Hundreds of separatists laying down arms in recent months seen as win for $46 billion project with China.

A senior figure in the separatist movement in Pakistan’s Balochistan region has surrendered, local media said Tuesday.

The development was welcomed as a victory against the insurgency as well as a boost to the region’s economic prospects.

Balakh Sher Badini — said to be a top commander in the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army, the largest separatist group in the mineral-rich southwestern province — handed himself in to security officials in the state capital Quetta on Monday.

“I am a proud Pakistani and a brave Baloch,” he told reporters. “I was deceived by foreign-sponsored elements to carry out terrorist activities in Balochistan.”

Pakistan has accused India of sponsoring the unrest in the province.

More than 800 alleged Baloch separatists have laid down their arms in the last year, according to official statistics.

The apparent winding down of the conflict corresponds to the inception of the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which aims to connect China’s northwestern Xinxiang province to Balochistan’s Gwadar port.

The port, which is run by Chinese interests, provides direct access to the Indian Ocean for companies shipping cargo, oil and gas around the world. Pakistan stands to earn billions of dollars by providing transit facilities to the world’s second-largest economy.

Balochistan separatists have opposed the project as a further bid by Islamabad to appropriate the region’s resources with the help of China. These resources include copper, zinc and natural gas but their extraction has been hampered by the six-decade-old insurgency.

In the past, Chinese workers have been attacked, killed and kidnapped in western Pakistan, including around Gwadar, by Baloch separatists and Taliban militants.

“Of course, this will not just be good for the CPEC but a turning point in the context of the overall security situation in Balochistan,” Mir Sarfraz Bugti, Balochistan’s home minister, told Anadolu Agency.

“The separatists are surrendering with a mindset. They realized that they had been used by their foreign-sponsored leaders, who were enjoying life in Europe with their families, and left in the mountains to fight and die.”

Pakistan is pursuing a policy of incorporating surrendering militants back into society by providing them security and jobs.

“This is no walk in the park,” Bugti said. “Rehabilitation of these militants is a complicated and tough job.”

He added: “But, as I said, we are committed to clearing Balochistan of terrorism and will leave no stone unturned to bring our misguided youths back to normalcy.”

Source: Anadolu Agency


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