Waking up to the war in Balochistan – BBC

Attitudes are hardening in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province against the government, but the state is now belatedly reaching out to the Baloch separatists. Writer Ahmed Rashid considers whether after years of civil war, talks could end the bloodshed.

It took an obscure United States congressman holding a controversial hearing in Washington on the civil war in Balochistan to awaken the conscience of the Pakistani government, military and public.

For years the civil war in Balochistan has either been forgotten by most Pakistanis or depicted as the forces of law and order battling Baloch tribesmen, who are described as “Indian agents”.

Just a few weeks ago, Interior Minister Rehman Malik even hinted that Israel and the US were supporting the Baloch separatists, while the army had totally ”Indianised” the Baloch problem.

On 23 February, Mr Malik did an about-face, saying that the government was withdrawing all cases against Baloch leaders living in exile and asking them to return home for talks. ”I will receive them in person,” he told journalists.

Don’t expect Baloch leaders to turn the other cheek at Mr Malik’s sudden shift – the Baloch have seen too many such U-turns before.

Brahamdagh Bugti, head of the separatist Baloch Republican Party and living in exile in Geneva, remains sceptical.

His grandfather Sardar Akbar Bugti, the head of the Bugti tribe, was killed in 2006 on the orders of former President Pervez Musharraf in a massive aerial bombardment, while his sister Zamur Domki and her 12-year old daughter were gunned down in Karachi in broad daylight just in late January – allegedly by government agents.

He told journalists last week: ”I have seen this all before… I am not an optimist.” Nevertheless, for the first time in years his face appeared on every Pakistani TV channel as he and other Baloch leaders gave interviews.

Broken promises

The civil war has left thousands dead – including non-Baloch settlers killed by Baloch militants – and has gone on for the past nine years, but it hardly made the news in Pakistan, let alone abroad.

The fifth Baloch insurgency against the Pakistani state began in 2003 with small guerrilla attacks by autonomy-seeking Baloch groups, who over the years have become increasingly militant and separatist in ideology.

Attitudes are hardening in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province against the government, but the state is now belatedly reaching out to the Baloch separatists. Writer Ahmed Rashid considers whether after years of civil war, talks could end the bloodshed.

It took an obscure United States congressman holding a controversial hearing in Washington on the civil war in Balochistan to awaken the conscience of the Pakistani government, military and public.

For years the civil war in Balochistan has either been forgotten by most Pakistanis or depicted as the forces of law and order battling Baloch tribesmen, who are described as “Indian agents”.

Just a few weeks ago, Interior Minister Rehman Malik even hinted that Israel and the US were supporting the Baloch separatists, while the army had totally ”Indianised” the Baloch problem.

On 23 February, Mr Malik did an about-face, saying that the government was withdrawing all cases against Baloch leaders living in exile and asking them to return home for talks. ”I will receive them in person,” he told journalists.

Don’t expect Baloch leaders to turn the other cheek at Mr Malik’s sudden shift – the Baloch have seen too many such U-turns before.

Brahamdagh Bugti, head of the separatist Baloch Republican Party and living in exile in Geneva, remains sceptical.

His grandfather Sardar Akbar Bugti, the head of the Bugti tribe, was killed in 2006 on the orders of former President Pervez Musharraf in a massive aerial bombardment, while his sister Zamur Domki and her 12-year old daughter were gunned down in Karachi in broad daylight just in late January – allegedly by government agents.

He told journalists last week: ”I have seen this all before… I am not an optimist.” Nevertheless, for the first time in years his face appeared on every Pakistani TV channel as he and other Baloch leaders gave interviews.

Broken promises

The civil war has left thousands dead – including non-Baloch settlers killed by Baloch militants – and has gone on for the past nine years, but it hardly made the news in Pakistan, let alone abroad.

The fifth Baloch insurgency against the Pakistani state began in 2003 with small guerrilla attacks by autonomy-seeking Baloch groups, who over the years have become increasingly militant and separatist in ideology.

Although Balochistan is the largest province in Pakistan, the Baloch number only five million people and are outnumbered in their own province by Pashtun tribesmen and other non-Baloch settlers like the Shia Hazaras who arrived in the 19th Century. What also irks the Baloch is that Pakistan allows the Afghan Taliban – who are Pashtun – to run their war against US forces in Afghanistan from Quetta, the provincial capital. The Taliban leadership council is called the Quetta Shura. Pakistan’s authorities deny the claims.

Until now, there has been a kind of ethnic peace between the Baloch and Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns living in Balochistan, but that could end in a bloodbath. Some right-wing American politicians like Dana Rohrabacher talk of an alliance between Baloch separatists and Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban former Northern Alliance.

Such an alliance would jointly take on the Taliban. That is dangerous talk because it could end up with the partitioning of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pakistan army needs to see the writing on the wall and swiftly urge the government to open genuine talks and offer real concessions to the Baloch. The Baloch say they are beyond accepting any compromise with the state, but no Pakistani entity has ever tried talking to them.

Ahmed Rashid’s book, Taliban, was updated and reissued recently on the 10th anniversary of its publication. His latest book is Descent into Chaos – The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Courtesy: BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17182978

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