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The Burning Backyard Of Pakistan: Why Balochistan Has Emerged As A Nightmare For China & Its Billion Dollar CPEC Project

Views By Aparna Rawal

Balochistan: Attacks by BLA on Pak Army in Khuzdar & Mastung
Balochistan: Attacks by BLA on Pak Army in Khuzdar & Mastung

 

The present-day state of Balochistan came into existence in 1970. Before the British Raj, Balochistan was divided into four princely states: Kalat, Lasbela, Makran, and Kharan, all under the Khan of Kalat.

Unlike the princely states of Nepal and Bhutan, Balochistan was sheared off its sovereignty and was ceded to Pakistan in 1948.

Since its assimilation in Pakistan, several uprisings for Baloch independence broke out in the province, owing to the Baloch nationalists and “pro-independence” groups. In response, Pakistan’s military conducted several heavy-handed operations to crack down on the movement.

The presence of the Chinese in the province has exacerbated the unrest. Under the partnership of China and Pakistan, the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been underway for a decade. The CPEC, which incorporates many development and infrastructure projects, attracted many Chinese engineers to Pakistan.

With the Chinese population surge in Balochistan, the fear of the Baloch being marginalized has led to violent attacks by Baloch insurgents on Chinese nationals and Pakistani military personnel.

Considering the importance of CPEC, Baloch independence groups fear the liberation movement will be squashed. These sentiments have become a crux for Balochistan’s militancy and insurgency.

History

The completion of Balochistan as a sovereign was cemented under the 6th Khan of Kalat, Nazir Khan. He is credited for forming the Baloch army and administrative structure and battling the Afghans.

The British impact on the Khanate arrived in two phases. The first one (1837-76) allowed the British greater commercial and military access by forcing the Khan of Kalat to sign treaties. The second one allowed Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India, to establish a military cantonment and formally recognize the state’s sovereignty.

By the 1930s, the uprisings from the Baloch bourgeois class under Anjuman-e-Itthiad-e-Balochistan (Association for the Unity of Balochistan) followed to end the colonization and Sardari System.

In 1947, The Khan of Kalat succeeded in issuing a declaration of Independence of Balochistan on August 12, 1947.

However, the freedom of Kalat was transitory. In 1948 Mohammad Ali Jinnah employed brute force to coerce the Khan of Kalat into signing the Instrument of Accession. This led to the first Baloch uprising against Pakistan.

Under Prince Abdul Karim, the Baloch nationalists rose against Pakistan. Unfortunately, the movement was crushed by the army.

Later in 1954, Pakistan devised a “one-unit scheme” plan to fuse West Pakistan as a whole based on religion and geography. This aggravated the Baloch tribes. Given the majority of the population in Pakistan was Punjabi, it meant the “process of steamrolling other ethnic divisions.” This sparked the second rebellion.

In the 1960s, the third Baloch rebellion followed. The Pakistani government revoked the Sardari system. The rise in Baloch insurgency began with demands for equal shares in revenues from Sui Gas fields which are now Pakistan controlled in Balochistan.

To curb the movement, Pakistan carried out air strikes, bombings, and military force indiscriminately.

The fourth uprising followed because President Bhutto called treason on the Baloch nationalists. The provincial government of Balochistan and NWFP was dissolved, and martial law was called in those areas.

The fifth rebellion, which has been ongoing since 2004, started under the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. Unlike the previous rebellions, the uprising led by the Bugti tribe came into focus because of the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 by the Pakistani government.

The Baloch have accused the Pakistani government of targeted killings and the displacement of their people under Pakistan’s kill-and-dump policies.

The Baloch Insurgents, Fighters, And Their Claimed Attacks

In 2016, reports surfaced that the Baloch fighters had considered Pakistan’s reconciliation offers in exchange for handing in their arms. In the same year, the Pakistani news media spoke of eliminating 600 rebels and surrendering 1,025 fighters.

In April 2017, Pakistan claimed 500 Baloch rebels had surrendered to the state. They mentioned members of the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), United Baloch Army (UBA), and Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LeB) were among the ones who surrendered.

In 2021, Maj. Gen Ayman Bhilal, on Chinese orders, was deployed to foresee “Operation Ground Zero clearance” to stamp the Baloch insurgency. Since then, the Baloch separatist groups have amped their activities. The rise in Baloch attacks can be attributed to greater unity among the Baloch separatist groups. Trans-provincial alliances have been forged amongst the Baloch separatist groups and other militant groups with similar objectives.

According to ACLED records, from 2010 to 2015, there was a spike in organized political violence cases connected with the insurgency. In 2015, there were about 96 events with 383 total reported fatalities.

Post-2015, the number of organized political violence-related incidents involving Baloch militants gradually lowered. ACLED said from 2017 to 2019, there were 38 events with 110 reported fatalities.

