Pakistan: Baloch Rebels Hit Economic Targets

At least 11 persons were killed when four terrorists attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) on Chundrigar Road in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, on June 29, 2020. Those killed included four private security Guards, one Policeman, two bystanders and all the four attackers. The equipment, arms, and ammunition recovered from the attackers indicated that they had come prepared for a long siege. Majeed Brigade, the suicide squad of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), headed by Baloch secessionist Hyrbyair Marri, who is in self-exile in the UK, claimed responsibility for the attack.

On May 11, 2019, the luxury Zaver Pearl-Continental Hotel in the Gwadar area of Balochistan was targeted. At the time of the attack, the Hotel had around 70 guests, including 40 Chinese nationals. Nine persons, including four hotel employees, one Pakistan Navy soldier and all four attackers were killed during the eight-hour long siege. Six persons, including two Army captains, two Pakistan Navy soldiers and two hotel employees, were injured. BLA’s Majeed Brigade claimed this attack as well.

On October 31, 2018, at least five construction workers of non-Baloch ethnicity were shot dead while another three suffered injuries in an attack near Ganz, some 15 kilometers west of Jiwani town in the Gwadar District of Balochistan. According to official sources, the labourers were working at a China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-related private housing scheme on Peshkan-Ganz road, which links Gwadar with Jewani. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Azad Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Baloch groups have claimed at least nine attacks on economic targets in two provinces – Balochistan (eight) and Sindh (one, the June 29, 2020, attack) – of Pakistan, since March 2000, when SATP started compiling data on conflict in Pakistan. These attacks have resulted in 41 deaths – Balochistan (31) and Sindh (10).

Out of the nine attacks claimed, the BLA has claimed six (33 deaths) and the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) has claimed three (eight deaths).

Another 297 attacks on economic targets resulting in 67 deaths have been reported in Balochistan. Though no one has claimed responsibility for these, Baloch groups are suspected because they have repeatedly declared that they want to disrupt Pakistan’s economy as they believe that Balochistan has long been economically exploited.

Indeed, claiming the June 29, 2020, attack, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeehand Baloch asserted that the attack was aimed at targeting Pakistan’s economy which is built on seventy-two years of exploitation of Balochistan and the genocide of Baloch people. Asserting that his organization saw the Pakistan Stock Exchange as a base and symbol of the exploitative machinery of Pakistan, he added,

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. During the KSE attack, there were clear-cut orders for the attackers, do not target civilians, neither use high explosives which could jeopardize the lives of civilians, we instead chose the day when there were almost no civilians in the premises of the main building. Our fidayeen accomplished their mission with the least casualties to the civilian’s lives. Sindhi and Baloch nations share a common history with Sindhi nation (sic). We had the complete support of Sindhi nation in today’s attack and it shows their strong historical bonds and the common purpose of achieving independence of their homelands.

He further warned,

BLA wants to clear it to everyone that we will keep attacking Pakistani forces, all the economic and exploitative interests, and also the powers like China who give helping hands to Pakistani’s exploitative schemes. Majeed Brigade’s Baloch fighters are ready to hit the enemy targets harder. If Pakistan does not end the occupation of Balochistan and China its exploitative schemes, they will be attacked more intensely.

The Baloch groups have also carried out attacks directly targeting Chinese nationals engaged in economic activities, as they believe that China, in connivance with Islamabad, is exploiting the Province. The Chinese consulate has also been attacked. SATP data shows that there have been at least three such attacks resulting in 43 deaths since March 6, 2000. These include:

November 23, 2018: Majeed Brigade conducted an attack targeting the Chinese Consulate in Block 4 of the Clifton area in Karachi, leaving at least seven people dead. No Chinese national was hurt in the attack.

August 11, 2018: Six persons – among them three Chinese engineers – were injured in a suicide attack on a bus in the Dalbandin area of Chagai District. The bus carrying 18 Chinese engineers was being escorted by Frontier Corps (FC) troops to the Dalbandin airport from the Saindaik copper and gold mines, when a suicide bomber tried to drive his explosives-laden vehicle into the bus.

