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Balochistan Insurgency - Fifth conflict 2004-to date

led by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri

Two political groups, the leftist Baluchistan Liberation Front and the more centrist Baluchistan Protection Council, claim to be active in the province. Officially over 4000 had been arrested by 2007, while unofficially over 8000 were reported to have been arrested. Thousands of Baloch died, and more the 6,000 were behind bars for voicing their concerns for Balochistan.

Baluchistan was up in arms against the federal government, with the Baluchistan Liberation Army, Baluchistan Liberation Front, and People's Liberation Army conducting operations. Rocket attacks and bomb blasts have been a regular feature in the provincial capital, particularly its cantonment areas, Kohlu and Sui town, since 2000, and had claimed over 25 lives by mid-2004.

The latest Baloch tribal insurrection erupted in early 2005, as Nawab Bugti, leader of the Bugti tribe, used the rape of a female doctor at the Sui gas facility as a pretext to attack the government in and around his home district of Dera Bugti. The government responded with force, significantly enlarging the Frontier Corps (FC) and Army presence in the area. A cease-fire was reached and largely implemented by April 2005, but tribal attacks on gas pipelines, electricity pylons, train lines, and other infrastructure continued. The fighting picked up in December 2005, when Marri tribesmen were linked to the 14 December 2005 rocket attack on President Musharraf as he visited an FC base in Kohlu, the proposed site of an Army cantonment in the heart of Marri territory.

Deployments of the Pakistani Army to Karachi, ostensibly to dampen unrest in the wake of a suicide attack that killed three Sunni Muslim clerics, was seen to be a move against the large Baluchi population there, fueling Baluchi separatist feelings. The first Baloch came to Karachi before the 14th century, and for over four centuries, the Baloch have been settled in Karachi. The first came from Kalmat, a small village in between the coastal belt of Ormarah and Pasni in Baluchistan). The Kalmaties are basically a sub-tribe of the Hoat Baluch, who came from Iranian Balochistan. The graveyard known famously as the "Baloch Tombs" is the richest of all graveyard sites situated around Karachi. A large migration came from Iranian balochistan after 1928, when the Shah Reza Pahlevi of Iran captured the western Baluchistan and started oppression and tyranny against the Baloch. By once account, there are more Baloch in Karachi than in the entire province of Balochistan. By another account, the majority of the Baluch people reside in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan.

Islamabad "has treated Baluchistan like a colony," complained Imran Khan, a member of the Pakistani parliament. Baluchi nationalist Humayun Baluch charges that Punajbis are being introduced as settlers, traders, and miners. "[Our] provincial resources are being exploited and looted," he says. "People's rights are being compromised and everything is being done for the benefit of the Punjabis. Army troops, army weaponry, helicopters, jets, and F-16s are being used in Baluchistan. The population is being forced out and primarily living in Sindh [in Karachi]. Houses have been burned and looted."

Extremist groups harassed and physically assaulted journalists. For example, on 24 February 2004, a bomb exploded without causing personal injuries at the Quetta office of the daily Urdu-language newspaper Jang. The separatist Baluchistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility. In November 2005, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was detonated outside the PIDC building in Saddar Town, killing three individuals. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist movement comprised of various elements within the Baluchistan Province. This was the first instance of an attack claimed by the BLA within Karachi.

The construction of the Gwadar port and the influx of Chinese engineers who oversee the project irritated Baluchi national anxieties. The Gwadar Port project employed close to 500 Chinese nationals by 2004. The nationalists have strong reservations about the construction of a new deep-sea port in Gwadar. They fear that the mega project, which is being developed with the help of China, would lead to a massive influx of outside workers and turn the local population into a minority. Baluchi nationalists believe that Beijing is in league with Islamabad to develop and export the province's natural gas resources. Pakistan's leading natural gas company, Sui, is located in Baluchistan but provides products for the entire country.

On 03 May 2004, the BLA killed three Chinese engineers working on the Port. Gwadar airport was attacked by rockets at midnight on 21 May 2004. On 09 October 2004, two Chinese engineers were kidnapped in South Waziristan in the northwest of Pakistan, one of whom was killed later on 14 October 2004 in a botched rescue operation. In July 2007, a bus full of Chinese engineers was bombed in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. None of the Chinese was killed (although a number of policemen on detail to protect the Chinese were).

Pakistan blamed India and Iran for fanning insurgency in Baluchistan. Violence reached a crescendo in March of 2005 when the Pakistani government attempting to target Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the seventy year old Sardar (tribal leader) who had fought against the government for decades, shelled the town of Dera Bugti. The fighting that erupted between the tribal militia and government soldiers resulted in the deaths of 67 people.

