?Balochistan: Cycles of Repression and Reaction
On February 5, 2023, six Army personnel were killed and an unspecified number of others sustained injuries, when Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) cadres attacked Brigadier Shahid Nadeem's convey with an IED, on the Quetta-Sibi National Highway in the Sirajabad area of the Bolan District. BLF ‘spokesman’ Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility.
On February 5, 2023, one SF trooper, identified as Tanveer, was killed and another eight were injured in a suicide blast in the Gulistan Road area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.
On February 3, 2023, four Pakistan Coast Guard (PCG) personnel were killed and another five were injured when Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) cadres attacked a patrolling team with a remote-controlled bomb and firing with automatic weapons, in the Jeemuri area of Gwadar District. BLA ‘spokesman’ Azad Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Balochistan has recorded 36 Security Force (SF) personnel fatalities in 22 terrorism-related incidents so far, in the current year (data till February 19, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, the province had recorded 33 SF fatalities in 14 terrorism-related incidents. Through 2022, 202 SF fatalities were recorded in the province, a rise of 92.38 per cent over year 2021, at 105 SF fatalities. In terms of SF fatalities, the 2022 tally was the highest, at 202, since the SATP database started documenting fatalities in Pakistan. The preceding high in the province was 177 in 2012, at a time when terrorism was rampaging across Pakistan.
The overall fatalities in Balochistan in 2022 totalled 406 (88 civilians, 202 SF personnel and 116 terrorists) in 160 incidents of killing, as against 308 such fatalities (111 civilians, 107 SF personnel, and 90 terrorists) in 111 such incidents in 2021, registering an increase of 31.82 per cent.
Incidents of killing increased from 111 in 2021 to 160 in 2022. Incidents of killing had dropped from 148 in 2016 to 82 in 2017, 69 in 2018, 48 in 2019 and 76 in 2020. Similarly, major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) increased from 40 in 2021 to 52 in 2022, and the resultant fatalities from 200 to 271. The number of explosions and resultant fatalities increased from 66 and 92, respectively, in 2021, to 94 and 100, respectively, in 2022. The number of suicide attacks remained the same, two each in 2021 and 2022.The two suicide attacks in 2022 were:
November 30: A Policeman and a child were killed, while 24 others, including 20 Policemen, were injured in a suicide blast targeting a Police truck in the Baleli area of Quetta. The blast targeted a Police team preparing to escort polio vaccinators. TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.
March 8: A suicide bomb explosion at the Jail Road of Sibbi town (Sibbi District) killed seven SF personnel and wounded another 28. The explosion occurred as President Arif Alvi was in the city, which was holding the Sibbi Mella (Fair), a well-known annual festival. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Even as all parameters of violence indicate that the overall security situation in Balochistan has deteriorated significantly in 2022, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing of ethnic Baloch by the security apparatus have been rampant. The annual report released on January 12, 2023, by Paank, the human rights organization of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), recorded that the Pakistan Army forcibly disappeared 629 persons, extra-judicially killed 195, and tortured 187. The report declared that year 2022 was full of human tragedy in Balochistan, with mass punishment, forced disappearances, murders, massacres and violence.
According to the report, in January 2022, 92 forced disappearances, 15 murders were recorded, and one person was tortured by the Army in Balochistan. 95 enforced disappearances, 42 murders and 5 cases of torture were reported in February. In March, 62 people were forcibly ‘disappeared’, 19 were killed and six were tortured. 50 enforced disappearances, 39 murders and 18 cases of torture were reported in April. 61 enforced disappearances, five murders and 22 cases of torture were reported in May. In June, 26 people forcibly disappeared, and 11 people were murdered. In July, 46 people forcibly disappeared, 16 were killed, and 28 were tortured. 55 forced disappearances, five murders and 37 cases of torture were reported in August. In September, 30 forced disappearances, two murders were recorded, and 19 people were tortured. In October, 38 people were forcibly ‘disappeared’, 15 were killed, and 18 were tortured. In November, 36 people were forcibly ‘disappeared’, 23 were killed, and 14 were tortured. 38 enforced disappearances and two murders were recorded, and 19 people were tortured, in December 2022.
