By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
At least 61 Security Force (SF) personnel were killed, and another 164 were injured as terrorists stormed the New Sariab Police Training College (PTC), some 13 kilometres from Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, in the night of October 24, 2016. Three militants entered the PTC and headed straight for the hostel, where around 700 Police recruits were sleeping. The attack began at around 11:10 pm, with gunfire continuing to ring out at the site for several hours. Major causalities were inflicted when two suicide bombers blew themselves up. One of the militants wearing suicide vest was killed by the SFs. 250 cadets who were held hostage were rescued by the SFs. SFs were able to clear the area after five hours. Entry and exit routes to the area were opened for traffic the next morning.
There has been a multiplicity of claims among terrorist groups for responsibility of this high-profile attack. The Hakimullah faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) declared, “TTP Hakimullah group’s Karachi unit was behind the attack”, adding that four of its militants were involved. However, Major General Sher Afghan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan, which led the response operation, claimed that the terrorists belonged to the Al-Alami (international) faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) – which is affiliated to the TPP, adding, “They were in communication with operatives in Afghanistan.” The Daesh (Islamic State, IS) also claimed responsibility and released photos of the fighters involved, one of whom bore a strong resemblance to an attacker who was killed by SFs in the assault.
On the same day, elsewhere in the Province, unidentified terrorists shot dead two Pakistan Customs’ officials in the Shamsabad area of Mastung District. A third customs official was critically wounded in the armed attack. Captain (Retd.) Farraukh Atiq, Deputy Commissioner of Mastung District, stated, “Armed men opened fire at a customs vehicle in the Shamsabad area of Mastung city.” The terrorists escaped from the scene of the attack without facing any resistance.
On October 23, 2016, two Pakistan Coast Guard personnel were killed while two civilians were injured by unidentified armed assailants in the Jiwani Bazaar area of Gwadar District in Balochistan. No outfit claimed responsibility for the attack.
On October 14, 2016, three Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were shot dead in the Sabzal Road area of Quetta. According to Police sources, suspected militants opened fire at the FC men. Two men died on the spot, whereas the third succumbed to his injuries on the way to hospital. The attackers escaped unharmed. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.
Between October 14, 2016 and October 24, 2016, the Province has thus recorded 68 SF fatalities. There has been a rise in violence against Security Force (SF) personnel in Balochistan since the beginning of the current year. According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), Balochistan has recorded at least 145 SF fatalities between January and October 2016, as against 82 such fatalities during the corresponding period of 2015, an increase of 76.82 per cent.
Significantly, out of the 145 SF personnel killed in 2016, 126 were killed in Northern Balochistan, while the remaining 19 were killed in Southern Balochistan. As has been noted in the past , the North is afflicted by Islamist extremist groups such as TTP and LeJ; the Baloch insurgent groups operate in the South. The major Baloch insurgent groups include the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA).
A North-South breakup of SF fatalities over the last six years indicate that SF fatalities in North Balochistan are consistently higher than South Balochistan, while extra-judicial killings of civilians account for a large proportion of the killings in South Balochistan.
Though the number of civilian fatalities in 2016, till end-October, stood at 191, down from 247 through 2015, extra judicial killings by State agencies and their proxies in Southern Balochistan remained rampant. Through 2016, at least 191 civilians were killed in Balochistan, of which some 86 were attributable to one or other militant outfit. The remaining 105 ‘unattributed’ fatalities are overwhelmingly the work of the State apparatus and its surrogates. Of the 3,758 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 [data till October 30, 2016], at least 999 civilian killings are attributable to one or other militant outfit. Of these, 361 civilian killings (205 in the South and 156 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily LeJ, TTP and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 638 civilian killings, 631 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and seven in the South. The 363 civilian killings attributed to Baloch formations include at least 155 Punjabi settlers since 2006. The remaining 2,759 civilian fatalities – 1,667 in the South and 1,092 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’. A large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities, particularly in the Southern region, are believed to be the result of enforced disappearances carried out by state agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). The large number of unattributed civilian fatalities strengthens the widespread conviction that Security Agencies engage in “kill and dump” operations against local Baloch dissidents, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognized.
While the SFs are engaged in a systematic campaign of extermination of ethnic Baloch people through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, which continue unabated in the southern Districts of Balochistan, they are, in turn, frequently targeted by Islamist terrorist formations such as TTP and LeJ in the northern Districts. Though the number of incidents of attacks on SFs declined to 35 in 2016, in comparison to 55 the previous year, their lethality and intensity can be assessed by the October 24attack at the Quetta PTC. Some of the major attacks on SFs in the northern Balochistan in 2016 include:
January 13: At least 15 people, among them 13 Police personnel, an FC soldier and a civilian, were killed while another 25 were injured, when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a Government health centre in the Satellite Town area of Quetta.
January 18: Six FC personnel were killed and one was injured in an IED blast near FC’s Margat Checkpoint in Quetta.
February 6: At least 12 persons, including four FC personnel, were killed and another 38 persons injured in a suicide blast in the Multan Chowk area of Quetta.
June 29: Four FC personnel were shot dead by unidentified armed assailants on Double Road in Quetta.
After the attack of the night of October 24 at the PTC, the Balochistan Government seems to have lost faith in the capacity of Federal Forces, and had demanded the restoration of pre-1958 powers under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) to curb crimes and prevent acts of terror in the Province. “The provincial administration has no legal powers in Balochistan that has become a war zone (sic),” Home Secretary Mohammad Akbar told a meeting of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights, adding, “Balochistan has become a cocktail of insurgencies, religious extremism and other criminal activities. We cannot hide that the system has failed in Balochistan.
SFs in Balochistan have been reaping what they had sown over past decades. The TTP and LeJ are both products of the sustained strategy of State supported terrorism, now gone rogue at the margins. While some feeble and fitful efforts are directed against Islamist terrorist formations in Balochistan, this strategy continues to provide spaces to Taliban and al Qaeda related formations which are hosted in the Province and directed against Afghanistan, and that are ideologically indistinguishable from the Pakistan-directed ‘renegade’ groupings.
On the other hand, overwhelming and indiscriminate force is deployed against the Baloch separatists in the south of the Province, where gross human right violations and forced disappearances are endemic. Islamabad deploys disproportionate and lawless force to suppress all Baloch dissidence, including political activists raising genuine grievances, despite the fact that the Forces engaged in the ‘fight against terror’ have lost far more personnel to Islamist groupings in the north than to Baloch insurgents in the south.
On August 30,2016, on the occasion of the International Day for Enforced Disappearance, consequently, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) once again invited the attention of political parties, human rights organizations, the judiciary and the international community, urging them to investigate the “catastrophic human rights abuses in Balochistan,” ‘’
Balochistan has, over the past months, secured somewhat greater attention at international fora than was the case in the past, but there appears to be little possibility of any measurable impact of such limited initiatives on the bloodied ground of the Province. Indeed, Pakistan continues to find willing dupes in the international community and the comity of nations, who are eager to go along with Islamabad’s twisted narrative that the country is a ‘victim of terrorism’, suppressing the increasingly obvious reality that this is a terrorism created and sustained against others by the Pakistani State, and that its domestic outbursts are nothing more than a ‘blowback’ of its own continuing global malfeasance.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management