Pakistan’s Boiling POT : Baloch Insurgency

Over the past few weeks, fighting between the Pakistani military forces and Baloch insurgents has intensified in the country’s restive Baluchistan province. Baloch militants’ recent attacks have taken place not only in the border regions with Iran but also closer to the province’s capital, Quetta and Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) Karachi. The rising fatalities of security forces have increased fears that Baloch insurgent groups are not on the run and are rather enjoying the game to join forces to frustrate Pakistan’s efforts to restore normalcy to Balochistan.

          Some of the recent attacks show a degree of technical sophistication in bomb-making and a strong availability of human intelligence network to track security forces activities in the province. On 17 Jun 20, Pakistani Army convoy hit by roadside bomb in Koch Peerander area of Awaran was planted to target Pak Army by the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), a militant organization operating in the province, accused of leading operations against Pak Army. The roadside bomb appears to have been installed during regular patrol hours indicating that the group had access to a wide variety of intelligence to track the military’s communications and movements.

In addition, the other rebel group named The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) killed two Pakistan Intelligence agencies spies in two different attacks in Kharan and Hub of Balochistan on 17 Jun 20. In another incident BLA militants attacked Pakistan army convoy, consisting of eight vehicles by remote control bomb at Kahan area of Kohlu district, Balochistan on 26 Jun 20 and the attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange, Karachi on 29 Jun 20 showed the strong willed intent of insurgents. As per BLA, members of its suicide squad named Majeed Brigade are behind the attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange. After the attack, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) released the detailed statement on attack of Karachi Stock Exchange on 30 Jun 20 and claimed that the attack was aimed at targeting Pakistan’s economy which is built on 72 years exploits of Balochistan and genocide of Baloch people. They further stated that this organization sees Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) as a base and symbol of exploitative machinery of Pakistan. Statement added that not only Pakistan but China is also involved in every step of exploitation of Balochistan’s resources. China holds about 40 percent equity in the Pakistan stock exchange through the Shanghai stock exchange, Shenzhen stock exchange and China financial future exchange.

          Reports indicate that Baloch militant groups carried out around 16 attacks in the province during the past two weeks. It’s possible that the BLA and BLF are conducting joint operations. It is important to note that in the past, these groups have not only coordinated attacks against Pakistan’s security forces, but also remain two of the most active militant organizations in the province. A growing body of evidence suggests that both factions have not only reconciled, but are also operating under a larger group that comprises of several Baloch insurgent organizations. It’s interesting to note that the Pakistani military’s operation against the BLA and BLF was confirmed by the Baloch Raaji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), an umbrella group of Baloch insurgent groups operating in the province. The confirmation of the operation that came from BRAS further underscores that the current militant attacks against the security forces may be the result of a larger group joining forces rather than individual efforts.

          During the past few weeks, Pakistan has swiftly launched a major military operation against the BLA and BLF’s operatives near the Iranian border and across Balochistan. Named as the Ground Zero Clearance Operation, the campaign is aimed at neutralizing various Baloch militant groups’ support bases in the border regions with Iran. On 25 Jun 20, Pakistan Army launched a large scale military operation in various areas of Awaran district and conducted search operation in Kech. In addition Pak Army is carrying out several operations against Baloch people, activists and leaders in different areas of Balochistan in which Pakistan Security Forces abducted several Baloch people including journalists, activists, children and women.

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On the other hand Pakistan Army backed Death Squad members also conducted several attacks against Balochis including an attack with heavy weapons on the house of a Baloch Activist Identified as Rakhiya Bugti in Gazzi area of Dera Bugti district, Balochistan on 20 Jun 20. During the attack the Death squad members abducted her brother Bahawal Bugti, killed her son Khuda Bakhsh and also severely injured two relatives including her 70-year-old mother. Baloch organizations like Baloch National Movement (BNM), Baloch Republican Party (BRP) conducted several protests and online campaigns against these types of operations and abductions by Pak Army and its death squads. Recently Baloch National Movement (BNM) organized a protest in Berlin, Germany on 28 Jun 20 against enforced disappearance of Deen Mohammad Baloch and other was by Baloch Republican Party (BRP) Greece unit to demonstrate in front of Greek parliament in Athens on 22 Jun 20 against recent killings of women by Pakistan army sponsored death Squads in Kech and Dera Bugti. Another protest rally was held in Quetta, Balochistan on 21 Jun 20 under the auspices of the Bramash Solidarity Committee Shaal against Dannuk and Dazzin tragedy. During the protest and campaigns, the Baloch People and organizations demanded that the arrested accused must be brought to justice and justice be served to the affected families. Protesters also demanded the elimination of death squads across Balochistan.

          Policymakers in Islamabad believe that Baloch militant groups’ ability to attack Pakistani forces successfully is due to Iran’s inability to take action against their sanctuaries in its border region with Pakistan. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister recently said that the training camps and logistical camps of this new alliance (BRAS) are inside the Iranian border region. For Pakistan, the challenge coming from the Iranian border region is one of the main reasons for Pakistan’s insistence on fencing the 900 km long shared frontier with Iran. However, successful fencing and monitoring of the border is unlikely to happen unless Tehran offers its support to Pakistan and becomes a party to the project. To this end, Pakistan’s policy makers need to ensure that the project adequately develops stakes for Iran’s security to gain the latter’s cooperation.

          In the coming times, Pakistan’s security forces will have to allocate more resources and personal to check militant activity on the Iranian border region. The likely alliance of the BLA and BLF under BRAS means that Pakistan’s efforts to weaken and divide militant groups in the region have not been effective. A number of recent attacks in the province indicate that militants’ local contacts remain intact and more efforts are needed to uproot insurgent group’s local support base. Pakistan’s efforts to secure Balochistan for mega-development projects are falling short of attaining their desired goals. Balochistan is also home to the Port of Gwadar, which is run by a Chinese operator. The province features prominently in Beijing’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative. Separatists have targeted Chinese engineers working on different projects and last year even attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi. A heavy handed approach by the state, including the Pakistan army’s crackdown, is often blamed for pushing young Baloch towards the separatist groups.

Viewpoint

          Resource-rich Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by area but the least populated has been gripped by an insurgency for more than 15 years. Islamabad has had a testy relationship with Baloch nationalists who complain that locals haven’t benefitted from the resources of the province. For years, natural gas from Sui region in Balochistan fuelled power plants, factories and stoves in homes across Pakistan. But the federal government gave the province a miniscule share of the national budget. Around 90 percent of the settlements in the province don’t have access to clean drinking water and people there earn less than the national average.

            The Baloch and the East Pakistani Bengalis were among first to disagree with the West Pakistani security establishment. Starting from the 1970s, the Baloch have been fighting for more autonomy within Pakistan. Their struggle has been brutally suppressed by the Pakistani state. The Baloch are deprived of their political rights and are targeted with state violence and oppression. It is a well-known fact that Pakistan’s policy in Balochistan has been one of brutally suppressing the Baloch insurgency, instead of trying to understand and accommodate demands for political and economic autonomy. Balochistan is the cauldron of the worst human rights violations in Pakistan, which does not have a good track record of upholding human rights in general. Its oppression of religious minorities – including Christians and Ahmadis – is widely recognized. These injustices at hands of Pakistanis need the world’s attention.

11  Aug 20/Tuesday                                                                                                    Source:  Saima