Quetta: Wali Khan Mari alias Kalati, a fighter from the Marri tribe that populates the Kohlu district in Balochistan, joined the out-lawed Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) in 1973 when he was only 20 years old. For nearly forty years, he remained a fugitive in the mountains, fighting for what he calls “equal rights for Baloch people.”
On June 4th 2015, the 60 years old Kalati give up the armed struggle to return to the national mainstream. “I had taken up arms in early 1973 when the late Nawab Khair Buksh Marri chose self-exile in Kabul in Afghanistan to protest against the state,” said Kalati, father of 12 children, while talking to News Lens Pakistan in Quetta.
“We were told to fight against the state because our rights were being trampled,” said Kalati. He said he could hardly read or write when he first joined Baloch fighters in the mountains. “I was illiterate and could only speak Balochi. The only thing I knew was how to fight.”
He served as commander in BLA, later joining the defunct United Baloch Army (UBA), a splinter group of BLA. There were differences within the BLA that led to infighting, he says. “I supervised three training camps across Balochistan. UBA changed the policies and started targeting civilians which we were against. I condemned the attacks and warned commanders that such barbaric acts would make us leave the organization.”
It was the massacre in Mastung in which 23 people, mostly Pashtun labourers from Pishin district in Balochistan, that made Kalati leave the UBA. On May 29, 2015, gunmen stopped two Karachi-bound busses in Mastung, pulling out the passengers, checking their identity cards and killing them after taking them to the mountains.
“When I left the UBA, its fighters attacked my training camps and abducted my seven years old son,” said Kalati. “UBA started threatening my family members that if I left the movement, they would be killed.”
From hardcore separatists to law abiding citizens, Baloch insurgents may have returned from mountains after years of conflict to make peace with the state but hardliners say it is “just a drama staged by pro-government chieftains.” As for the government, it sees it as a “huge step towards persuading rebellious youth to join mainstream politics.”
According to Home Department in the southwestern Balochistan province, around 447 Baloch separatists have laid down arms and “accepted to live as law abiding citizens in Pakistan.”
Provincial Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told News Lens Pakistan in an interview that 447 ferrari (fugitive) commanders fighting the security forces had given up fighting and surrendered. He said as many as 615 more were likely to surrender in the coming days.
According to Durrani, the ferraris gave up arms after the government announced the Peaceful Balochistan Package to persuade them to embrace peace with the state. “The provincial government had announced rupees 1.5 million for commanders willing to give up the fight,” said Durrani. “Rs 1 million reward was announced for hardline members and half a million for fighters seeking to return to the national mainstream.”
Recent media reports suggest that even hardline Baloch commanders may be amenable to Balochistan government’s overtures to persuade them to give up insurgency. Among them is the Baloch separatist leader Brahumdagh Bugti, currently in exile in Switzerland. Bugti is believed to be in secret negotiations with the government to return to Pakistan.
Elaborating the amnesty package, Durrani said the Home Department had issued Peaceful Balochistan Package cards to former fighters to access medical, education and other facilities.
In October 2015, Chief of Marri tribe and a leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Nawab Jangez Khan Marri had welcomed two commanders Mir Jan Marri and Mir Ramzan Marri with 23 fighters in a ceremony at Marri House that marked the handing over of arms to the chief of Marri tribe.
Nawab Jangez Marri, son of the late nationalist leader Nawab Khair Bahksh Marri, said that after many attempts and contacts, the Balochistan government had succeeded in bringing Kalati and his fighters around to lay down arms.
“I spent many years in Kabul with my father, realizing there could be no end to fighting with catastrophic results for the people of Balochistan, particularly the Marri tribe,” said Nawab Jangez Marri, who is a senior provincial minister.
About parting ways with his father and brothers, Nawab Jangez Marri said he left his late father and brothers because they wanted to continue fighting. “Continued fighting would only harm Balochistan and the Marri people.”
When asked if he had been able to reach out to influential separatist leaders like Harbiyar Marri, who allegedly heads BLA, and Barhamdagh Bugti, Janghez said the central leadership of Pakistan Muslim League (PML N) – the largest elected party in Balochistan – hadn’t tasked him with negotiations with the two Baloch leaders currently in self-exile in London and Switzerland.
“Whenever I am assigned to talk to my brother (Harbiyar Marri) and other leaders, I will play my role as a tribal chief for the people of Balochistan,” said Janghez Marri. “Being chief of the Marri clan, it is up to me to persuade Marri fighters to give up armed struggle.”
The provincial government has constituted four committees to review the Peaceful Balochistan Package and its impact in terms of persuading Baloch fighters to renounce insurgency. One of the committees is headed by the Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch, the second foundation committee by the Home Department, a third monitoring committee comprises Commissioner Quetta, Frontier Corps, Police and law enforcement agencies while the fourth implementation committee comprises the District Police Officer and members of FC and law enforcement agencies.
“We are working in the districts to assist fighters to surrender with respect and dignity,” said Provincial Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani. “In 5 to 7 of the districts where there was active insurgency, fighters have laid down arms.”
In June 2015, the Balochistan government, in agreement with the military leadership, had announced the appeasement package for ferrari commanders which was approved by the provincial cabinet and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a visit to Quetta in July.
While the package is meant to induce separatists back into the national fold, it is also aimed at undermining and discouraging militants getting funds from disgruntled Baloch leadership in exile and foreign agencies seeking to foment trouble in Balochistan, said an official in the provincial government, not named because he is not authorized to speak to media.
“In addition to money, the provincial government will also bear the expense on education of the children of fighters who give up arms,” said the official. “A certain amount of money has also been included in the package to compensate the heirs of those who were killed because they renounced fighting.”
When asked about foreign funding for Baloch insurgents, Wali Khan Marri alias Kalati said BLA and UBA were funded by foreign countries and were assigned tasks like targeting civilian population in return.
“The war is among the nawabs and sardars to rule Balochistan rather than a struggle for the Baloch people and their rights,” he said. “I have decided to give up fighting against my own people. The war caused great damage to the people of Balochistan especially the Marri tribe. Our children were deprived of education when they were lured to join the armed struggle.”
Kalati said he had spent his whole life in mountains fighting for the wrong cause. “Now I am not able to feed my children but I want to provide basic facilities like education and health to them so they can have a future.”