?Pakistan: Gwadar, Balochistan's Achilles heal
On August 13, eleven SF personnel and four Chinese nationals were killed when a Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) suicide bomber attacked a convoy of vehicles belonging to Chinese engineers and SFs, near the Faqir Colony Bridge in Gwadar city. BLA 'spokesman' Jeeyand Baloch issued a statement claiming that BLA's Majeed Brigade was behind the attack. The statement also conveyed a clear message to China, emphasizing that Balochistan was an "occupied territory" and voicing BLA's opposition to Beijing's projects, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the region.
The BLA statement read,
We have cautioned China repeatedly to reconsider its activities in Balochistan. BLA views such endeavours as acts of exploitation, stating that any foreign investments in the region should only proceed after Balochistan achieves independence.
Ending on a firm note, the BLA has issued China a 90-day ultimatum to withdraw from Balochistan, or prepare for intensified attacks on its "key interests" in the region.
On February 22, 2023, five Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were killed and another two sustained injuries when BLA cadres ambushed a FC convoy with a remote-control bomb on the main highway to Gwadar in the Panwan area of Jiwani in Gwadar District. BLA ‘spokesman’ Azad Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack, adding, "Our such attacks will continue till the independence of occupied Balochistan."
On February 3, 2023, four Pakistan Coast Guard (PCG) personnel were killed and another five were injured when BLA cadres attacked a patrol with a remote-controlled bomb and firing with automatic weapons in the Jeemuri area of Gwadar District. Azad Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack and said that the BLA cadres targeted the PCG team when they were on their way to the Lighthouse camp after picking up their remaining personnel on patrol from the seaside.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Gwadar District has recorded at least 41 terrorism-related fatalities (34 SF personnel, four civilians and three terrorists) in 2023, thus far (data till November 5, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, the District had registered nine terrorism-related fatalities (eight SF personnel and one terrorist). During the corresponding period of 2021, there were nine such fatalities (four civilians, four SF personnel and one terrorist. The fatalities during the current year have crossed all the record of previous years, including the preceding high of 33 fatalities in 2013.
The district has recorded a total of 266 fatalities in 74 attacks since March 6, 2000, out of which 30 incidents were major attacks (each involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 172 deaths (90 civilians, 57 SF personnel, 19 militants and six in the 'not specified' (NS) category. Some of the prominent attacks included:
• December 10, 2022: Six Army personnel were killed when Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) cadres ambushed a convoy of trucks carrying Army rations in the Kandasol area of Gwadar District. BLF 'spokesperson' 'major' Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.
• August 20, 2021: At least three persons, including two children, were killed and three persons, including a Chinese national, sustained injuries in a suicide attack targeting vehicles transporting Chinese nationals on the Gwadar Expressway in Gwadar District of Balochistan.
• October 15, 2020: At last 14 persons, including seven FC personnel and seven private security guards, were killed when an Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL) convoy was attacked by Baloch insurgents on the Coastal Highway near the Ormara area of Gwadar District. While claiming responsibility for the attack, Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS) declared, "BRAS fighters eliminated more than 15 enemy personnel and agents of exploitative company" in the attack.
• April 17, 2019: BRAS attacked a passenger bus on the Makran Coastal Highway in the Buzi Pass area of Ormara in Gwadar District, and killed at least 14 passengers. Baloch Khan, BRAS's 'spokesperson', claimed that those killed in the attack were personnel of Pakistani armed forces, and that they were killed only after their identities were confirmed by their service cards.
• May 11, 2019: Nine persons, including a Pakistan Navy sailor, were killed in a terrorist attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar town. Four militants were also killed during the clearance operation in the hotel. Six persons including two Army captains, two Pakistan Navy soldiers and two hotel employees were injured in the incident. The Hotel had around 70 guests at the time, including 40 Chinese nationals. The Majeed Brigade of BLA claimed responsibility of the attack, claiming in a statement that the attack was aimed at Chinese and other foreign investors.
• May 13, 2017: At least 10 non-local labourers were killed and another two injured when unidentified motorcycle borne assailants opened fire at a construction site in the Pishgan area of Gwadar town. The slain labourers belonged to the Naushahro Feroze District of Sindh. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack.
• August 25, 2016: At least six Levies personnel were killed and another three were injured in a rocket attack targeting their convoy in the Gurdan area of Jiwani Town in Gwadar District. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
• July 27, 2013: At least seven Pakistan Coast Guards personnel were killed and as many sustained injuries, in an attack by unidentified armed militants, at a check-post located in the Sundsar area of Gwadar District.
Gwadar port in Gwadar District enjoys a strategic location on the Arabian Sea in Balochistan, providing access to South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia. Due to its strategic location, it is the epicentre of China’s CPEC projects. Major projects for Gwadar Port include a coal-fired power plant, expansion of existing railway lines, the Pak-China Friendship Hospital, Gwadar University and Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Though an effort is being made to transform what was once a sleepy fishing town into a vibrant trade hub, with a pledged investment close to USD 700 million, the pace of development is slow, and business even slower. More worryingly, the interests and concerns of locals have been ignored. While the city is growing with the local development projects, the local people remain alienated as most of the projects are managed by the Chinese or officers from other provinces of Pakistan. Meanwhile, Gwadar’s common people remain deprived of access to basic amenities, including clean water.
Due to rising discontentment, the insurgency in the region is escalating, as is reflected in increasing insurgency-linked fatalities. Baloch groups have intensified attacks targeting Chinese nationals engaged in economic activities, as well as SF personnel.
At the same time, a series of protests have started against Chinese projects and interests in the region, 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 the Jamaat-e-Islami in Balochistan. The protesters started a sit-in in Gwadar on October 27, 2022, demanding an end to illegal trawling, a major issue for the people of the port city, for whom fishing is one of the very few available 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. The Chinese trawlers are also accused of over-exploitation, beyond licenced quotas.
As the sit-in continued, tens of thousands of protesters, including women and children, blocked an expressway leading to the Gwadar Port, when the Government failed to meet their deadline to act on their demands. On December 10, 2022, 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, 2022, a day after negotiations between the Government and movement leaders failed. The Police clashed with protesters, in which one Policeman was killed while hundreds of protesters and many Policemen were 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 May 18, 2023, the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted bail to Maulana Hidayat Ur Rehman and ordered his release. The movement, however, stalled, for the time being.
Meanwhile, instead of addressing the legitimate grievances of the protesters, the Government remains committed to protecting Chinese interests. On February 12, 2023, Federal Minister of Interior Rana Sanaullah announced that ‘fool proof security’ would be provided to Chinese nationals in Gwadar Port.
Unless the Pakistani State understands the core of Baloch frustration, Baloch groups will continue their sabotage activities