Balochistan CM Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo has said his government was in contact with all dissidents – including banned outfit BLF head Dr Allah Nazar Baloch – as a step towards ending a long-running insurgency in the resource-rich but backward province, Arab News reported.
“Absolutely, as soon as coming into power, we have focused on this,” Bezinjo told the news outlet in an exclusive interview when asked if the provincial government was talking to separatists and other dissident groups.
Bizenjo added his government was ready for the challenge of “taking everyone on board” in a bid to end the decades of violence.
“Surely they [separatists and other dissident groups] have grievances because of which they have become unhappy, [so] the doors of dialogue should not be closed. We are talking to them, and lots of channels are also open,” the Balochistan CM said.
Among those the government was reaching out to was Balochistan Liberation Front chief Dr Baloch, Bizenjo confirmed: “Not direct, but indirectly we are trying that we do this [talk to Dr Baloch] and all the rest, whoever they are, we are trying that we talk to them.”
According to Arab News, Dr Baloch is the only leader of a sizeable separatist group who is believed to be waging a campaign for independence from inside Balochistan; the other two leaders are in exile in Europe, including Brahamdagh Bugti, the Switzerland-based leader of the Balochistan Republican Party, and Hyrbyair Marri, who lives in London and heads the Baloch Liberation Army. The three groups have for years launched attacks on civilians, journalists and government and security personnel.
Bizenjo said it would be premature to disclose “specifics” of the talks, but added: “Many personalities with whom we are in talks, we are hopeful that in a few months they will be in this country, and in this province … Very soon Balochistan’s people will get good news.”
Similar efforts have been made in the past but to no avail. However, the authorities have conducted campaigns in which they claim many separatists have laid down their arms and joined the mainstream.
Separatistss have frequently targeted Chinese projects, including its construction in Gwadar.
In 2018, the banned BLA attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi, killing four Pakistani policemen and civilians. It was the most high profile attack by the outlawed group until June 29 2020, when its fighters launched an assault on the stock exchange, killing four people.
That attack came a day after hundreds of relatives of missing Baloch gathered in Quetta to mark the 4,000 day of their protest against what they say are enforced disappearances by the state.
The Pakistan military denies it is involved in enforced disappearances. In 2019, it issued a statement sympathising with the families of missing Baloch and said that some may have joined militant groups: “Not every person missing is attributable to the state.”
A federal commission on enforced disappearances set up in March 2011 listed 8,122 cases of missing persons reported nationwide by June 2021, of which 5,880 have been resolved. At least 500 people on the list are from Balochistan.
“We made a cell [in the Balochistan Home Department], it’s been one year and in that around 180 families have approached us,” the CM said, “We are investigating whether they are missing or not, but the numbers are not as large as they say.”
On the apparent role of the military in the province, Bizenjo said there was no harm in governments in the province seeking help from the army, particularly against security threats.
“They are our forces, we feel no shame if they come to us [the government], and support us somewhere, in relation to law and order, and other issues,” the chief minister said.
“Wherever we felt that we needed the forces, we needed to improve law and order, we certainly requested them, where we felt that we can’t work, the situation was untenable, there we took the army’s support … Sometimes they feel that some steps are needed for the betterment of Balochistan.”
Bizenjo also spoke about a rise in attacks on security forces in Balochistan in the last three months and linked it to a change of government in neighbouring Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August.
The banned TTP has stepped up its campaign against the army and paramilitary forces in recent months.
“Whenever things change in Afghanistan, its effect is always seen in Balochistan,” the CM said. “Because of change there [in Afghanistan] a lot of elements have come here [to Pakistan] and taken part in different kinds of terrorism. Things are in front of us, we can see for a few months that the law and order situation has deteriorated quickly.”
But Bizenjo was hopeful that new development schemes in the province would improve overall tensions, especially the announcement by the federal government of a “Southern Balochistan Project,” under which 199 projects worth Rs601 billion are to be executed.
“If these [Southern Balochistan] projects become functional on the ground in a timely fashion, then we are hopeful that Inshallah things will improve a lot and we will have a lot of support in the development sector,” Bezinjo said.
And while he alleged past federal governments had not paid due attention to Balochistan, he said the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking “special interest” in the province’s development.
“If the federal [government] does not give us proper space, proper development funds, then we can never develop Balochistan,” CM Bizenjo said, “If they want to strengthen this pillar then they will have to enlarge their heart.”