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Balochistan Insurgency: Pakistan’s Bloody Battle for Resources

Balochistan Insurgency

What’s behind the surge in violence in Pakistan’s Balochistan province?

The Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist group in Pakistan, has been escalating attacks in Balochistan in pursuit of independence from Pakistan and the removal of Chinese projects they view as exploitative. The recent surge in violence is linked to increased recruitment by separatist groups, fueled by claims of electoral fraud in the disputed election.

The group is now led by educated professionals and has united various Baloch separatist groups, utilizing digital and social media for recruitment. The ongoing turmoil in Balochistan is exacerbated by Pakistan’s failure to address political grievances, with little progress expected if current dynamics persist.

Key Concepts

  • The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a separatist armed group in Pakistan.
  • The BLA targets Pakistani security forces, foreigners, and Chinese citizens.
  • The group is allied with the Balochistan Liberation Front and has thousands of members.
  • Baluch separatist groups have been increasing the number of attacks in the region.
  • Recent attacks are fueled by claims of electoral fraud and lack of avenues for dissent.
  • Baloch activists accuse Pakistan’s military of human rights abuses.
  • The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has provided Baloch separatist groups access to military equipment.
  • The BLA is now led by educated professionals using digital media for recruitment.
  • Pakistan’s unwillingness to address political grievances is contributing to the ongoing turmoil in Balochistan.
  • The future outlook for Balochistan remains uncertain with little progress expected.

Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan has long been the scene of low-level insurgencies and brutal government repression.

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This vast, resource-rich province is home to the Baluch minority in Pakistan, a South Asian country. Deadly attacks have surged here in recent months.

The shootings and suicide bombings targeted Pakistani security forces and foreigners, including Chinese citizens.

Who is behind the attack?

Most of the attacks were carried out by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). This is a separatist armed group and a designated terrorist organization by the United States.

The Majeed Brigade, a suicide squad of the Balochistan Liberation Army, is believed to have carried out the most sophisticated attacks.

The Balochistan Liberation Army is considered the largest armed organization in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. It is allied with the Balochistan Liberation Front, the other major separatist armed group in the province. Experts believe the Balochistan Liberation Army has thousands of members.

Baluch separatists carried out 110 attacks last year, according to the Pakistan Institute of Peace, an Islamabad-based think tank. In the first three months of 2024 alone, these groups carried out 62 attacks, indicating a significant increase in attacks.

Who are their targets?

The Balochistan Liberation Army targets the Pakistani army and police and has been accused of killing Chinese workers.

Since January, the group has attacked government offices in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar, a key hub for Chinese energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan. The Balochistan Liberation Army also attacked Pakistan’s largest naval air base and attempted to capture the strategic town of Machi.

Assassinations and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks are reported almost daily.

“Anyone associated with the government’s crackdown on Balochistan is their target,” said an Islamabad-based expert who tracks the situation in Balochistan. The expert spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.

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Zafar Baloch, a UK-based Balochistan researcher, said the Balochistan Liberation Army and other separatist groups seek independence from Pakistan. The groups demand the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Balochistan and an end to China’s “exploitative” projects in the province.

The Baloch accuses Islamabad of exploiting Balochistan’s rich natural resources and committing serious human rights violations in the impoverished region.

Why has the number of attacks increased dramatically?

Experts in Islamabad say there has been a recent surge in recruitment by separatist armed groups. The analyst said this allowed the groups to “launch more attacks.”

The analyst said February’s disputed election was “fueled” by widespread claims of electoral fraud, as it deprived the Baloch people of real political representation.

Analysts say Baloch youths do not have “any avenue to express dissent.”

Balochistan’s governments have been mostly formed by Baloch parties in the past, but they lost power in this disputed election.

Sarafaz Bugti, a Baloch politician backed by the military, leads the provincial government.

“Islamabad’s counter-insurgency strategy based on militarization is the root cause of instability in Balochistan,” said Baloch, a UK-based researcher.

Activists accuse Pakistan’s military of forcibly disappearing thousands of people and adopting a “kill and dump” policy against political activists and suspected armed separatists.

Baloch said Islamabad’s crackdown in January on demonstrations against relatives of victims of enforced disappearances and illegal killings had dampened Baloch’s hopes for a political solution to their plight.

Are Baloch separatists growing in strength?

Analysts say the Taliban takeover in neighboring Afghanistan has strengthened the capabilities of armed groups in the region, including Baluch separatist groups.

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Some military equipment and weapons left behind and seized by the Taliban after the withdrawal of US troops in 2021 have emerged and are used by Baluch armed groups.

Baloch said the influx of U.S. weapons “opens up new ways for these groups to survive.”

Researchers say the Balochistan Liberation Army has also changed in recent years. The organization, once led by tribal figures, is now led by educated, middle-class professionals whose way of thinking is “modern rather than traditional.” Since 2018, several Baloch separatist groups have coalesced around the Balochistan Liberation Army.

Baloch said the group uses digital and social media to recruit new people and build empathy among civilians.

Analysts in Islamabad say Pakistan is unwilling to address the deep-seated political grievances that keep Balochistan in turmoil.

“If 20 years of dynamic action don’t solve anything,” the analyst said, “the next 20 years won’t solve anything either.”

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