ISLAMABAD—The exiled alleged leader of a long-running separatist insurgency in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province said he is willing to enter peace talks after he said the country’s prime minister and army chief reached out to him.
Brahumdagh Bugti, a wanted man in Pakistan who has lived in Switzerland since 2010, on Wednesday said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif had made overtures over the past two weeks.
A low-intensity conflict has simmered in sparsely populated Balochistan since 2006, the latest in a series of revolts that have erupted in the province since Pakistan was formed in 1947. The Baloch say the rest of Pakistan exploits the province’s natural resources—which include gas and metal deposits—and tramples their rights. The fight has distracted Pakistan’s armed forces from its battle with Islamist militants.
A peaceful Balochistan is also key to Pakistan’s plans for a $46 billion economic corridor with China. The Project is centered on Balochistan’s Gwadar port.
“I am ready to talk,” Mr. Bugti, 34 years old, told The Wall Street Journal. “But, in the last 10, 15 years, no one taken a practical step to ask us to sit down and air our grievances.”
There was no immediate response from the prime minister or army chief. The provincial government of Balochistan, however, welcomed Mr. Bugti’s stance.
“After this statement from Brahumdagh [Bugti], which I think is a major statement, this needs to be taken forward,” said Jan Buledi, a spokesman for Balochistan’s government. “Now, to put out this fire, the entire leadership of Balochistan will have to play its role.”
Mr. Bugti said the behavior of Pakistan’s armed forces in Balochistan had to change in order for a peaceful resolution and for the Baloch to scrap their demand for independence.
“As things stand, it is impossible for us to remain in a country that kills us daily, dumps the bodies of our women and children,” he said.
Human-rights groups accuse Pakistan’s security forces of widespread abuses in Balochistan, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions of hundreds of separatists and their sympathizers. Pakistan denies the charge.
Rights groups also accuse Baloch separatists of killing and intimidating people from other parts of Pakistan who have settled or work in Balochistan. Mr. Bugti said such actions were wrong.
The revolt in Balochistan started when Pakistani forces killed Akbar Bugti, the head of the Bugti tribe and Mr. Bugti’s grandfather, in 2006.
Mr. Bugti said a settlement would require Pakistani military forces to return to their barracks and the missing Baloch activists set free. He also said Pakistan must apologize for launching the operation against the Baloch.
Pakistani authorities allege he leads one of four major Baloch insurgent groups. Islamabad also accuses the Baloch rebels of getting aid from India, a charge the insurgents and New Delhi deny.
Mr. Bugti insisted that he leads a political party, the Baloch Republican Party, not an armed group. He acknowledged contacts with rebels and said he believed they shared similar beliefs.
Analysts give the Baloch insurgents, estimated at a few thousand at most, little chance against Pakistan’s army, one of the world’s largest.
Pakistan is also battling jihadist groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, in the northwest and across the country, after an unrelated Islamist insurgency erupted in 2007.
Source- Wall Street Journal