By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
On October 22, 2023, a gas pipeline was blown up in the Pir Koh Gas Field area of Dera Bugti District in Balochistan, resulting in a disruption of gas supplies. The Baloch Republican Guards (BRG) claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to target Pakistani installations and Forces until the independence of Balochistan was achieved.
On October 16, 2023, terrorists blew up a 36-inch diameter gas pipeline in Khairpur District of Sindh, which was supplying gas from the Sui gas fields of Balochistan to Karachi, disrupting the gas supply to several parts of Karachi. BRG took responsibility for the attack and vowed to continue such attacks.
On October 12, 2023, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA)’s Special Tactical Operations Squad abducted two Army personnel posted at the Zarghoon Gas Field in Harnai District, from the Margat area of Bolan District. The whereabouts of the two personnel are still unknown.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Baloch insurgents have carried out at least five attacks targeting Gas/Oil installations and tankers in Balochistan in 2023 (data till October 29, 2023). However, no causalities were reported in these attacks as the aim of Baloch insurgents was to hurt the Pakistani state economically. A total of 254 such attacks have been recorded since March 2000, when SATP started compiling data on conflict in Pakistan. These attacks have resulted in 36 fatalities and 39 persons injured.
Attacks targeting Gas/Oil Installations and Tankers: 2005*-2023**
The worst such attack in terms of fatalities, was reported on October 15, 2020, when at least 14 persons, including seven Frontier Corps (FC) personnel and an equal number of private security guards, were killed when Baloch militants attacked an Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL) convoy on the Coastal Highway near the Ormara area of Gwadar District in Balochistan. The OGDCL convoy, escorted by the SFs, was moving from Gwadar to Karachi, Sindh, when attacked. Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), in an email sent to media outlets, claimed that “BRAS fighters eliminated more than 15 enemy personnel and agents of exploitative company” in the attack. Baloch Khan, the BRAS ‘spokesperson’, issued a statement asserting,
On one hand Pakistani forces are involved in the genocide of Baloch people, whereas, on the other hand companies like OGDCL are exploiting Baloch resources in their strategy of extending the occupation of Balochistan. Despite several warnings the OGDCL continues to be involved in exploitative projects in Pasni, Gwadar, Kharan, Lasbela and Och areas of Balochistan. OGDCL has commenced several new projects of drilling for oil and gas in Balochistan. We have made it clear several times that the resources of Balochistan belong to Baloch nation and only Baloch nation has the right to decide about the use of these resources. Baloch nation is fighting the war of independence currently and any organisation or corporation, whether Pakistani or international, that deals with the occupying forces will be dealt with iron fists and will be considered an enemy. BRAS once again warn all such companies including OGDCL to immediately halt its projects. We also want to inform China that Baloch nation completely rejects all Chinese agreements with the Pakistani occupying forces and they stand null and void.
Pakistan is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, with gas accounting for 42 per cent, oil 26 per cent and coal 17 per cent. Non-fossil-fuel sources like nuclear, hydro and renewables account for just 14 per cent. This makes the economy highly vulnerable to oil and gas prices. Till 1995, Balochistan produced almost 56 per cent of Pakistan’s total output of natural gas. However, according to a September 24, 2022, report, Balochistan’s contribution has dropped to 23 per cent. Though the report did not indicate how much of this is consumed in Balochistan, according to a March 2022 report, when Balochistan’s contribution had dropped to 22.7 percent in 2017, it consumed only 5.81 percent of the country’s total output.
Thus, attacks targeting this source of energy have a significant detrimental impact on Pakistan’s economy, a reality the Baloch insurgents are well aware of, and seek to exploit. This also explains the disproportion in the number of incidents and causalities, as the main objective of Baloch insurgents is to inflict economic damage on the Pakistani establishment, and not to kill people. After the June 29, 2020, Pakistan Stock Exchange attack, the BLA ‘spokesperson’, Jeehand Baloch had declared,
Targeting the civilians is not a part of our war-philosophy and unlike our enemy, we do not measure the rate of success by counting the innocent lives taken but our success resides in targeting the defenders of the exploitative scheme and all its symbols…
Another reason for attacks on such installations is the sense of deprivement among the Baloch people. Despite being the owners of vast natural resources, Balochistan had been deprived of its own gas as well as other materials mined from its territories. Insurgency in Balochistan has principally been linked to a sense of deprivation and under-development in the region.
Natural gas was discovered at Sui in Balochistan as far back as in 1952, yet large regions of Balochistan have no natural gas supplies. The then Balochistan Assembly Opposition Leader Malik Sikandar on January 21, 2020, had said,
They took away gas from us in the 1950s and gave it to Punjab and Sindh without even connecting it to Dera Bugti.
More recently, on February 13, 2023, Provincial Finance Minister Zmarak Achakzai threatened the Federal Government with suspension of gas supply to Pakistan if Islamabad failed to pay outstanding dues to Balochistan. The Minister warned that if the dues are not restored, he would request Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo to deploy 200 personnel from the paramilitary forces to stop the supply of gas to the rest of the country. Achakzai said: “We want our constitutional share in the National Finance Commission Award share.”
Indeed, on December 9, 2019, the convener of the Subcommittee of the Senate Standing Committee on Planning Development and Reforms, Mir Kabeer had disclosed that 93 per cent of the people of Balochistan lacked gas supply whereas 88 percent were still without electricity.
Similarly, on August 28, 2017, the then Balochistan Minister for Education Abdul Rahim Khan Ziaratwal had informed the Balochistan Assembly that, of the 33 Districts in the Province, 23 had no natural gas.
More recently, an article published in Daily Times on February 28, 2023, noted,
It is a matter of great misfortune that despite being the owner of such natural resources, Balochistan is reeling under the worst gas crisis in its history. That despite the lack of availability of gas in houses, people are being sent unbelievably high bills reflecting a significant price hike speaks volumes about the tragedy of millions living in the downtrodden province… In most houses, children are forced to leave for school without breakfast in the morning. Many a time, the unavailability of gas forces them to stay hungry all afternoons. The missing nutrition is closely linked with health concerns and can also be attributed to a lack of attention during school hours.
Significantly, in view of the growing threat from Baloch insurgents, Mian Asad Hayauddin, the then Additional Secretary in-charge of the Petroleum Division, testified before a Senate panel on January 28, 2019, that the Government planned to raise a Special Force of about 50,000 personnel to ensure unhindered exploration and exploitation of oil and gas reserves in the country’s troubled areas, particularly Balochistan, where zones with very high potential have remained inaccessible for almost three decades. However, no further report in this regard has been made available in the open source. Currently, the Frontier Corps manages the security of oil and gas installations.
While the exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources, including gas, continue unabated, Baloch insurgent attacks will remain unavoidable.
- Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management