BALOCHISTAN 2021 – VICTIM OF A PROXY WAR
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of size, and smallest in terms of population. Balochistan’s geo-strategic location and its long coastline coupled with the development of Gwadar port has focused international interest. It may be noted that Gwadar port is the linchpin in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). International and regional power interest has increased in it because of large mineral resources in Balochistan. The construction of a deep-water port at Gwadar has enormous trade potential and will connect the Indian Ocean with Central Asia and Europe through a land route. The building of Gwadar port and the development of Balochistan under CPEC may become a game changer for Pakistan’s socio-economic development, A fully operational Gwadar port will enhance Pakistan’s commercial activities and its connectivity with oil-rich Gulf States, the CARs, Afghanistan, China and with the rest of the world. Therefore, CPEC, under the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, has enhanced the significance of the Balochistan province.
In the perspective of this potential, hostile foreign players with the support of Baloch militant organizations have created an unstable environment, threatening large-scale growth. In addition Balochistan is being used as a proxy battleground to harass Pakistan. Subversive efforts are being made jointly and singly to create as much of a terror environment as is likely to fail the economic growth, social uplift and betterment of the people of the province. As such, the strategic importance of Balochistan lies in its potential to either take the forefront in development in South Asia, or be the epicentre of the next large-scale multinational conflict.
Although, Balochistan has seen multiple insurgencies since 1948; historically the disturbed areas were Dera Bugti, Kohlu and Khuzdar. After the inauguration of Gwadar port, the militancy has shifted to Makran division, historically a peaceful part of the province that used to belong to Oman. Dr Allah Nazar’s Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) has emerged as a powerful anti-Pakistan terror organization. The BLF has a strong footprint in Gwadar and Turbat areas and has been involved in high profile terrorist activities especially against Chinese nationals and has also targeted strategically important sites. The increased numbers of terrorist incidents in Balochistan targeting Chinese and development projects have not only destabilized the area but also discouraged the local and foreign investors. The ongoing insurgency in Balochistan has historic links. The cooperation among terrorist outfits, financial and weapon supply chains with a hostile intelligence agency alliance pursuing the agenda of uniting militant organization has resulted in coordinated attacks on targets of high value. Foreign interference, shifting tribal loyalties and the presence of religious extremists have further compounded the Balochistan issue.
Baloch nationalism came to the fore immediately after the independence of Pakistan. Insurgencies by Baloch nationalists have been fought in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63 and 1973–1977, with an ongoing low-level insurgency continuing since 2003. The current phase started from Dera Bugti, Kohlu and Khuzdar districts but with the development of CPEC projects, its centre of gravity shifted to Turbat and Gwadar. Dr Allah Nazar was empowered with weapons and funding and became the militant leader involved in most of the terrorist attacks in the region against Chinese and Security forces. Hostile intelligence agencies are exploiting the Baloch nationalist fault-line to further their national interests which run counter to the development of CPEC and Gwadar port. This is proven by the Kulbashan Yadav Case, an Indian Naval officer arrested in Pakistan and being tried for espionage and sponsoring terror in Pakistan.
Baloch Militant/ Terrorist organizations
Baloch Liberation Army (BLA)
Baloch Liberation Army is leaded by Herbiyar Marri who has been granted political asylum in the UK. Fighters of BLA are provided by the Marri tribe. The BLA has been listed as a Terrorist organization in Pakistan, the UK and USA. BLA has conducted terrorist activities mostly in Kohlu and Quetta.
Baloch Republican Army (BRA)
Brahamdagh Bugti, led the Balochistan Republican Party for several years from Afghanistan where he was hosted by the Afghan government, under the local protection of the late Genereal of Police Abdul Raziq Achakzai until he moved to Geneva in 2010, where he applied for political asylum. Fighters are mostly from the Bugti tribe and the BRA operates near Dera Bugti, Sui and Quetta. It is involved in sabotage activities against gas pipelines, terrorist attacks against railway and transmission lines.
