On Christmas Day, Aslam Baloch, Chief of his own faction of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), was killed along with five high ranking militants by a suicide attack in the Afghan province of Kandahar. The suicide attack reportedly took place at around 4 pm at the residence of Aslam in Kandahar’s Aino Maina Development, a secure gated residential community built by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai. At the time of attack, a meeting was reportedly in progress. Besides Aslam, officials have identified others who have been killed as Taju Murree, Rustam, Rauf, Fareed, Rahim Murree and Nasir.
The original name of Aslam was Takari Muhammad Aslam. His aliases include Aslam Achu (variants include Aslam Achoo and Aslam Achou), Aslam Baloch and Merick Baloch. He was the son of Rahim Dad and was an Afghan Tajik by ethnicity. In 1992, Aslam came to Balochistan and joined BLA and went on to become one of its most important commanders. Because he managed to secure a Pakistani national identity card, he worked as a clerk in Balochistan’s Minerals Department. Around two dozen FIRs had been registered against him in different police stations of Sibbi and Bolan districts on the charges of kidnapping for ransom and receiving extortion from coal mine owners of Margat and other areas of Bolan district. Consequently, he carried a head money of Rs. 6 million.
In March 2016, he was severely injured in an encounter with Pakistani security forces in Sibbi district of Balochistan. It was around this time when Balochistan Government officials incorrectly claimed that Aslam was killed. However, he managed to flee to Afghanistan via Iran. From Afghanistan, it is reported that he went to New Delhi through a fake Afghan passport for treatment of his injuries in a private hospital, Max Health Care. Following his treatment, he came back to Afghanistan and was operating his splinter faction from Kandahar.
Aslam’s differences with original BLA originated when he left for India without the alleged permission of BLA’s High Command on 1st June 2017. During his visit to India, media reports surfaced that Aslam was planning to create a new organization with the financial help of Naela Quadri, President of World Baloch Women’s Forum who advocates for an independent Balochistan state through political activism. Consequently, the original BLA believed that Aslam and then BLA Commander Bashirzeb Baloch tried to overthrow the leadership of the original BLA with the support of BLF and Naela Quadri. Subsequently, the memberships of two commanders were suspended for an unidentified time period.
According to a statement released by his faction upon his killing, Aslam has been described as one of the founding members of original BLA and Majeed Brigade, a unit of suicide bombers tasked to target Chinese interests in Pakistan
Under Aslam’s command, his splinter faction of BLA emerged as the most lethal sub-nationalist outfit after Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). In August this year, he selected his elder son Rehan Baloch as a suicide bomber to target a bus carrying the team working on the Saindak Copper-Gold Mine project near Dalbandin bypass in Balochistan. The attack caused injuries to six people, including three Chinese engineers. Following this terror attack, the splintering of BLA into two factions – Hybyair Marri faction and Aslam Baloch faction – was officially announced. His faction was responsible for the foiled attack targeting Chinese consulate in Karachi last month, which resulted in the deaths of two civilians and two policemen. According to a statement released by his faction upon his killing, Aslam has been described as one of the founding members of original BLA and Majeed Brigade, a unit of suicide bombers tasked to target Chinese interests in Pakistan.
The killing of Aslam Baloch and his fellow militants is a severe blow to the Balochistan insurgency. Since the killing of BLA’s first Chief Balaach Marri in 2007, he is the first chief of a splinter faction or outfit to be killed. He has been killed at a time when there were growing apprehensions about how the use of suicide bombers and the alliance of Baloch Raaji Aaajohi e Sangar (Baloch National Freedom Front) might revive the weakened and factionalized insurgency. Just over a month ago, the Aslam faction, Baloch Republican Guards and BLF jointly formed an alliance. The main objective behind the alliance was ‘unification and consolidation of the national strength is the only way forward to get rid of Pakistani occupation of Balochistan’. The alliance recently claimed responsibility for its first attack when it killed six security personnel in Kech district of Balochistan.
A number of questions have been raised following the killing of Aslam Baloch. Firstly, who will lead Aslam Baloch’s faction in future. There is also a strong possibility that the vacuum created by Aslam’s killing might lead several commanders and foot soldiers to join other Baloch sub-nationalist groups or the Hybyriar Marri faction. Similarly, the future of Aslam’s faction will depend upon how his successor leads the group and maintains the separate identity of the faction.
Secondly, what will be the future of suicide bombing modus operandi is another question. Will Aslam’s successor continue to use suicide bombers of Majeed Brigade or will he revert back to the use of IEDs and ambush only, it is too early to predict. It is pertinent to mention that apart from BLA (Hyrbyair Marri faction) and Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Aslam’s faction has been supported by other outfits for its use of suicide bombers.
Aslam’s killing in Afghanistan has reinforced once again Pakistan’s stance that Afghanistan is home to anti-Pakistan terror groups. Since the first wave of Balochistan insurgency in 1948, Afghanistan has traditionally been a safe haven for Baloch sub-nationalist groups. Balaach Marri, the first Chief of BLA, operated from Afghanistan before he was killed there in November 2007. BRA Chief Brahumdagh Bugti lived as a state guest in Afghanistan till October 2010 before he was flown to Switzerland. In past, there were also reports and statements of officials that BLF Chief Dr. Allah Nazar has also been operating from Afghanistan. Aslam Baloch himself was living in Afghan province of Kandahar since 2005.
The killing of Aslam Baloch in Afghanistan provides Pakistan with an opportunity to once again raise the issue about the presence of Baloch sub-nationalist groups with Kabul regime. The matter should also be raised with the US and China in order to pressurize Kabul in taking action against anti-Pakistan outfits. For lasting peace in Afghanistan, it should be ensured that the Afghan government should prioritize the elimination of terrorists and create an environment which doesn’t encourage extremism and terrorism. Providing safe havens and deprioritizing elimination of certain groups will only stretch the quest of peace in Afghanistan.