Upsurge in Militancy in Balochistan: Threats and Counter Responses

This year, attacks on Pakistani forces and Chinese nationals in the country by Baloch ethnonationalist militants and radical Islamist groups, including the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have increased. The Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) — a local think tank, reported a 34% surge in terror attacks in the state only in April 2022, compared to March, in which 26 attacks occurred with 115 fatalities and 288 injuries. Most episodes were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces. Even recently, in the latter part of June, Baloch militants targeted civilians and clashed with the security forces in Balochistan. However, there is a noticeable shift in the tactics of the Baloch insurgent groups, which calls for renewed counterterrorism strategies on the part of the state.

Historically, the Baloch insurgency emerged following the incorporation of the province into Pakistan after the latter’s independence in 1947. Later in the 2000s, prominent Baloch ethnonationalist militant groups, including the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) operated by Dr Allah Nazar, and the United Baloch Army (UBA), carried out an intense offensive against the Pakistan armed forces. Soon, the Taliban’s victory against the US-led coalition forces lent confidence to the militant outfits in Pakistan, especially the TTP and the Baloch separatist militants. Therefore, the frequency of violent attacks in the country surged immensely. Former Interior Minister of Pakistan, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, maintained that around a 38% upsurge had been reported in terror attacks since the Taliban established its government in Kabul. The previous year also witnessed colossal violence. According to a security report issued by the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS), BLA and BLF were among the primary terror organisations that carried out the most violent attacks in Pakistan in 2021.

Renewed counterterrorism strategies of the ground forces and intelligence units should be ensured to halt such terror attacks and disable well-orchestrated plans that threaten the national security architecture.

Targeting railway tracks, gas pipelines, electricity, and non-Balochi-speaking people in the area were the old tactics of these insurgents. What seems new today is the evolved set of tactics used by the Baloch insurgent groups. Their primary strategy is transforming from hit-and-run operations to front attacks. For instance, this February, the newly formed separatist Balochistan National Army (BNA) carried out two offensives on military check posts. They aimed to target Chinese nationals to intimidate them and tarnish the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) projects. Launching high-profile suicide bombing attacks in metropolitan cities such as Karachi and Lahore seem to be the emerging strategy of the separatist militants. The recent suicide attack on Chinese nationals by a 31-year-old female, Shari Baloch, under the planning of the BLA; rocket attacks on the intelligence agencies (ISI and MI) offices in Karachi by the same group; and a bomb blast in a market in Lahore orchestrated by the BNA are some instances of such renewed tactics, as part of their metastasised strategy.

To be countered timely, Pakistan should keep an eye on this transformation in the insurgents’ strategies and tactics. Renewed counterterrorism strategies of the ground forces and intelligence units should be ensured to halt such terror attacks and disable well-orchestrated plans that threaten the national security architecture. As the involvement of intelligence in any counter-insurgency plays an active role, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies need to break the bonds of Baloch ethnonationalist militants with other terror outfits in the country, such as the operational alliances between Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) and Sindh Revolutionary Army (SRA) alliance. Such growing connections consolidate the militants’ strength in terms of knowledge exchange regarding new tactics, weapons support, moral support, and primary numerical strength as a combined unit to fight against the state’s military. The secret agencies of Pakistan need to be cognizant of the potential connection of the TTP with all Baloch insurgent groups. TTP’s anti-China rhetoric based on its affinity with Uyghur Muslims allegedly suppressed by the Chinese might provoke the group to associate with the insurgents in Balochistan. So that they could, collectively, target the Chinese citizens working in Balochistan. As a result, this will negatively impact the diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan, and the multi-billion-dollar CPEC project will be affected the most.

Insurgencies in different parts of the world are rather unique, including distinct strategies, grievances, and goals. As the capabilities and networks of the separatist groups in Pakistan grew recently due to robust outside support from Iran, Afghanistan, and particularly India, this became a grave concern for the state. Pakistan does not need counter-insurgency experience from other states in the world per se, as the state has a prolonged experience in combating terrorism in tribal areas and other parts of the country. Instead, it is necessary to enhance the state’s intelligence networks in the regions where national security is increasingly vulnerable. The suicide attack by Shari Baloch in Karachi explicitly signifies that the BLA had a proper intelligence connection in the city. Hence, it is crucial to increase the presence of intelligence in Karachi along with other big cities in the country. Also, Pakistan needs to compel Afghanistan, Iran, and India through international platforms like the UN to stop their backing of the Baloch separatist militants politically, militarily, financially, technically, and even morally.

Sajad Ahmad

Sajjad Ahmad is working as a Communications Assistant at CSCR.

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