By Hana Wali
Fighting between Pakistani forces and rebel gunmen has intensified, with the most recent attack resulting in the deaths of 20 militants in Balochistan. Pakistani soldiers launched a 70-hour long operation on two check posts.
The attacks also left nine soldiers and a civilian dead. The entire area was put under a curfew as the operation pedalled on.
“A total of 20 militants were killed during Panjgur and Noshki operations,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said, noting that such an intense attack had not been experienced in a while.
“All encircled terrorists were killed in today’s (Saturday) operation as they failed to surrender,” the ISPR went onto inform.
The twin attacks began on Wednesday, with the Noshki attacks being subdued on Thursday, and the Panjgur post being secured by Saturday.
The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group whose goal is to separate Balochistan from Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. BLA Spokesperson Jeayand Baloch called the attacks “self-sacrifice”.
Despite the violence having found an end, the BLA claim that their objectives have been achieved. While official numbers put the number of dead rebels at 20, the BLA statement only spoke of the “sacrifice” of 16 of their fighters. Additionally, the group claims to have killed over 100 soldiers – a claim that the military has refuted with its statement, acknowledging only nine deaths.
Tensions between the state and separatist groups in Balochistan are almost as old as Pakistan itself. The movement claims to ask for fairness toward the Baloch people, who are unable to enjoy the province’s resources as much as the rest of the country is able to.
The twin attacks come after another intense attack at the end of January, which took place at a Kech security post, where 10 soldiers lost their lives. The town itself has long been the site of attacks fueled by rebellion.
It is important to mention the significance of the timing of this attack, given that Prime Minister Imran Khan was in China on an official visit.
Balochistan has an important part to play in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is once again a point of contention as the BLA believes the benefits will be handed over to other provinces, skipping over the Baloch people once more. The CPEC road is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the country has sunk millions into Pakistan.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan surveyed the posts with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“Foreign funding is involved in terrorist attacks in Balochistan… but those involved in spreading chaos will not get anything out of it,” Khan said.
There’s a lot at stake for Pakistan, given that the CPEC itself comes with a US$60 billion investment.
Khan went on to state that the government wants to develop the region further: “We will carry out development work here to such an extent that nobody will listen to elements who provoke people here against the government and armed forces,” he said.
Balochistan may be the largest province in the country, but it is home to the smallest number of people. It has been in a state of turbulence for decades, with the separatist movement provoking and orchestrating attacks more and more frequently.
CPEC has been a frequent target, and at this point, it seems that it will continue to be fuel for the violent insurgency that plagues the province.