The decline in Baloch-related violence after 2015 could be due to the two-pronged approach to counter the insurgency that year, i.e., the intensifying of the counterinsurgency operations and introduction of an incentive-based disarmament and rehabilitation program. The operations further intensified with the introduction of the National Action Plan (NAP).

During that period, the disagreements between the Baloch groups and the deaths of some key commanders of prominent Baloch groups led to instability. This might have been attributed to the reported decline in the insurgency.

In 2014, after the death of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, a prominent Baloch nationalist, a disagreement broke out between his sons over his succession. Ultimately, both joined the BLA and the United Baloch Army, respectively.

Dr. Allah Nazar currently leads Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). It was founded by Juma Khan Marri in Syria in 1964. It is assumed that the group first became active in Pakistan in the 1970s, predominantly in Balochistan’s Makran region.

Despite the groups having similar goals and objectives, the rivalry between BLA and BLF has been a setback to the cause.

In the years post 2020, the resurgence of the Baloch insurgency in the region followed due to more effective coordination among the active Baloch groups.

By November 2018, there was an official alliance formed between Baluchistan Republican Army (BRA), Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), and Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF). It was named the Baloch People Liberation Coalition (also known as Baloch Raaji Ajoi Sangar or BRAS).

BRAS is considered the brainchild of Dr. Allah Nazar Baluch, the leader of BLF. In June 2019, BRA joined the alliance as well.

Within the alliance, the groups can maximize their access to human and intelligence resources, safe havens, and other inventories to execute operations against Pakistan security forces and Chinese nationals.

Nazar Baluch, Bashir Zeb of BLA, Gulzar Imam of BRA, and Akhtar Nadeem of BLF are considered commanding the alliance. Nazar Baluch acts as a patron, while Baluch Khan is known to be the official spokesperson of the alliance.

BRAS is believed to be active in the southwest part of Balochistan—around the Iranian border, with some members operating specifically from Iran in Mekran. According to reports, the group is known to have safe havens in Kacha, DG Khan, and Koh Suleman.

BRAS has claimed various attacks, such as the one on the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) convoy in Kech, resulting in the death of 10 personnel on December 14, 2018, an attack on an FC convoy in Panjgur district, killing six FC personnel, attack on a bus in Ormara killing 14 members of the army and navy on April 18, 2019. In July 2020, the group kidnapped eight people in Turbat district to extort a ransom.

BLA and BLF consider Jaish al-Adl its enemy because it conducts terrorist attacks against Iranian security forces and favors Pakistan. BRAS is left-leaning, whereas Jaish al-Adl is an anti-Iranian Sunni-Islamist terrorist group. BRAS considers Jaish al-Adl problematic as it believes the latter is dividing the Baloch youth on religious grounds.

BRAS has also maintained relations with IS-K and Lashkar-e-Jahngvi (LeJ). They have also extended their alliance to Sindhi separatist groups.

On June 29, 2020, BLA attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, killing four security personnel. Based on the Pakistani security personnel reports, it was evident that the Baloch fighters had cemented alliances with Sindhi militant groups, such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA).

Later in 2020, the announcement from BRAS confirmed the reports. Like the Baloch, the Sindhis, too, have opposed the Chinese presence in the province and have similar grievances towards the Pakistani government.

Baloch and Sindhi militant groups have previously targeted Chinese interests in Pakistan. With the formalized alliance, the possibility of increased joint collaborated attacks is high.

Recently, BLA commenced a series of coordinated attacks with efforts to sabotage pro-Pakistan Independence celebrations. Since BLA rejects the inclusion of Balochistan within Pakistan, the attacks came as a rebellion movement on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Various Pakistani military establishments and government institutions were targeted along with the targeted killings of who BLA deemed as the supporters of Pakistan’s government.

On August 13, BLA attacked a convoy of Chinese engineers at the Gwadar Port. This attack was similar to the attack on August 11, 2021. It, too, was carried out on a convoy of Chinese engineers in a “fedayeen” style.

A day later, the spokesperson of the Majeed Brigade, Jeeyand Baloch, claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a 90 days ultimatum to China to vacate its operations and people from Balochistan.

In April 2022, a female fidayeen killed three Chinese teachers at Karachi University. The attack was aimed at the Chinese affiliates of the Confucius Institute.

In the following years, BLA’s modus operandi shifted from the guerilla tactics of hit and run to a suicide bombing tactic. The attack in April by the female suicide bomber also opened a new venue for women recruitment in tactical operations as never seen before.

The shift to suicide bombings by the Baloch insurgents comes with a risk of the groups being clubbed with jihadist groups such as TTP and ISK-P.

Additionally, the change in tactics could prevent the Baloch from receiving support and empathy on the international platform. It remains yet to be seen if the change in tactics or the sustenance of newly formed alliances would propel forward the Baloch cause or deter them.

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