Accessibility links

Breaking News

Exiled Baluch Chieftain Reluctant To Return To Pakistan

Amir Ahmed Suleman Daud
Amir Ahmed Suleman Daud

In an effort to weaken a separatist insurgency, Pakistan is seeking the return of an exiled chieftain whose ancestors once ruled parts of Pakistan's largest province.

But Amir Ahmed Suleman Daud has placed tough demands before agreeing to return to Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province after nine years of exile in Britain.

"I have asked the government delegation to first stabilize the situation," Daud said. "[The government should] stop the ongoing military operation [in Balochistan]. We also have a huge issue of enforced disappearances of [political activists] and the 'killing and dumping' [of Baluch nationalist activists]."

A July 20 statement issued by Daud said a delegation of pro-government tribal leaders and members of Balochistan's provincial cabinet requested that he return to his homeland because "there is a risk of tribal and communal conflicts" after a decade-old separatist insurgency and government crackdown destabilized the region.

Daud is commonly known by his hereditary title, 'The Khan of Kalat,' because of the principality his ancestors ruled before it was annexed to Pakistan nearly 70 years ago.

While he does not lead a separatist militia, his family's legacy and his political influence are considered important. After the killing of senior Baluch political leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006, Daud called a grand council of various Baluch tribes and political parties to ponder Balochistan's relationship with Islamabad.

He soon went into self-exile in Britain claiming to implement the council's decisions, which he said had tasked him to work toward the restoration of Kalat State. Baluch nationalists say the region was forcefully annexed by Pakistan in March 1948.

During the past nine years, Daud joined exiled Baluch nationalist leaders from Pakistan and Iran to press their case for Baluch independence and autonomy.

While a handful of Western lawmakers, rights campaigners, and nongovernmental organizations have supported their cause, most governments, international organizations, and the media have largely ignored the various crises rising from the vast desert region in the Iranian Plateau spanning the borders of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Islamabad is now seeking reconciliation with Daud to further weaken a Baluch separatist insurgency that has survived a decade of harsh government crackdowns and often bitter rivalry among the numerous secular insurgent factions engaged in a guerilla war against Pakistan.

Daud, however, said Pakistan's military establishment -- seen as the the overall power in charge of security and political affairs in Balochistan -- is "not in a conflict-resolution mode" in the province.

"First we need to fix 68 years of a lack of trust [between Pakistan and the Baluch people," he told the BBC Urdu service. "They [Pakistan] also have to address the atrocities and injustices being committed against our people. We have to find some [compromise] that will protect the interests of both Pakistan and the Baluch people."

Abdul Malik Baloch, the most senior elected official in Balochistan, says his administration's contact with Daud is in line with a new government policy aiming to resolve the ongoing unrest in the region by negotiations aiming at eventual reconciliation with militant leaders.

"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. We cannot characterize this as a rejection," he said. "Our problems cannot be solved by a single meeting. We need to continuously engage in such efforts."

Mineral-rich Balochistan comprises nearly half of Pakistani territory but is home to an estimated 10 million people out of the country's population of more than 180 million.

Thousands of soldiers, Baluch separatist rebels, activists, and civilians have died in the ongoing unrest since 2004. Pakistani rights activists estimate that more than 300,000 civilians have fled Balochistan in that period.

The province is also reeling from sectarian violence and high criminality.

The region's insecurity imperils $46 billion in Chinese investment aimed at making Balochistan's Gwadar Port a key hub linking its western region to the Middle East.

Abdul Hai Kakar contributed reporting from Prague.