Post the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) attack on a convoy of Chinese engineers in Gwadar on August 13th, the rebel outfit has issued a 90 days ultimatum to the Chinese citizens.
The BLA has asked the Chinese to vacate the Balochistan province within the time frame mentioned or expect more intensified attacks on the Chinese citizens refusing to pay heed to their presented ultimatum. BLA has demanded the closure of all Chinese development projects in Balochistan with a prime focus on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
August 13th Attack
At 9.30am, the suicide squad, Majeed Brigade of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), carried out a fidayeen attack on a convoy of three SUV’s and a van carrying Chinese engineers on the Faqeer bridge in Gwadar. An IED was detonated followed by intense small arms fire at the convoy.
Two ‘fidayeens’ of BLA Majeed Brigade, Naveed Baloch alias Aslam Baloch of Dasht Nigor and Maqbool Baloch alias Qayim Baloch of Geshkor Awaran, were responsible for the attack, which BLA had conducted under the name of“Operation Zir Pahazag”.This was confirmed by the BLA spokesperson, Jeeyand Baloch. He further stated that the operation was already in its 3rd phase.
According to the reports, four Chinese nationals were killed, two Pakistani security personnel were injured and two members of the BLA were killed. However, BLA stated the attack claimed the lives of four Chinese nationals and eleven Pakistani military personnel.
Chinese Consulate General in Karachi issued a safety warning,instructing its citizens to maintain high vigilance and avoid large gathering due to the severity of the security situation in Pakistan.
According to the statements made by BLA spokesman,Jeeyand Baloch, the BLA had issued numerous warnings to China in regards to their foreign investments in Balochistan without the consent of the Baloch. He further reiterated that the Chinese backed Pakistani military in the Pakistan occupied Balochistan province continued to exacerbate the exploitation of the Baloch in their own province. Hence such an alliance would, by default, be targeted with the Baloch interest in mind.
All the statements made by the BLA in regards to their recent attacks were addressed to the state of China directly.
BLA’s Anti Pakistan Independence Day Attacks
BLA has carried a series of coordinated attacks on Pakistan’s “Independence Day”. It has specifically targeted Pakistani military installations and gatherings which were celebrating Pakistan’s “independence.” The outfit has claimed eight separate attacks in various locations in Bolan, Turbat, Panjgur, Kalat and Mastung.
Since BLA views Balochistan as an “occupied territory” and doesn’t accept Pakistan’s inclusion of Balochistan as its territory, the orchestrated attacks on Pakistani security forces on Pakistan Independence day was expected.
According to media sources, BLA claimed an attack on a “state-organized” function celebrating Pakistan’s “Independence Day” in Kolpur Bolan, which left several attendees injured. Another attack was launched on the main Pakistani military camp in Turbat, injuring three military personnel.
Additionally, BLA has taken responsibility for the killings of individuals it accused of “collaborating” with the “occupying” forces in Turbat. The Deputy Commissioner’s office in Panjgur was attacked with a hand grenade during an independence day-related event as well.
The collaborated attacks extended till Kalat. In Kalat ,BLA targeted a Pakistani military camp.Post attack in Kalat, BLA has claimed that in response the Pakistani troops fired randomly in civilian areas which has resulted in casualties among the residents in the areas.
Prior to the Independence Day attacks, the group has said to have targeted the government buildings in Mastung on August 11. These included the Police Lines offices and the Municipal Committee office.
Jeeyand Baloch in an interview has reaffirmed the group’s commitment to target “occupying forces” until what he termed the “liberation of Baloch motherland.”
Since the killing of Akbar Bugti in 2004, the province of Balochistan has experienced heavy retaliation from the Pakistani military forces. Reports of the missing Baloch people, activists and freedom fighters have been surfacing in the media. With the fear of the marginalization in their own province, continued subjugation and Pakistan`s “Kill and Dump policy” of the Baloch, the Baloch insurgency came into existence as a product of cause and effect. Over the years, the Baloch insurgency has evolved and has expanded systematically.