In January 2005 Bugti tribesmen fired several hundred rockets on gas installations, following the alleged gang rape of a Pakistan Petroleum Limited doctor, Shazia Khalid, by a captain of the Defence Security Guards (DSG). With tensions mounting in Dera Bugti, the government deployed troops in his native area. The turning point came on March 17, 2005, when a clash between troops and Bugti tribesmen resulted in the death of 77 civilians, mostly Hindus. Since then, Bugti tribesmen engaged in a guerrilla war with the security forces.

Since 17 December 2005, the Pakistan military has launched full-fledged operations in Kohlu and Dera Bugti. The military has reportedly been using jet fighters and helicopter gunships in its operations to attack the suspected hideouts of combatant Marri and Bugti tribesmen in Kolhu and Dera Bugti respectively.

Dr. Wahid Baloch, an activist of the Baloch Society of North America based in Washington, said in February 2006 there was no right for the Pakistani army to be in the province as they were committing atrocities on the residents. "There is no reason for the Pakistani army to stay there, if they consider the Pakistani citizens why they have built these armies, Baluchistan border does not need this, its not enemy country, no animosities with Pakistan. It is next to Iran and the Persian Gulf, so what is the Pakistan army doing in Baluchistan? Genocide against ... and the Baluchistan peoples rights?" asked Baloch.

Pakistan was concerned not just about maintaining good relations with Washington, but also fending off the encircling efforts of India. Most recently, these activities included the stationing of Indian intelligence officers at Zahedan, Iran close to Baluchistan rebel activities in Pakistan. Pakistan charges India with complicity (via Afghanistan) in the ethnic crises in the two states of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan: Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan complains that the Indian consulates in the border cities of Jalalabad and Kandahar are involved in fomenting insurgency in its Baluchistan province. Amidst increased fighting in January 2006, Musharraf accused India of arming and financing the militants fighting in Baluchistan. New Delhi categorically rejected the allegations. Islamabad banned the separatist Baluchistan Liberation Army as a terrorist organization in April 2006. Indian financial assistance to the Baloch nationalists, if it exists, could also be funneled through Baloch expatriates in the Persian Gulf states who remit funds to the province.

The government tactics were to initially attack the militant hideouts or strongholds with helicopter gunships and/or fighter-jets, and then to follow up with ground forces. The military was reluctant to engage the militants at night, despite being equipped with and trained in the use of night-vision devices and night operations using helicopters. The Army and FC moved steadily, if slowly, from road to road, ridge to ridge, to hem in Bugti's forces. The scarcity of water in the province slowed operations, but the sustained advance drove many Bugti fighters to surrender. Throughout the summer, Bugti "commanders" with two or three dozen men and their weaponry surrendered to the government on a regular basis.

The government gained control of roads and key districts, through a combination of troop deployments and the reintroduction of cooperative tribes, many of whom were driven out of the area by Nawab Bugti during past insurgencies prompted by GOP moves to tap the region's natural resources. For example, the Kalpar Bugtis were one of at least four tribes moving back into the region with GOP assistance. Originally, the dominant Bugti sub-tribe in Sui, the Kalpars took advantage of the economic benefits the gas fields provided. When they began to assert themselves in the 1980s and early 1990s, they ran afoul of Nawab Bugti, who drove thousands of Kalpars off the land. Now the government used the Kalpars and other tribes to back fill the towns in which they have taken control.

The Baloch militias appeared to be buying their weapons from smugglers from Afghanistan. These weapons are being run into the country by hard-core criminal gangs, said Director General of the National Police Bureau Muhammad Shoaib Suddle, who served three tours with the police in the province. "They are not doing it for tribal affinity; they are doing it for money." The DGMI says it is easy to get weapons from narcotics traffickers in the region.

After the Bugti insurgency erupted in early 2005, a parliamentary committee was formed to resolve the dispute. The committee's November 2005 report recommended steps to (a) increase economic opportunity in Balochistan, (b) invest in social infrastructure, (c) limit settler influence in elections, and (d) increase provincial autonomy and control over gas revenues. The parliamentary committee recommendations were not serious, as illustrated by the GOP's minimal implementation effort.

A central issue between the federal government and the provinces was the distribution of federal funds. In its final recommendations, the parliamentary committee on Balochistan stated that "level of development and degree of backwardness should be foremost among the criteria" for distributing federal funding. Since 2002, Islamabad had proposed amending the distribution formula to take in other factors, such as provincial backwardness/poverty. The four provinces had not agreed on a formula: while Balochistan and the NWFP proposed a multiple-factor formula that included "backwardness/poverty," the dominant Punjab province wanted population to be the sole criterion; Sindh, in a unique twist, sought to include revenue collection as part of the equation, because so much of the GOP's revenues are generated in Karachi.

