In an interview with the Urdu network of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Baloch “pro-independence” leader Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch said that the ongoing perilous situation in Afghanistan will not significantly affect the Baloch struggle. He said that Afghanistan has served as a second home to thousands of stranded Baloch families who were compelled to flee the war-riven Balochistan in search of refuge. He said that the Taliban will not risk seeking animosity with the Baloch.
Addressing the offers of negotiation by the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Bashir Zeb Baloch, leader of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), said that negotiation occurs between two equally strong adversaries – Pakistan does not consider us equally strong. He implied that the Pakistani authorities are not sincere in their offers. The BLA chief said that when the Pakistani authorities utter the word ‘negotiation’, they imagine incentivizing a group of young Baloch fighters to lay down their arms in exchange for a stack of cash. “They want to set a price for negotiations [buying peace for money] – but this is a matter of life and death for us. How can negotiations proceed in this situation?” he asked.
Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, one of the most recognizable faces of the Baloch struggle, told BBC Urdu that Pakistan is not trustworthy; it is putting on an act to convince the world of its so-called ‘sincerity.’
He said that if negotiations do occur, our first condition would be a complete military withdrawal from Balochistan. Furthermore, international mediators must be brought to put an end to the rampant “genocide” and “war crimes” in Balochistan. Only then will we sit and discuss how to move forward, he said.
Bashir Zeb Baloch resonated similar sentiments and said that Pakistan must consider as equals for negotiations to occur. He said that if the state complies, we are ready to provide a safe exit to Pakistani law enforcement agencies and security forces in the presence of an international arbiter.
Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch said that Dr. Malik Baloch, former Chief Minister of Balochistan, and one of his close associates had sent him a similar message during his tenure, calling for negotiations. But they were also not ready for negotiations because they have devoted everything to this conflict. “They have burned their boats.”
With the United States set to end its two-decade-long war in Afghanistan and completely withdraw its troops from the Afghan soil, the Taliban have overrun the majority of the country without much resistance. Many argue that with the Taliban increasingly gaining power in Afghanistan and Pakistan having significant influence over them, Baloch insurgents might find it hard to operate from there. Afghanistan in the past has served as a safe haven for Baloch “pro-independence” fighters. During the fourth wave of insurgency in Balochistan in the 1970s, Baloch revolutionary leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri sought refuge in Afghanistan from where he commanded the conflict in Balochistan. His son Balaach Marri lost his life on Afghan soil in 2007. Aslam Baloch, a key leader of the ongoing conflict, also breathed his last on Afghan soil.
Now that the Taliban are vying to establish themselves at the helm in Afghanistan, many argue that the Baloch insurgency will be adversely affected. Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, after several years in Afghanistan, was forced to return home when the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. And now that the Taliban are gaining clout in the country once again, many fear that a similar fate might be waiting for the incumbent leaders of the Baloch insurgency.
The insurgent leaders, however, are less pessimistic. Addressing the issue, Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch told BBC Urdu that exit from Afghanistan will surely impact the Baloch movement, but not in the way most people think. He said that the Taliban should understand that thousands of Baloch are living on Afghan soil and fighting from there for their homeland. He said that the Mujahideen had been cooperative to Nawab Marri and his comrades back in the 1990s. “We believe the Taliban will not risk animosity with the Baloch”, he said.
BLA Chief Bashir Zeb Baloch said that the current situation is different from the 1990s. He said that now, the Baloch do not depend on any foreign country for support in their struggle for independence. He said that thousands of Baloch families have indeed sought refuge in Afghanistan and parts of Iran, but the Baloch insurgency is completely centred in Balochistan.
He said that it does not matter who rules Afghanistan – the Baloch struggle will continue unperturbed.