On January 30, 2023, under the Universal Periodic Review process at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, member states called on Pakistan to stop enforced disappearances and other human rights abuses, and demanded protection for the people.
The escalating attacks on SFs in Balochistan are substantially a consequence of the continuing frustration among Baloch nationalist groups over the systematic extermination of ethnic Baloch through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by Pakistani security agencies, in addition to the persistent neglect of the basic needs of the population.
The systematic campaign of extermination by Pakistani security agencies is being countered by the Baloch insurgent groups through the escalating attacks on SFs. Reprisal attacks by the major Baloch insurgent groups such as the Baloch National Army (BNA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA) resulted in the escalating casualties among SF personnel in 2022.
A strengthening of the Baloch insurgent groups is indicated by the February 2, 2022, simultaneous attacks by BLA cadres on the Panjgur and Nuskhi Army camps in Balochistan, which resulted in 19 fatalities (15 terrorists and four SF personnel). Indeed, while Pakistan Government sources claimed only four SF fatalities, Radio Zrumbesh, quoting BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeehand Baloch, claimed that 45 SF personnel were killed in the attack, when a ‘martyred’ fidayeen (suicide attacker) rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the main gate of the Frontier Corps headquarters at Nushki, clearing the way for other fidayeen to enter.
After the February 2 attacks, the then Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, citing intelligence reports, told the media on February 3,
'Baloch militants are not capable of launching major attacks in Nuskhi and Panjgur. TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) has the capability, experience and latest NATO weapons to launch such attacks. There's some understanding between the TTP and Baloch militants. They have their hideouts in Afghanistan.
The speculation on a TTP-Baloch militant alliance appeared to receive some confirmation when TTP 'spokesperson' Mohammad Khurasani congratulated the Baloch insurgent groups for their attacks in Nuskhi and Panjgur. He stated, "The Pakistani Army is carrying out the massacre in Balochistan. We are against the massacre of Balochistan as well as in Waziristan by the Pakistani Army. Our enemy is common."
Since the February 2, 2022, twin attacks, emboldened Baloch groups have mounted repeated strikes on SFs, including some high-profile operations:
August 1, 2022: Six Army personnel, including Lieutenant General Sarfraz Ali, Corps Commander, XII Corps, were killed in an Army helicopter crash. The helicopter went missing in the Lasbela District of Balochistan in the night of August 1, and the wreckage was found near the Moosa Goth area on August 2. Baloch Raji Ajoi Sanger (BRAS) ‘spokesperson’ Baloch Khan, in a statement to the media, claimed the helicopter had been shot down.
July 15, 2022: BLA cadres shot dead the head of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), Eid Muhammad Hassani aka Eido, near Naurozabad Road in Kharan town (Kharan District). BLA ‘spokesman’ Azad Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring that Eid Muhammad had worked as Station House Officer (SHO) in the Kharan Police Department for many years before joining CTD, and was being used as a pawn by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). At the behest of the ISI, he used to monitor the movement of Baloch cadres and to barricade the area. Apart from this, he had extra-judicially handed over Baloch youth to secret agencies on fabricated charges or without any grounds.
July 13: Army Lieutenant Colonel Laiq Baig Mirza, who was abducted along with his cousin Umer Javed by BLA cadres near the Warchoom area of Ziarat District, was killed, while five BLA cadres were later killed during an exchange of fire near the Mangi Dam area of same District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeehand Baloch claimed responsibility for the incident, stating that Lieutenant Colonel Mirza was ‘arrested’ in an intelligence-based operation by BLA’s special force, the Special Tactical Operations Squad (STOS). Mirza was a prime target and he was being tracked for days by BLA’s intelligence units. Mirza was ‘arrested’ as an officer of the ‘occupying forces’, and for his direct involvement in the Baloch genocide and grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances of women and children, among other crimes.
