By agreeing to talk with the government, Baloch Republican Army head Brahamdagh Bugti did not merely cause an earthquake in the politics of Balochistan, but in that of the entire country. Balochistan is not just important because it is one of Pakistan’s provinces; it is by far the largest in area, though it is the least populous. However, Brahamdagh’s expressed willingness means that the armed insurgency will finally come to an end. Already, there had been some signs, with two large surrender ceremonies of militants taking place, the later one on Independence Day.

Actually, though Brahamdagh had taken an established, even time-honoured, method of armed resistance, his family tradition was one of loyalty to Pakistan. His grandfather, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was very much a loyal Pakistani, and the first public office he had held had been that of Minister of State for Defence. Little would he have imagined then that he would be killed in a clash with those very same defence forces. It was a sign of the changed times that whereas Akbar Khan, then only 14, had been formally recognized by the Raj as the Nawab-Sardar of the Bugtis when his father died, the successors of the British, the Pakistani state, did not recognize any of his sons or grandsons as anything. Brahamdagh is thus a Nawabzada, or indeed maybe only a Sahibzada (the son of a Nawabzada), without the title having any state recognition. True, if there is a dastarbandi, the DCO Dera Bugti would be invited, and would make it a priority to attend, but there would be no notice taken officially in Quetta or Islamabad.

While the late Nawab was a Pakistani patriot, he was also a canny politician. He was not an automaton in favour of Pakistan, and though he became Governor when the Bhutto government dismissed the Mengal provincial government in 1973 and Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo resigned as Governor, he also became Chief Minister in 1988. The Mengal and the Marris then took to the hills. There was a major insurgency, which continued into the Zia Martial Law. It ended, creating much confusion, but one of the things merging was that the policy of appeasing the Baloch had meant a proliferation of districts, which were all tribal preserves, and a strengthening of the tribal Sardars at the same time as the state withdrew the official recognition they had under the Raj.

The importance of Balochistan was not just because of its resources, but also because of Gwadar, the alternate deep-sea port to Karachi, which is also a key outlet from China through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Not only do the Pakistani people want to keep Balochistan in the federation, but so does the deep-state.

The USA also has an interest, but not because it wants to keep Pakistan united. Indeed, Pakistani Baluchistan and Iranian Baluchistan (in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, also the biggest in the country) are supposed by some US sources to form a separate country in a great shake-up of the entire Middle Eastern region. It must not be forgotten that the Baloch have an important presence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Balochistan is an ethnic mishmash mainly because it has a huge Pashtun area, included in British Balochistan from the lands conquered from Afghanistan after the First Afghan War. As a result, it is home to the most varied ethnography of any province. One effect is to be seen in a step, which has probably helped convince Brahamdagh to end his armed insurrection: the introduction of the pupil’s mother tongue in the province’s schools. This means that pupils in Balochistan will learn one of the following languages depending on which language they speak: Balochi, Brahui, Pushtu, Dari, Punjabi. It should be noted that the native Baloch either speak Brahui or Balochi, the latter being related (like Pashtu) to Persian, the former a Dravidian language more akin to Tamil, Telegu and other languages of the Indian South, than to any other. Language issues are often the main rallying cries for the linguistic chauvinism that is reflected in the Baloch nationalism that inspires such organisations as the Baloch Republican Army.

The end of insurgency implies either victory by the insurgents, or a failure to achieve their aims. It also means that insurgents have to switch from one form of political struggle to another, from one which sees violence as solving problems to one in which peaceful means of political struggle are used. As the needs of the Baloch are to be addressed, in terms of their due share in the development of the province, and in the resources it possesses, the BPA would have to switch over to a more peaceable means of politics.

The problem of size and resources remains. And where such problems exist, the possibility of seeking support from external forces remains. The problem of Indian interference exists, both in the BRA, and that other force destabilizing the province, that of sectarianism. Whereas the BRA might appeal to Baloch sentiment, the Pushtuns of the province absorb the sentiment of their fellow Pushtuns, both Afghan and Pakistani. Indeed, the Taliban were supposed to be headed by a Quetta Shura, reflecting the reality that the Balochistani Pushtuns are closer kin to co-ethnics in Afghanistan rather than in KP. Thus even if Brahamdagh comes into the political mainstream, there will remain a militant element bent on sectarian warfare. It should be noted that that is national, for the two largest outbreaks, both massacres of Shia Hazaras in Qutta, led to nationwide protests. Not only would a factor for violence remain, but it would be one affecting the country as a whole, not just Balochistan.

The government has obviously worked hard to make Brahamdagh follow the path of politics, not insurrection. He is of an age where he can aspire to the office held by his late grandfather, and now held by Dr Abdul Malik, who belongs to Bizenjo’s political tradition, representing the National Party, which is led by Bizenjo’s son Hasil. Now that Barahamdagh has made public a positive response to the government’s overtures, it is now incumbent upon it to take no steps that would send Brahamdagh back into insurrection. He will likely be more active in the province’s politics than Akhtar Mengal, the former Chief Minister and son of Ataullah Mengal, who went from Chief Minister to insurgent in 1973.

At the same time Brahamdagh will also have his work cut out for him, when he enters the maelstrom that is the politics of Balochistan. It has always had the most fragmented election result, and even now, has given the PPP and PTI no national representation. Even if Brahamdagh gives up his separatist aims, he will not join the national mainstream except by forming alliances. That is how it has always been, and seems likely to always be.