The timing and the language of Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence’s acknowledgement about the arrest of Baloch commander Gulzar Imam, who had been captured in 2022, is noteworthy.
The small package of information provides support to embattled Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif who heads a tottering government, therefore, helps restore some confidence in his government. The ISI statement also brings a small measure of shine to Pakistani agencies who have been at the mercy of erstwhile brothers-in-arms, the TTP which has been bombing police stations at will and the Baloch fighters attacking Pakistani security forces with impunity.
The ISI statement: “Gulzar Imam alias Shambay was apprehended after an innovatively conceived, carefully planned and meticulously executed operation, spanned over months over various geographical locations”, serves as a pat on the back of Pakistan’s powerful agencies which had nothing spectacular to show for since the Taliban regime in Kabul decided to go autonomous and the Pakistani Taliban turned its back on its mentors in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
The booster shot by the ISI comes at a time when the Pakistani army is divided, the country faces political turmoil, the economy has collapsed, the masses are dying over food shortages and the police forces are scared of attacks from various shades of militant groups.
The spokesperson of a Baloch rebel group told India Narrative: “Such announcements are aimed at damage control and are meant to tell the Pakistani people and army ranks that the army is not incompetent. However, for the Baloch such arrests and killings are not new. The Baloch armed groups are well prepared and their morale is high”.
The world knew since September 2022 that Imam, the founder of the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA) and a leader who brought Baloch insurgent organisations together, had been apprehended from a foreign country, most likely Turkey.
Making the arrest public has given Baloch organisations an opportunity to knock at the doors of international organisations like the UN and the International Court of Justice.
The Baloch are now asking that Imam be granted the status of a Prisoner of War (POW ) and are urging Pakistan to respect the Geneva Convention. A spokesperson of a UK-based Baloch organisation told India Narrative: “Gulzar Imam is a freedom fighter and was fighting a declared war against Pakistan, so it is his right to be given the status of a Prisoner of War”.
In fact, other Baloch activists have expanded the demand to treat all Baloch people arrested in the battlefield as POWs, even as the Baloch are coming together after the arrest of Imam. Many Baloch assert that even though Imam was a cementing factor among the Baloch as he successfully brought together numerous outfits in an all-out war against Pakistan.
In January 2022, Imam had merged his organisation with the United Baloch Army (UBA) to form the (BNA). Then the BNA joined the Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) alliance that included separatist groups not just from Balochistan but also Sindh.
Even as Pakistan is presenting the arrest of Imam as a strategic victory against the Baloch insurgency, a contemporary reality is that the killing of other commanders has not eroded either the organisations or the popular demand for independence from Pakistan.
Also read: The Gulzar Imam story: ISI acknowledges today what everyone else knew last year