Groups of Baloch patriots from around the world established The Government of Balochistan (GOB) in Exile on April 18, 2006, and nominated His Highness Mir Suleman Dawood Khan, Khan of Kalat, as the King of Balochistan. Balochistan was invaded and annexed by Pakistan in 1948 from his grandfather, His Highness Mir Ahmad Yar Khan Baloch.

Although tensions remained high, there were attempts within the Pakistani government to ameliorate the situation through more peaceful means. Chaudhry Shujuat Hussain, leader of President Musharaf’s Pakistani Muslim League issued a set of 32 recommendations on how to address Baluchistan’s rebel grievances. The three main recommendations were that first, the province inhabitants be given a greater share of the gas profits (the region contains 40% of Pakistan’s natural gas reserves) and more jobs in the exploitation of gas resources. Second, pay the Baluchistan province arrears of $100 million. Third, give the province a bigger part in the construction of a new deep water port on the province’s coastline. However, as of July, 2006 none of these initiatives had been employed and the violence sparked by the bombardment of Dera Bugti had continued without abatement.

Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission noted the growing number of "disappearances." There were many reports of the disappearance of political activists, their family members and others deemed "problematic" by the police, army or other agencies.

On 22 April 2009, Pakistan Minister of Interior Rehman Malik addressed the Senate debate on Balochistan and claimed that India, Afghanistan and Russia were backing the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) to fuel an insurgency in the province. He also dismissed Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) chief Brahamdagh Bugti's demand for an independent Balochistan, and claimed the "militant organization" was being backed by Afghanistan and India.

The Pakistan province of Baluchistan is the largest of all provinces of modern-day Pakistan making up nearly two fifths of the entire country and with a population, according to a census in 1998, of 6.5 million out of a total Pakistani population of 131 million. The population 2006 was estimated to be 8.2 million.

In 2012 the Province witnessed 954 fatalities, including 690 civilians, 178 Security Force (SF) personnel and 86 militants in 418 incidents of killing in 2012, as against 711 fatalities, including of 542 civilians, 122 SF personnel and 47 militants in 294 incidents of killing in 2011, according to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal [SATP].

During 2013 groups prohibited by the government conducted attacks against civilians in Balochistan. For example, the South Asia Terrorism Portal reported that twin bomb blasts killed 117 persons and injured another 216 on January 10. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) later claimed responsibility for the attacks. According to August 6 media reports, the Balochistan Liberation Army abducted 26 bus passengers and subsequently executed 13 of them. Police reported that the militants killed the victims because they believed they were security officers from Punjab; howeveronly two of the victims had connections to the military or security agencies.

Sectarian violence also continued in Balochistan, KP, and Gilgit Baltistan, with multiple targeted attacks. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, sectarian attacks from January to October resulted in the death of 440 individuals, compared with 507 deaths in 173 incidents in all of 2012. On January 10, twin bomb blasts in Hazara Town, Quetta, killed more than 100 persons and injured another 60, most of whom were Hazara Shias. The Shia community refused to bury the dead for four days until the government acceded to its demands for more security by dismissing the provincial government. Sectarian violence shook Hazara Town on June 30 when a suicide bomber killed 30 persons and injured more than 70. Media reported that police and intelligence agencies were investigating the incident, but police did not make any arrests.

According to the SATP database, Balochistan recorded 635 fatalities in 2015, including 298 militants, 247 civilians and 90 SF personnel; in comparison to 653 such fatalities, including 347 civilians, 223 militants and 83 SFs in 2014. Extra judicial killings by state agencies and their proxies remain rampant. Through 2015, 247 civilians were killed in Balochistan, of which some 114 were attributable to one or other militant outfit. The remaining 143 ‘unattributed’ fatalities are overwhelmingly the work of the state apparatus and its surrogates. Of the 3,580 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 [data till February 7, 2016], at least 922 civilian killings are attributable to one or other militant outfit.

As many as 1,040 people had been killed in Balochistan in the past two years, the Balochistan Police officials said on 20 September 2016. Briefing the Senate Committee on Human Rights on the law and order situation of Balochistan, the police informed the meeting that during the year 2014-15, at least 545 people were killed in different incidents while in 2015-16 495 people have been killed so far.

Stories of secret torture cells run by the Pakistan army, its kill-and-dump policy and mass graves where Balochis have allegedly been buried alive are tumbling out. These chilling revelations were made by a Baloch activist, Professor Naela Qadri, a prominent Baloch freedom fighter, and since 2014 in political asylum in Canada. The president of the World Baloch Women Forum mentioned in a 2016 address in New Delhi that between 2000 and 2016, about 20,000 people had been killed in Balochistan by the Pakistan army and more than 25,000 civilians had disappeared.

 



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