Brahumdagh Bugti, the leader of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) who is currently in exile in Geneva, has been denied political asylum by the Swiss authorities. He has been campaigning for the independence of the province of Balochistan from Pakistan.
The decision was communicated to Bugti by his lawyer Carlo Sommaruga on Wednesday.
"The decision mentioned allegations that my party had links to guerrilla fighters waging armed struggle against Pakistan. These allegations were made by Pakistan and another country which is most likely to be China," Bugti told swissinfo.ch.
He added that he will ask the authorities to review their decision and if necessary approach the European Court of Human Rights. The 34-year-old had applied for asylum to India last year after becoming frustrated by the slow Swiss response and the resulting travel restrictions that prevented him from leaving the country.
Asked for comment, the State Secretariat for Migration told swissinfo.ch by email that “we cannot give information on specific cases as we are bound by regulations concerning the protection of personal data”.
Exile from Pakistan
Bugti left Pakistan for Afghanistan after his grandfather – former the chief minister of Balochistan Akbar Khan Bugti – was killed by the Pakistani army. He fled Afghanistan when it became too risky for him and applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2010.
The BRP is banned in Pakistan and the government has named Bugti “one of the most wanted, known Baloch separatists” according to US embassy cablesexternal link published by WikiLeaks.
Since his arrival in Switzerland, Bugti and his supporters have actively campaigned for Baloch independence, much to the irritation of Pakistan. A publicity banner on a Geneva bus recently attracted the ire of Pakistan’s government, which summoned the Swiss ambassador over the incident.
Bugti’s asylum rejection appears to indicate a change in Switzerland’s stance on the Balochistan issue. A week ago, Bugti’s UK-based brother-in-law Mehran Marri, was stopped at Zurich airport and told that an entry ban was in force against him.
"The Swiss government is not pushing me out but making me uncomfortable and frustrated so that I leave voluntarily," says Bugti.
Baloch separatist movement
Rebel groups in Balochistan - bordering Iran and Afghanistan - have been waging a separatist insurgency in Pakistan’s largest and western-most province since the 1960s, which the army has vowed to crush. They have been demanding greater autonomy, a bigger share of the natural resource revenue from the province, as well as complete independence from Pakistan in some cases.
The province has recently been thrust into the geopolitical spotlight. It attracted global attention when the Chinese announced plans to invest $46 billion (CHF44.9 billion) by 2030 in an economic corridor between Balochistan’s Gwadar port and China’s Xinjiang region. This will involve creating a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas. Balochis are against the energy corridor, which they see as another attempt to enrich the government and divert wealth away from the province.
Pakistan believes that India is covertly supporting the Baloch separatist movement, including the BRP. It is a charge that Bugti has denied.