Baloch Liberation Front (BLF)
Mainly based in Balochistan´s southernmost Makran region, the Balochistan Liberation Front is the most active Baloch armed groups against CPEC. It’s led by Dr Allah Nazar, a former student leader and a qualified gynaecologist who is the only high profile Baloch insurgent commander that has fought for several years on the ground and is presently rumoured to be hiding in Iran/ UAE. BLF is the main threat against CPEC and Gwadar and unlike other militant organizations, its fighters are not tribesmen but middle class youth. This militant organization is more active and destructive in conducting terrorist attacks against Chinese Nationals, Punjabi labourers and security forces.
It is deployed in Central Balochistan and led by Javed Mengal. This militant and terrorist organization is supported by Mengal tribe, but have not been very active over the last few years.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is Punjab based sectarian militant wing of Sipah-e Sahabah Pakistan. It is supported by local Bloch mainly from Mastung which is adjacent to Quetta with strong anti-Hazara sentiments. It has Baloch leadership and remained involved in numbers of terrorist attacks against Hazara community.
Execution of Operations
Quetta is the only metropolitan city in Balochistan and therefore the focus of all of the militant groups as it affords useful targets for terror and the media means to publicize these actions. Operations are conducted in classic small cell groups that merge into the urban environment. Small townships or Killis in Sariab, Brewery and some areas of Satellite Town are safe havens for Baloch militant organizations. The same groups also involved in kidnappings, protection rackets and sale of drugs to raise funds. Engaged with foreign intelligence agencies and being funded by them, they also source weapons and explosive through them. Most militants have moved away from urban centers and now live and operate from Ferrari (terror) Camps located within striking distance of the cities / towns like Margat, Marwar, Esplingi and Kabu areas. In rural areas especially Dera Bugti, the BRA uses landmines against LEAs, gas pipelines and transmission lines. In Makran division, BLF ambushes the paramilitary (FC/ LEA) convoys with a combination of landmines in ambushes with small arms and RPGs. Sophisticated weaponry is available and being smuggled to Balochistan via Gulistan area. All the Pashtoon weapon dealers have close connections with Baloch militant organizations
Role of Hostile Intelligence Agencies
An analysis of the terror events conducted by militant organisations in Balochistan will reveal a high level of tactical awareness and training. The placement of explosive, siting of weapons and choice of ambush sites and getaway plans point to the perpetrators having had prior military training. Access to sophisticated weapons and communication means is indicative of foreign funding and support as well. Indian support to the Balochistan nationalist movement is known as its military support to militant organisations; publicly stated as a policy initiative of the Indian government by its National Security Advisor. With consulates along the Pak- Afghan and Pak-Iran border it has had operatives fuelling trouble in Balochistan. It was only a matter of time before Kulbashan Yadav was caught on 3rd March 2016. There are few if any ideological participants in the militant groups. Investigations have revealed that all are paid, leaders included. The tribal organisations contribute a portion of their earnings to their leaders over and above what their leaders get paid.
There appears to be an alliance of ethnic and sectarian terrorist organizations in Balochistan. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) also has its stronghold in Mastung which is adjacent to Quetta. Interestingly, BLA and LeJ leadership and foot soldiers are both Baloch which is odd, given the Punjabi base of the LeJ. The timings and area of terrorist attacks of these sectarian and ethnic terrorist organizations normally coincide with each other and support each other. Case in point are timings of terrorist attack at the Quaid residency in Ziarat by BLA followed by a suicidal attack on a bus of Hazara University students by LeJ. The recent killings of Hazara miners at Margat area which is the traditional stronghold of BLA militants, also indicates the strong alliance between Baloch Miltant organization and ethnic/ religious terrorist organization. It points towards the fact that the planners for these terrorist organizations are common.