Recently, the escalation of the Chinese projects and investments in the province and the extra judicial killings of the Baloch at the hand of the Pakistani military, has only become a catalyst to fuel the Baloch movement.
The situation in Balochistan has exacerbated since the CPEC, a leading project of China’s One Belt and One Road initiative in the province which begins at Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan (the disputed territory of J&K illegally occupied by Pakistan) and ends at Gwadar. CPEC is a $60 billion initiative which includes a large range of development and infrastructure projects.
A considerable number of Pakistani security forces have been deployed to counter the incoming threats to the projects from the insurgent groups.
Since the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan is being operated by the Chinese, Gwadar is a lucrative and an easy target for the insurgents who feel the pangs of being exploited in their own region. The separatist groups have already been targeting the Chinese engineers working in the area and have also led attacks on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018.
Over the years, the Baloch nationalists and “pro-independence” groups have considered every Chinese initiative as an “imperialist” project and has demanded China to evacuate from the Baloch province.However, it hardly seemed to deter the Chinese.
The Majeed Brigade of the BLA, in response to the Chinese nonchalance began targeting Chinese assets and personnel around 2018. Some of the BLA claimed attacks are as follows:
On August 11th 2018 BLA bombed a bus of Chinese engineers in Dalbandin. The mastermind behind the attack was Rehan Aslam Baloch, the eldest son of Aslam Baloch, the brigade’s founder and BLA’s then-chief.
On November 23rd 2018, the BLA Brigade claimed the attack on Chinese Consulate in Karachi.
On May 11th 2019, 24-hour siege took place at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar. The hotel was visited by Chinese personnel who were associated with CPEC project.
In 2020, the BLA claimed responsibility for an attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange that it said was aimed at “Chinese exploitative plans” in Balochistan.
On August 11th 2021, A similar attack as seen on August 13th 2023, was carried out in Gwadar. BLA targeted a convoy of Chinese engineers in a “fedayeen” attack.
In April 2022, a female fedayeen killed three Chinese teachers at the Karachi University. The attack was aimed at the Chinese affiliates of the Confucius Institute.
China’s Security Measures
Beijing has suggested the use of private Chinese security firms to overlook the safety of its citizens in Pakistan. This was rejected by Islamabad. It is reported that China has also proposed to provide training to Pakistani forces charged with the safety of CPEC projects.
There has been construction of fortification efforts made to beef-up the security of the staff and CPEC personnel. A single entry and exit point has been made around the Gwadar Port with several security personnel deployed. Joint meetings between Islamabad and Beijing are being conducted to amp the security measures under collaborative Security agreement for CPEC in mind.
Pakistan has clearly clubbed its narrative of subnationalists and the insurgents collectively and proscribed majority of them under terror outfits. It has failed to appease the people of the Baloch province by introducing its death squads to carry extrajudicial killings and the abductions of the Baloch civilians. While the Pakistani security forces have resorted to a more intense approach to terminate the insurgent groups, there is an evident trend change also in the attacks claimed by the Baloch insurgents. With the formation of the BRAS (Baluch Raji Ajohi Sangar or Baloch National Freedom Movement), just like the Jihadi Council playing against India, the Baloch insurgency has not only expanded in terms of its outreach and intel, but has been effective in their attacks against its oppressors.
Pakistan Army has been accused of various human rights violations in its crackdown in Balochistan. Also, Pakistan`s regular counter-terrorist operations in the province as part of Operation ‘Radd-ul-Fasad’ (launched on 22 February 2017) has not limited itself from killing its own people in the facade of eliminating the terrorists.
In 2021, Maj. Gen Ayman Bhilal from the Frontier Corps (FC),admitted to garnering Chinese support to crush the Baloch movement. He claimed “China has deployed me here to crush the Baloch movement and has given me a six-month task”. With Pakistan’s military serving the Chinese interests over the interests of the Baloch, it raises the inhibitions which the Baloch are faced with.
The strong control of ISI on the perception of Balochistan has also led to a “structural exclusion of Balochistan’s existence, its struggles and its aspirations”.