat, therefore I believe that matters should be resolved through democratic means, not by raising the barrel of your gun.”
Agreeing with Dr. Malik Baloch, Parwaz stated that while negotiations are indeed the way forward, the Army should at the very least also be prepared to engage in dialogue.
“If Balochistan’s problems are taken in serious regard, then the militant groups at the very least can easily be convinced to partake in talks,” he opined. “At the very least, the missing 50,000 Balochs should be released, however the power to release them lies with the Army.”
He added that Baloch separatism is a problem borne out of a mountain of other problems, and it has now become its own beast.
Dr. Malik Baloch however expressed his belief that Balochistan is hurtling toward ruin as Pakakistan’s political leadership does not consider the province and its myriad problems a priority.
“In every Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) meeting, our view was that there should be confidence-building mechanisms in place in Balochistan, that there should be negotiations. But our plea went unheard,” he said. “And so we in Balochistan are still suffering, the whole country is suffering.”
He opined that it does not appear that the state is trying for a political solution to the Balochistan crisis.
‘I really hope that my view is wrong. Maybe they are searching for such a solution, but the more we delay it, the more we will suffer for it, the more there will be bloodshed.”