The role of BSO (Azad) has been a detrimental one. The BSO has been a feeder organisation for militancy for a long time garbed in a political shroud. BSO Azad was found in 1967 and has been listed as a Proscribed organization in 2013. BSO Azad has been providing fresh blood to BLF which has been successful in not only mobilizing masses against the state but has also been the most hard-core militant group. After subversion of more than two decades with its main focus on schools, colleges and University students, Baloch youth are completely against Pakistani state.
A National Response
Operations against Militant Organizations with more focus on BLF
General search operations must be avoided in urban centers as it brings hatred against federation, thus fuelling sub-nationalist subversion themes. IBOs against militants especially BLF, their sympathizers and facilitators should be conducted in cities to dismantle their support in urban areas, thus making it difficult to conduct terrorist activities in cities. Moreover, targeted operations against Ferrari camps and dismantling them especially at Makran Division, will elude bases to these Baloch militant organization, thus minimizing attacks against Chinese, Punjabi Labours and LEAs. Moreover, apprehension of weapon smugglers of Gulistan are mandatory to control weapon flow to these militants.
Militant organizations requires millions of Rupees to pay emoluments to their soldiers and leadership which is not possible without foreign funding and support of hostile intelligence agencies. Thus, Financial Crime professionals must be hired in LEAs who can identify the terrorism funding techniques and lodge legal proceedings on Terrorism financing (TF). Money is Terrorist organization life’s blood, so If LEAs are successful in prosecuting these terrorist on TF cases, it will not only have adverse effect on their terrorist activities but will also assist Pakistan in coming out of FATF grey list.
Intelligence agencies must be tasked to identify all teachers of schools and lecturers of colleges/ universities who are teaching sub-nationalist propaganda theme to students. Departmental level inquiry should be conducted against all identified teachers for termination of their jobs while replacing them with patriotic teachers. Moreover, counter subversion theme must be prepared by ISPR and Information Ministry to counter sub-nationalist propaganda.
Quota must be fixed for Balochi students in other provinces for higher education studies with higher number of seats in universities of Punjab province. Graduates of these universities will be ideally suited to replace these sub-nationalist at different Government institutions including universities and colleges.
Provision of Jobs to Baloch youth
Unemployment is main cause of Baloch youth joining Baloch militant organizations. Thus, CPEC will only be successful if youth from Makran divisions are provided ample job opportunities. Provisional Government must open technical training institutions for Baloch youth in Makran Division and provide them technical skills which are required for these projects. Government must bound Chinese/ local companies to hire local youths for these projects.
Media Coverage of Terrorist Incidents
Baloch militant organizations are being paid on media coverage of terrorist incidents by hostile intelligence agencies so controlled media coverage will reduce their funding, thus decreasing numbers of terrorist incidents in Balochistan. PEMRA must play more pro-active role and allow only controlled coverage of these terrorist attacks.
Highlight Indian State Sponsoring Terrorism in Balochistan at International Forum
The arrest of the Indian spy, Kulbhushan Jhadav, and his confession in supporting terrorist activities in Balochistan has confirmed the involvement of India ‘s intelligence agency — Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in terrorist incidents in Balochistan. These proofs should be highlighted by all Pakistani missions abroad as well as at multi-forums platforms like United Nations to show Indian state sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan. Moreover, International media should be approached by Pakistani diplomats to write about Indian RAW’s involvement in supporting terrorist organization in Balochistan.
Balochistan insurgency will only be controlled with political and military strategy working hand in gloves with each other. The ongoing mega projects in the province must provide job opportunities to the Baloch people. The main concern of the Baloch people is that their ethnic dominance is decreasing and according to their estimate one day, they will become minority in their own province which is a point of concern for them. Let them give more opportunities in CPEC projects with more education and technical skills. The more educated Baloch will play a constructive role in the development of Balochistan in particular and Pakistan in general. There is a need to take prudent actions to resolve the Balochistan issue, otherwise it is going on the wrong side i.e. anarchy and disturbance. The external power will take the opportunity to use it against the state of Pakistan.