Frustration among Baloch insurgent groups over the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by Pakistan security agencies in Balochistan resounded in other Provinces as well:
On February 16, 2023, a blast inside the Quetta-bound Jaffar Express train killed two passengers and injured six others when the train was passing from Chichawatni railway station in Sahiwal District of Punjab. Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA), through its media cell Baask Media, claimed responsibility for the attack.
April 26, 2022: Five persons including three Chinese nationals, their Pakistani driver and a security guard, were killed when a women suicide bomber blew herself up near a van transporting Chinese nationals from a Karachi University (KU) hostel to the Confucius institute in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack. The female suicide bomber, Shaari Baloch aka Bramsh, belongs to BLA’s Majeed Brigade, a suicide bomber squad. She was the first Baloch woman suicide bomber.
January 20, 2022: Three persons were killed and over 33 were injured in a bomb explosion near Pan Mandi in the New Anarkali Bazar area of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab. Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA) claimed responsibility for the attack.
State atrocities on Baloch people and the Government’s skewed developmental priorities, focused on exploiting Balochistan’s natural resources without significant benefits for the local population, have also provoked attacks on non-locals in Balochistan. Baloch insurgents targeted ‘outsiders’, especially Punjabis, as they were considered either as agents of the security forces, or were engaged in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects to exploit their natural resources of the province. According to partial data compiled by SATP, a total of 243 ‘outsiders’ have been killed in Balochistan since August 26, 2006, (data till December 31, 2022). Of these, 187 were Punjabis. Other ‘outsiders’ were also part of the ethnic ‘collateral damage’. Out of 56 non-Punjabi ‘outsiders’, 37 were Sindhis, while the ethnic identity of the remaining 19 remains unconfirmed. The most recent attack was on January 18, 2023, when BLA cadres killed a non-Baloch person on the charges of being an Army agent at Absar in Turbat, the administrative centre of Kech District. BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeehand Baloch claimed responsibility for the killing, disclosing that the intelligence wing of BLA had gathered information that the non-resident, Babo Khan aka Allah Rakhia, was working as an informant for the Pakistani military in Turbat and adjoining areas.
Though there have been no major attacks on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, a series of protests have started against Chinese interests in the province under the banner of the Haq Do Tehreek (Give our Rights Movement) led by Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, who is also the general secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami in Balochistan. The protesters started a sit-in in Gwadar on October 27, 2022, demanded an end to illegal trawling, a major issue for the people of the port city, for whom fishing is one of the very few sources of income. The Government had licensed Chinese trawlers to fish in the waters off the coast, and locals, with their small boats, were unable to compete with their better equipped Chinese competitors.
As the sit-in continues, tens of thousands of protesters, including women and children, blocked an expressway leading to the Gwadar Port, as the Government failed to meet their deadline to act on their demands. On December 10, thousands of women rallied in Gwadar in support of Rehman and the Haq do Tehreek. As tension continued to build, Rehman issued a warning to Chinese nationals working in Gwadar Port to leave, vowing to completely stop work on all CPEC projects in Gwadar. Things turned violent on December 27, a day after negotiations between the Government and movement leaders failed. The Police clashed with protesters in which one Policeman killed while hundreds of protester and many Policemen injured. A number of protesters were taken into custody. After evading the Police for about two weeks, Haq Do Tehreek leader Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman was arrested on January 13, 2023, from the court where he had arrived to surrender, along with two other activists, Nasibullah Nusherwani and Hassan Murad.
On February 12, 2023, instead of addressing the legitimate grievances of the protesters, the Federal Minister of Interior Rana Sanaullah announced that ‘fool proof security’ would be provided to Chinese nationals in Gwadar Port. Sanaullah visited Gwadar, reviewed security arrangements for the Chinese, and declared: “All locals and foreign nationals would be provided fool proof security.”
Balochistan’s long history of discontent due to a denial of basic rights and services, economic exploitation and brutal repression implies that the security situation in the province will remain volatile in the foreseeable future.