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Balochistan Official Pursues Peace Talks To End Separatist Struggle

A Baluch separatist guerrilla keeps watch.
A Baluch separatist guerrilla keeps watch.

Abdul Malik Baloch, the most senior elected official in Balochistan, says his administration is working hard to implement a new government policy aiming at ending the decade-old separatist insurgency through dialogue and political reconciliation. He says that the beleaguered Baluch minority can preserve their identity and establish control over their enormous natural resources through a peaceful democratic struggle.

RFE/RL: You recently contacted exiled Baluch chieftain Amir Ahmed Suleman Daud, whose ancestors once ruled parts of Balochistan. Where do you see this effort going?

Abdul Malik Baloch: Our election manifesto in 2013 emphasized that the issues of Balochistan can only be resolved through political means. Immediately after assuming office [in summer 2013], we began working toward that end. Our administration and Pakistan's federal government understand that the separatist militancy in Balochistan can only be addressed through a political process.

Late last year, a gathering of all Pakistani political parties and military leaders mandated that our administration initiate and execute a conciliation policy [with Baluch separatists]. We have made some progress, and this week our delegation met 'the Khan of Kalat' [the hereditary title of Daud].

RFE/RL: There are reports that the Khan of Kalat refused to accept your offer and has placed tough conditions for returning to his homeland. Are these true?

Baloch: The Khan of Kalat told our delegation that the grand tribal council that asked him to go into exile [in 2006] can tell him to return. This is the crux of what he said, and we cannot characterize this as a rejection. Our problems cannot be solved by a single meeting. We need to continuously engage in such efforts.

Abdul Malik Baloch speaking to journalists. (file photo)
Abdul Malik Baloch speaking to journalists. (file photo)

RFE/RL: Are you going to convene a grand tribal council to ask him to return?

Baloch: The federal government and our administration want to resolve this issue peacefully through a political process. We will definitely call the grand tribal council and expand our [reconciliation] efforts. We will do everything possible to make this a success.

RFE/RL: Observers say the real separatist leaders in Balochistan are Brahumdagh Bugti, Hyrbyair Marri and militant commander Allah Nazar. Why are you not talking to them?

Baloch: We are aiming to talk to everyone. But we are from Balochistan, and we know the factions and the individuals well and have a good understanding of their influence. We respect all of these people's political reconciliation, and we need to take them on board to end violence here. This is what we are aiming for.

I have tried to contact them, but they are avoiding us. I want to convey to them that peace negotiations are necessary in Balochistan through some intermediaries and common friends.

RFE/RL: The separatist leaders, however, do not trust you. They say you are not empowered to make key decisions.

Baloch: The issues of Balochistan [particularly, separatist violence] are not exclusively provincial. They are related to the federal government and the army. I am leading the reconciliation effort because of the mandate that all Pakistani political and military leadership gave me.

Now that I have that mandate, if I still claim to be powerless, I am deceiving myself and others. My message to these people [the separatists] is that I have the mandate to talk to them. There are things that I cannot disclose now, but I am doing my best.

Photo Gallery: Balochistan: Portraits Of Life On The Brink

RFE/RL: But right now there is a military operation going on in parts of Balochistan, and Baluch nationalist activists are being picked up regularly in security sweeps. Is this environment conducive for talks?

Baloch: I don't want to delve into details here, but we are trying to resolve this crisis peacefully. We are in a war right now. They [the separatists] and the state are engaging in hostilities and military operations. We are basically aiming to end this situation by beginning peace negotiations.

RFE/RL: What confidence-building measures are you taking to attract these factions to negotiations?

Baloch: We first need to begin talking to them. This will help us know what they want and what we can give them.

If they want freedom, I cannot grant them freedom. Freedom is not something that you can give people [as a confidence-building measure].

I think we have to resolve all these issues democratically within the framework of Pakistan's constitution. We also need to struggle to resolve the Baluch national question, the question of Baluch identity and control over our vast mineral resources and sea coast under the same framework.

RFE/RL: We know that Pakistan's powerful military has been involved in running Balochistan's affairs. To what extent do they understand your concerns and perspective?

Baloch: We are in a very difficult situation. I am running a coalition administration [comprising often-competing political parties]. Religious extremism is on the rise, and the Baluch [separatist] insurgency continues. I am trying to run this administration and bring peace to Balochistan. We cannot do this without support from Pakistan's federal government and the military.

I have their support to the extent to which I was mandated, but I do not control the military. It is a federal institution. So I have their support for holding a dialogue and engaging in confidence-building measures to make it happen, but I cannot claim to be in control of the military.

RFE/RL: As a long-time political activist, do you see positive changes in Balochistan in the future?

Baloch: If we join forces with other nationalities and ethnic groups in Pakistan, we will be able to preserve the Baluch identity and establish control over our mineral wealth and maritime resources. We can only win this struggle by joining with other people and democratic forces. We cannot win alone.