By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On June 19, 2022, two Policemen, including one head constable, killed when unidentified assailants attacked a Police check post in Dera Allahyar area of Jaffarabad District in Balochistan. No outfit claimed responsibility for the attack.
On June 14, 2022, two Army personnel were killed and another two were injured when Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) cadres attack an Army post in the Shapuk Dam area of Kech District. ‘Major’ Gwahram Baloch, the BLF ‘spokesman’, claimed responsibility for the attack.
On June 7, 2022, two Army personnel were killed and another two were injured when the BLF targeted a bomb disposal and clearance team’s motorcycle convoy with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the Dannuk area of Kech District. ‘Major’ Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of BLF.
On June 5, 2022, two Army personnel were killed when Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) cadres targeted an Army observation post with an IED in the Niwano area of Zamuran in Kech District. BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeehand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.
On June 3, 2022, six Army personnel were killed when BLF cadres detonated a landmine under a military vehicle in the Parom area of Kell Kaur in Panjgur. BLF spokesman ‘Major’ Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.
On June 2, 2022, eight Army personnel were killed and an unspecified number of others were injured when BLF cadres targeted a military convoy with a remote-controlled bomb in the Singani Sar area of Turbat town in Kech District.
BLF ‘spokesman’ Major Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack and warned, “Attacks on the occupying forces will continue till the independence of Balochistan and we appeal to the people to stay away from military posts and caravans, freedom fighters can target them anytime and anywhere.”
During five months and nineteen days of the current year, Balochistan has recorded a surge in violence against SF personnel. While there were 103 SF fatalities in 2022, the corresponding period of 2021 recorded 42 SF fatalities. Through 2021, there was a total of 107 SF fatalities. In the current year, with 103 SF Fatalities out of a total of 180 throughout country, Balochistan leads in SF killings among all the provinces.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on conflict in Pakistan, Balochistan has accounted for a total of 1,793 SF fatalities. A maximum of 178 fatalities were registered in 2012.
Balochistan North-South SF Fatalities Breakup
|Source: SATP, *March 6, 2000; Data till June 19, 2022.|
A North-South breakup of SF fatalities over the last 20 years indicates that SF fatalities in North Balochistan are consistently higher than South Balochistan. Since, March 6, 2000, out of the total of 1,793 SF fatalities in the province, 1,223 were recorded in the North, while 570 were in the South. However, in 2022, the previous trend is being reversed. Out of the 103 SF personnel killed in the province so far (data till June 19, 2022), 81 were killed in South Balochistan, and 22 in North Balochistan. This reversal demonstrated the growing strength of the Baloch insurgent groups in the South, which is the traditional stronghold of Baloch nationalist insurgent groups. The current ceasefire between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Government as also dramatically pushed down SF killings in the North
The major Baloch insurgent groups include the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA). Meanwhile, the North is afflicted by Islamist extremist groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).
Since January 2022, different Baloch groups have carried out at least 26 attacks out of a total 43 on SFs, in which 76 SF personnel were killed. The strengthening of the Baloch insurgent groups can be marked from the February 2, 2022, simultaneous attacks by BLA cadres on the Panjgur and Nuskhi Army camps in Balochistan, which resulted in 19 fatalities (15 terrorists and four SF personnel). Indeed, though Pakistan Government sources claimed only four SF fatalities, Radio Zrumbesh quoting BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeehand Baloch claiming that 45 SF personnel were killed in the attack, when a ‘martyred’ fidayeen (suicide attacker) rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the main gate of the Frontier Corps headquarters at Nushki, clearing the way for other fidayeen to enter.
After the February 2 attacks, Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, citing intelligence reports, told the media on February 3 that “Baloch militants are not capable of launching major attacks in Nuskhi and Panjgur. TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) has the capability, experience and latest NATO weapons to launch such attacks. There’s some understanding between the TTP and Baloch militants. They have their hideouts in Afghanistan.”
The TTP-Baloch militant alliance speculation became clearer when TTP ‘spokesperson’ Mohammad Khurasani congratulated the Baloch insurgent groups for their attack in Nuskhi and Panjgur. He stated, “The Pakistani Army is carrying out the massacre in Balochistan. We are against the massacre of Balochistan as well as in Waziristan by the Pakistani Army. Our enemy is common.”
Pakistan Security analysts have been speculating that TTP has been providing military training to Baloch fighters. In exchange, the Baloch rebel groups assist TTP with logistics in Balochistan. The tactical alliance has coincided with a sharp uptick in attacks against Pakistani SFs in Balochistan in recent months. TTP has provided bases to the Baloch rebels in the Bermal District of Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, which is adjacent to Pakistan’s South Waziristan District, the TTP’s stronghold.
Meanwhile, to vent their frustration at being targeted by Baloch groups, Pakistan’s security agencies in Balochistan continue their systematic campaign of extermination of the ethnic Baloch through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) held a press conference at the Quetta Press Club on February 11, 2022, where VBMP General Secretary Sammi Deen Baloch addressed journalists and the public, speaking of the recent and alarming developments in the province. Sammi Baloch asserted that, after the Panjgur and Nushki attacks, “enforced disappearances” and “kill-and-dumps” had seen an alarming spike in the province, and the trend was frightening. Sammi Baloch stated that “enforced disappearances” had been a major human rights issue in Balochistan for the past two decades – the rate of disappearances has periodically increased or slowed down, but these incidents have never stopped. In the preceding two weeks, however, especially after the attacks on the FC Headquarters in Panjgur and Nushki, “enforced disappearances” had increased manifolds.
The Baloch nationalist group’s vengeance against SFs can be attributed to the ongoing ‘kill and dump’ strategy of Pakistan’s security agencies in the province. According to the SATP database, out of 4,673 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since March 6, 2000 (data till June 19, 2022), at least 1,464 have been attributable to one or other terrorist/insurgent group. Of these, 486 civilian killings (303 in the South and 183 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 978 civilian killings, 895 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 83 in the South. The remaining 3,209 civilian fatalities – 1,769 in the South and 1,440 in the North – remain ‘unattributed.’ It is widely believed that these are principally victims of the security agencies’ ‘kill and dump’ operations targeting local Baloch dissidents, particularly in the Southern region. Several such killings are also executed by proxies of State agencies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). TNAB is an armed militia operating in the province, especially in Khuzdar, since 2012. The leader of TNAB is Shafique Mengal, also known as Mullah Shafique. The group’s main target is Baloch nationalists.
In its annual report, the Human Rights Council of Balochistan (HRCB), a Balochistan based human rights group, underscored the dire human rights situation of Balochistan in 2021. According to the report, the year witnessed a drastic change in the human rights situation, as students remained the main target of the military and its shadow organizations, both in Balochistan as well as in other provinces of Pakistan. A large number of Baloch students were forcibly disappeared in 2021. HRCB received reports of enforced disappearance of 442 people, of whom 170 were tortured and later released, while the whereabouts of 272 people remained unknown at the time of writing. A total of 366 people have been killed.
The Pakistani State persists with its policy of repression through armed force in the province, ignoring long-standing Baloch grievances and injustice against the population. This has entrenched a bitter and bloody cycle of retaliation that shows no signs of waning.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management