Regrouping of terrorist groups, the volatile situation in neighbouring Afghanistan and foreign support are key factors behind a new flare-up of violence in Balochistan province, according to political and security analysts.
Terrorism has reared its head in the mineral-rich province as dozens of security personnel and terrorists have been killed in ambushes, clashes, and bomb blasts across the region in recent months.
Lt-Gen (retd) Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Anadolu Agency that the resurgence of terrorism in the province is not unexpected, given the vastness of the region, loose control of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and involvement of foreign elements.
At least 20 soldiers were martyred in attacks on security check posts and clashes with terrorists in several parts of the province, a key route of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the past week alone, in a clear indication of the return of otherwise dwindling violence.
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The martyrdom of 10 army troops in an attack on a security checkpoint in the Kech area near Iran’s border on Jan 28 was the deadliest incident in months.
The Balochistan Liberation Front, an outlawed terror group, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Another seven army troops and 13 terrorists were killed in two separate security operations in the Panjgur and Naushki districts on February 3.
“There is no support (for terrorism) from the Afghan government but it’s because of the loose border control, of which the terrorists are taking advantage not only in Balochistan but in the northwestern tribal region,” said Masood, who served in the army from 1956 to 1992.
Pakistan has also seen a surge in terror attacks in the tribal region, mainly North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, since the Taliban took control of Kabul last August.
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Balochistan province is a key route of the $64-billion CPEC project, which aims to connect China’s strategically important northwestern Xinxiang province to Gwadar port through a network of roads, railways, and pipelines for cargo, oil, and gas transportation.
With its 600-kilometre (373-mile) coastline, Gwadar is an important deep seaport currently operated by China, which aims to attain direct access to the Indian Ocean via the seaport.
The corridor will not only provide China cheaper access to Africa and the Middle East but will also bring billions of dollars to Pakistan in the form of transit fees from the world’s second-largest economy.
But the terrorists, who are said to be involved in kidnapping and murdering Chinese workers in the recent past, oppose the project, accusing Beijing of “stealing” resources.
The vastness of the province, which makes up 42% of Pakistan, according to Masood, is another advantage terror groups have been taking to regroup after short and long intervals.
“Balochistan is a vast province, and hard to fully control. Therefore, it is not very difficult for them (terrorists) to regroup,” he said.
Supporting the view, Ikram Sehgal, a Karachi-based defence analyst, observed that a no man’s land between Pakistan and Iran has long been serving as a “safe haven” for terrorists.
“The security forces should not have been complacent after subsiding the insurgency in recent years. They have reared their head also because of lack of preparedness from the security forces,” Sehgal, who edits the reputed Defence Journal of Pakistan, told Anadolu Agency.
He called for doubling the number of troops within Balochistan and at borders with Iran and Afghanistan to check the “cross-border movement of terrorists.”
Unification of terrorists and Indian hand
Anwar Sajidi, a Quetta-based political analyst, sees the “unification” of terrorist groups as a key reason behind the fresh wave of violence across the province.
Sehgal and Masood also said that the Indian hand is also behind the rise in terror attacks, whereas Sajidi, too, does not rule out the possibility.
Islamabad has accused New Delhi of patronising terrorism in Balochistan, a charge India denies.
Masood said that New Delhi is “opening new fronts in Balochistan with the help of dissident elements along the borders to settle the score on IIOJK.”
Sehgal contended that India has “reactivated its network” in Balochistan, which is responsible for the latest wave of violence in the region.
Sajidi said the possibility of the involvement of a foreign hand in the latest string of attacks in Balochistan is “there.”
In 2016, Pakistan arrested Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav — a serving officer in the Indian Navy — in Mashkel in Balochistan, a few miles from the border with Iran.
Disguised as Mubarak Hussein Patel, a Muslim, he was accused of running a spy network for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s premier intelligence agency, from the Iranian port of Chabahar.
Video confessions of his activities were released.
A military court sentenced Jadhav to death in April 2017 on espionage and terrorism charges. His appeal is pending in the Islamabad High Court.
“These waves of terrorism will keep on coming and going unless the actual cause of terrorism, which is a sense of alienation is rooted out,” said Masood. “Baloch (people) think they are deprived and out of the power structure. They need to be brought into the power structure.”
“If it happens, the waves of violence will automatically die down.”