Balochistan Burning; What lies beneath?

Overwhelmed with keeping its grip on power, the Taliban have done little to stop militants from freely crossing into Pakistan.

Insight Bureau: One consequence of the US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has been the poor security along its borders. Overwhelmed with keeping its grip on power, the Taliban has done little to stop militants from freely crossing into Pakistan. That has fuelled violence in the country’s southwest province of Balochistan, where militants have been fighting for decades to carve out a separate state.

A recent attack there left at least seven Pakistani soldiers dead. Baloch militant groups have also frequently targeted Chinese projects in the region, hoping to drive a wedge between Beijing and Islamabad.

What is fuelling insurgency?

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area, in the last few weeks has witnessed a drastic increase in attacks against the Pakistani security forces, with Baloch rebels having caused heavy casualties to the state forces in different operations. Baloch insurgents are usually involved in scattered target killings, small ambush, and roadside bombings. Now we’re seeing inghimasi and skilled attacks on military camps in which rebel fighters are storming the security forces camps and inflicting heavy casualties.

This was clearly illustrated in attacks on Panjgur and Noshki Frontier Corps camps by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Also on 25-26 January Kech attack that killed at least 10 Pakistan soldiers a security forces check post was overrun by the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) guerrillas. In addition to these unprecedented attacks, newly formed Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA) took responsibility for Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar bomb blast. This shows that Baloch insurgents have changed their tactics and are now not hesitant to even attack major urban centers of Pakistan. Earlier, rebels usually carried out attacks against the Pakistani forces in the province of Balochistan only. The intensity of these attacks can be guessed from the fact that Pakistan Army has reportedly had to press helicopter gunships and armored personnel carriers into operations against the Baloch fighters.

There is no clear evidence that shows any support from the Afghan Taliban currently in charge in Afghanistan to the Baloch insurgency. But because of the loose control of the Af-Pak border, the Baloch insurgents are taking advantage not only in Balochistan but in the northwestern tribal region as well. They enjoy the freedom of movement of men and material across this unmonitored border. In addition to this Pakistan’s relations with the Afghan Taliban have deteriorated recently over the issue of fencing the Durand line. Islamabad now lacks the influence to pressure the Taliban to eliminate Baloch separatists based in Afghanistan.

The security forces have been accused of destroying and depopulating Baloch as well as being responsible for a multitude of forced disappearances in urban and rural Balochistan. As violence has escalated in the province because of the new wave of insurgency which aims only for freedom. Pakistan military establishment is trying to deal with it through a very heavy hand. But despite this massive crackdown by Pak Army on Baloch insurgents and their sympathizers. This struggle seems to have spread deeper into Baloch society than ever before and its fuelling insurgency.

Where it all started?

Last week’s strike by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has fuelled speculation that the Left-leaning nationalist insurgency group has tied up with regional jihadist groups. The truth is that the BLA’s Majeed Fidayeen Brigade — named, the story has it, after a Baloch soldier who attempted to assassinate Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1975 — was active for at least twenty years before the operations at Panjgur and Noshki placed it under the arc-lights of international media attention.

In December 2011, using a car bomb driven by a suicide-attacker, the Majeed Fidayeen Brigade attempted to assassinate former Pakistan minister Nasser Mengal at his home in Quetta; the bombing killed 13 people and injured 30. Then, in August 2018, the BLA killed three Chinese engineers in a strike at Dalbandin. Later in 2018, the Fidayeen Brigade attacked the Chinese mission in Karachi.

Born of insurgency

Like so many other South Asian insurgencies, the conflict in Balochistan was rooted in the efforts of post-Independence governments to stamp their authority over polities where the British Empire had only a loose influence. In 1947, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, the ruler of the quasi-independent State of Balochistan, declared Independence. In March 1948, Pakistan sent in its military to settle the issue.

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The Blame Game

India, however, is blamed, maybe rightly, for abandoning the nationalists of the region. It is on record that the then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had turned down an offer by the “King” or Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmadyar Khan to accede to India. It is intriguing if Nehru could accept two wings of Pakistan, why did he not accept, Balochistan and the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , the land of the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, who never accepted Pakistan.  As per his wishes, he was cremated in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, instead of being buried in a land under the occupation of the British proxy, Pakistan.

But India is not the only culprit here. In February 1973, the Pakistan authorities raided the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad and reportedly seized small arms, ammunition and grenades that it claimed were destined for arming the Baloch insurgents. This was a time when Pakistan had the US as a strong ally and in a letter to the then US President Nixon, Islamabad squarely blamed India, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Soviet Union for the violent uprising.

Baloch seeks India’s support

The people of Balochistan point out that India should also support them, because they belong to a larger cultural India. Also, the CPEC is being constructed violating the sovereign rights of India in the Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. The people of Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung, mostly speak the Brahui language, which is a sister language of India’s major languages such as Kannada, Malyalam and Tamil.

Pakistani army abducting people

Pakistan has launched a massive crackdown on Baloch people after a series of daring attacks on its border forces that killed scores of troops. Media reports say that over a dozen people have been abducted by forces in just three days from across the province.

In one of the latest abductions, Pakistani security forces reportedly took away four youngsters from Panjgur and Quetta and moved them to unknown locations. The Balochistan Post says that their whereabouts are not known.

Besides the abductions, the Pakistani forces are alleged to have randomly killed people during the tense situation that enveloped Panjgur last week. In Panjgur, the forces allegedly killed a young student identified as Ehtisham Sarwar.

Current scenerio

At least six terrorists were killed during a gunfire with security forces in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on Wednesday, army officials said.

Based on an information about the presence of terrorists in a camp in Injirkan Range of Buleda, the security forces started clearance operation in the area following which the militants tried to escape, the army said in a statement.

With the Internet down and a complete blackout on media, information about the tense situation in Balochistan is trickling through Baloch media organisations and social media.

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