The Geneva-based leader of Baloch Republican Party (BRP) Brahumdagh Bugti, is confident that nothing will come of Pakistan’s request to Interpol to arrest him. He is campaigning for independence for Pakistan’s largest province Balochistan.
According to documents obtained by Pakistani journalist Aziz Syed of Geo TV, Pakistan’s Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA) issued a Red Notice to Interpol on February 28 demanding the arrest of Bugti and his party’s spokesman Sher Mohammad. Both of them are currently residing in Geneva and are actively involved in raising awareness of alleged human rights violations against the people of Balochistan - which borders Iran and Afghanistan - by the Pakistani military.
“It’s a routine measure by the Pakistan government. They issue these notices, then withdraw them and issue them again,” Bugti told swissinfo.ch. “They had issued one against me when I was in Afghanistan and on my way to Europe, but then they withdrew it.”
The FIA refused to confirm or deny the existence of such a notice to swissinfo.ch. When contacted, Interpol’s press office stated that information shared by a member country in relation to an investigation or fugitive “remains under the ownership of that member country”.
Bugti has his own theories concerning the timing of such a request from the Pakistani government.
“I heard that they [the Pakistani government] have launched a huge military operation in the last couple of weeks, especially in the district of Dera Bugti where I come from, as well as in Makran which borders China. People are fleeing to Afghanistan and Iran and I am being blamed in the Pakistan media for destabilising the region,” he says.
The Baloch Republican Party is a political organisation that is currently banned in Pakistan, as it campaigns for complete independence for the country’s Balochistan province in the west of the country. The Pakistani government has named Bugti “one of the most wanted known Baloch separatists” according to the US embassy cablesexternal link published by WikiLeaks. He is the son of former Balochistan Chief Minister Akbar Khan Bugti, who was killed during an army ambush in 2006.
The 33-year-old from Dera Bugti district arrived in Switzerland in 2010, fleeing Pakistan via Afghanistan and Dubai. His has been allowed to provisionally remain in Switzerland but cannot leave the country to campaign for Baloch independence abroad. Bugti had applied for asylum in India last year.
“I am already in a safe country, but the only problem is I am not able to travel to carry out my political activites,” he says.
Even if Interpol accepts Pakistan’s request to issue a Red Notice against Bugti, Switzerland is under no obligation to take any action. The notice is not an international arrest warrant.
“Each Interpol member country decides for itself what legal value to give Red Notice within their borders,” said the Interpol press office.
Another factor that weighs in favour of Bugti is that no bilateral extradition treaty exists between Switzerland and Pakistan. However, Swiss law still allows for handing over a wanted person based on reciprocity even in the absence of an extradition treaty. But Switzerland’s Mutual Assistance Act, IMAC, states that the country can refuse to cooperate with extradition requests if the authorities believe that the requests “are being conducted so as to prosecute or punish a person on account of his political opinions”.
Natural resources and politics
Rebel groups in Balochistan 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 natural resource revenues from the province and, in some cases, complete independence from Pakistan.
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, which includes the BRP. It is a charge that Bugti has denied. India had shown signs in 2016 of offering political support to the Baloch cause. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned Balochistan during the annual Independence Day speech last year, which drummed up interest in the region in the subcontinent. In her speech to the UN General Assembly in September, India’s foreign minister stated that “the brutality against the Baloch people represents the worst form of state oppression”.
However, Pakistan views India’s interest in Balochistan as means to detract attention from separatist movements in Kashmir.
“I don't know if India is using us or not but at least we are getting more attention. The Indian people are more aware of the Balochistan situation. Before, they were unaware of the struggle and human rights violations,” says Bugti.