Repentant Baloch separatist group founder Gulzar Imam says ‘armed war’ complicated province’s problemsPakistan
Founder of banned Baloch National Army Gulzar Imam alias Shambay, who was arrested by security forces last month, expressed on Monday remorse over taking up arms and said the fight for Balochistan’s rights was only possible in a constitutional and political manner.
Imam — whose arrest was described by the military as a major counter-terrorism achievement against separatist insurgency in Balochistan — repented his past actions and urged other insurgents to lay down arms while addressing a press conference in Quetta alongside Balochistan Home Minister Zia Langove and Senator Prince Ahmed Umer Ahmedzai.
Imam began by introducing himself as the native of a village located in the Panjgur district of Balochistan, saying he had been actively involved in the armed insurgency in the province for the past 15 years.
“I spent a long time being a part of that insurgency, and I have faced all kinds of situations,” he said, adding that as a Baloch, “my objective is to protect the rights of my people, national language and area”.
Referring to his arrest in April, Imam said he got a chance to think over his past “with a new perspective” while in detention.
“During this time, I closely analysed the … literature I prepared for armed groups and also met the leaders of peaceful movements in Balochistan.
“After having a discussion with them, I have reached the conclusion that the fight for Balochistan’s rights was only possible in a constitutional and political manner,” he added.
Imam went on to say that “we started this war without understanding the state” and regretted having lost his loved ones and friends.
“After a painful experience, I realised that the path I chose was the wrong one,” he added, explaining that the “armed war” further complicated Balochistan’s problems rather than resolving them.
Imam said one of the main reasons behind this was that “some particular forces” wanted to “use the Baloch as a pressure group, and I believe that the Baloch nation is the only party at a loss in all of this”.
“So, I am here of my own will and want to say today that Balochistan has regressed to the stone age in terms of development because of this armed war.
“And so, I appeal to my friends, who remain involved in armed campaigns, to retract from this path so that we may resolve Balochistan’s issues through, dialogue and rationale,” he stressed.
Imran further appealed to Baloch students not to “waste their time in fighting and instead, play their role in the province’s development”.
Imam held the federal and provincial governments, state institutions and “armed groups” in Balochistan responsible for its problems, but added that state institutions realised what problems the province had been facing.
“I feel that they do listen,” he said, adding that the state would play the role of a mother and “give us a chance to mend [our ways]”.
He also asked for forgiveness from the heirs of those whose loved ones were “martyred or injured in this war” and those who suffered financial losses.
Hailing from Panjgur district in Balochistan, Imam joined student politics in 2002 from the platform of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO).
Over the years, when several factions of BSO merged and formed the now proscribed BSO-Azad — a BSO faction openly supporting the insurgency — Imam was made president of its Panjgur region around 2006. Allah Nazar Baloch and Bashir Zaib, who are currently leading the other two major separatist groups, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Liberation Army, respectively, also headed the BSO-Azad during their student lives.
When a crackdown began against BSO-Azad, Imam went underground and joined the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) — a proscribed separatist group led by Brahumdagh Bugti. He soon rose to be the group’s operational commander, according to political activists and journalists from Panjgur.
Between 2016 and 2018, three major Baloch separatist groups — the Hyrbyair Marri-led Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Brahamdagh Bugti-led Baloch Republican Army (BRA), and the Mehran Marri-led United Baloch Army (UBA) — started developing internal rifts.
“The fragmentation in these groups began when their field commanders from the lower-middle classes challenged the groups’ heads, who are wealthy traditional Baloch tribal chieftains living in self-exile in Europe,” explains Fahad Nabeel, a security analyst at Geopolitical Insights, an Islamabad-based research firm.
Within the BRA’s ranks, which is again banned by the Government of Pakistan, Imam developed differences with the BRA chief Brahumdagh Bugti over several issues, particularly his leadership style. “Switzerland-based Bugti was attempting to exert more control in the overall affairs of the BRA, while Imam, who was managing the group’s operational command, was not happy with it,” says Nabeel, who has conducted extensive research on the Baloch insurgency.
Another reason behind the differences that emerged between Imam and Bugti was the fact that the latter was more inclined toward negotiations with Pakistani authorities, says Nabeel.
In October 2018, the BRA issued a statement, expelling Imam from the group over his alleged involvement in extortion and extrajudicial killings. From that point onwards, the BRA was divided into two factions. Imam reportedly had more control over the group in the Makran region and in some other urban areas of Balochistan, while the faction loyal to Brahumdagh Bugti, had strongholds in Dera Bugti and neighbouring districts.
“In BLA too, Aslam Achu and Bashir Zaib revolted against Hyrbyair Marri and formed their own faction of BLA on the ground,” says Nabeel.