THE BLOG
08/27/2015 06:41 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2016

Challenges of Reconciliation in Balochistan

The government of Balochistan has welcomed the exiled Baloch nationalist leader Brahamdagh Bugti's unanticipated reconciliatory gesture. Dr. Malik Baloch, the head of the provincial government, has announced that his government would constitute a delegation of tribal elders, locally known as a Jirga, which will meet with the charismatic leader who was once described as "Switzerland's 'most wanted' asylum seeker." Bugti's camp has not cautioned the government over its excitement because apparently they are hoping that the government, including the Pakistan army, would concede to Brahamdagh soft demands (i.e. ending the ongoing military operation) as compared to his hard demand (for Balochistan's complete independence from Pakistan).

How different would Balochistan's social and political landscape look if talks between the government and Brahamdagh succeed? We should not anticipate any quick dramatic changes. If the reconciliation ever takes place, it is not going to be an easy process. It will require adjusting and readjusting to a lot of new realities that have emerged in the past one decade since the Baloch insurgency kicked off in its latest phase in 2004. That means, some people will have to be unseated from key positions of power and with some others power would have to be shared.

Unlike Dr. Baloch, the chief minister, Brahamdagh does not have several decades' political experience. He is an accidental politician. He was in fact pushed by hard circumstances to lead the wounded Baloch people in 2006 when his grandfather, the illustrated tribal chief and former governor Nawab Akbar Bugti,79, was killed by General Musharraf. Then only 24, the young Brahamdagh was on the run to save his own life because he was among the most trusted confidants of his grandfather and he genuinely feared for his life.

According to the Pakistani government, Brahamdagh fled the military operation in Balochistan and took shelter in neighboring Afghanistan. His presence there caused much anxiety and tension between Islamabad and former Afghan President Hamid Karazi, who is reported to have had a soft corner for the Baloch people because Karazi had himself taken refuge in Balochistan when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 9/11. However, when the Afghan authorities felt overburdened and deeply pressurized by the Pakistanis for hosting Brahamdagh, they gave him a safe passage to escape to Switzerland where he applied for political asylum. The Swiss authorities have not accepted his request for asylum yet.

While on run, Brahamdagh formed his own Baloch Republican Party (BRP) that gained enormous popularity among the Baloch youth who romanticized the promise of an independent Balochistan. But the government insisted that Brahamdagh also headed an armed insurgent group with a similar name, the Baloch Republican Army. Brahamdagh, on his part, has repeatedly denied any links with the BRA insisting that he solely engages in peaceful political struggle.

The real challenges for Brahamdagh will begin if he ever returns to Balochistan. How is the Pakistani military, which holds de facto powers in Balochistan, going to accommodate him in the provincial political arena? Since BRP's formation, he has not spent a single day in the streets of Balochistan with his own followers. Will his passionate young followers still admire him even if he drops the demand for a free Balochistan? After all, his popularity soared because of his populist demand for freedom. If Brahamdagh decides to struggle for the Baloch rights while staying within the Pakistani framework, he will be required to contest elections against local political parties. The highest political office he can possibly achieve is that of the chief minister, a position for which most candidates must be unquestionably trusted by the army and the two other mainstream political parties, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People's Party. With no experience in parliamentary politics, Brahamdagh's BRP is unlikely to win more than a few seats in the provincial legislature. He will require several years of active yet submissive politics to prove his patriotism to the army to land in a position of authority.

There are at least two more fronts where Brahamdagh should prepare for encounter stiff resistance.

One, Balochistan's Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti is one of his worst tribal and political enemies. Sarfaraz, originally a nobody in Balochistan's politics, was patronized and assisted by elements within the country's security establishment to get elected to the provincial assembly so that he could protect their interests in Brahamdagh's native district of Dera Bugti, where major gas reservoirs are located. Sarfaraz, when appointed as the Home Minister, undertook a brutal military operation against Baloch nationalists, including Brahamdagh's supporters. He justified these mass killings by alleging that that the victims were actually Indian agents.

Two, in May 2009, Brahamdagh's cousin Mir Aali Bugti, who was ten years older than him, was crowned as the new head of the Bugti tribe. It was a classic case of pitting one cousin against the other, a plot orchestrated from Islamabad. There is no easy tribal position awaiting him either. He will have to reassemble hundreds and thousands of his people who were (and still are) internally displaced across Pakistan because of the military operation Musharraf started in the Bugti tribal area.

If Brahamdagh returns to Balochistan, he will have to fight for his physical survival and political as well as tribal space. He is going to face resistance from all sides. In complicated tribal societies like that of Balochistan, political assassination is one likely outcome when chaos dominates the landscape. In 2012, Brahamdagh had expressed similar fears that he would be killed if he returned to Pakistan.

Brahamdagh is being nice by agreeing to talk to Islamabad but folks in his family, such as his outspoken uncle Jamil Bugti, has condescendingly reminded him in the local press of the fate of Nawab Bugti, Brahamdagh's grandfather, who was killed soon after opening his doors for Pakistani negotiators.