July 19, 2007: A suicide bomber tried to ram his explosive laden vehicle into a van taking Chinese engineers to Karachi from Hub town, at the Gadani Bus Stop in the industrial town of Hub in Balochistan, but missed the target when a Police van blocked its way. At least 30 people, including seven Policemen, were killed and 28 others injured. All seven Chinese engineers, including a woman, remained unhurt.

After the August 11, 2018, attack, Jeehand Baloch, the BLA ‘spokesperson’, had stated, “We targeted this bus which was carrying Chinese engineers. We attacked them because they are extracting gold from our region, we won’t allow it.”

There is a Chinese angle to June 29 Stock Exchange attack as well. According to a December 2016 report in the Dawn, the Pakistan Stock Exchange sold 40 per cent strategic shares to a Chinese consortium comprising three Chinese exchanges — China Financial Futures Exchange Company Limited (lead bidder), Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange — which bought 30 per cent of the strategic stock, and local financial institutions Pak-China Investment Company Limited and Habib Bank Limited, both of which bought five per cent each. The transaction was valued at USD 85 million. “The significant feature of the deal [is that it is the] first such sale of strategic interest in a bourse in the regional markets. Through the deal, the Chinese bourse has also made its first foray in an acquisition outside China,” Dawn observed at the time.

Significantly, after the June 29, 2020, attack the BLA ‘spokesperson’, Jeehand Baloch, reiterated,

Not only Pakistan but China is also involved in every step of exploitation of Balochistan’s resources. We had warned China to cease her expansionist and exploitative ambitions. In order to stop China from advancing, Majeed brigade has already attacked Chinese Engineers in Dalbandin, Chinese consulate in Karachi and an attack of Chinese delegates at PC hotel Gwadar. China holds about 40% equity in the Pakistan stock exchange through the Shanghai stock exchange, Shenzhen stock exchange and China financial future exchange. That is why the attack was not only aimed at Pakistan’s but also an attack on Chinese economic interests and if China continues to take part in Balochistan’s exploitation they will face more attacks.

After the May 19, 2019, attack a BLA video warned Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistan to withdraw their projects immediately from Balochistan:

President Xi Jinping, you still have time to quit Balochistan or you will witness a retaliation from Baloch sons and daughters that you will never forget. China you came here without our consent supported our enemies, helped Pakistani military in wiping (out) our villages. But now it’s our turn.

The insurgencies in Balochistan have 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 only a tiny fraction of current output is supplied within the Province, and large regions of Balochistan remain deprived of natural gas. The sharing of CPEC benefits repeats the same pattern, where the people of Balochistan are denied the benefits of projects that exploit the Province’s own resources. On December 10, 2018, Pakistan’s CPEC Cell, in its briefing to the Balochistan Cabinet, revealed that Balochistan’s share in the USD 62 Billion CPEC project was a miniscule nine per cent, approximately, USD 5.6 Billion. It was also disclosed that, out of this committed sum, less than USD one Billion had been spent since CPEC was launched.

The apprehension that CPEC will not benefit Balochistan has been confirmed by numerous indicators. Indeed, the Senate (Upper House of the National Assembly) was informed on November 24, 2017, that 91 percent of the revenues to be generated from the Gwadar Port as part of CPEC would go to China, while the Gwadar Port Authority would be left with a nine percent share of the income for the 40 years. This was disclosed by the then Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping, Mir Hasil Bizenjo, after senators expressed concern over the secrecy surrounding the CPEC long-term agreement plan, with many observing that the agreement tilted heavily in China’s favour.

Not only the insurgents, but the mainstream political parties are also rightly apprehensive of the exploitation of Balochistan. Indeed, the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), part of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led alliance Federal Government exited the alliance on June 17, 2020. BNP-Mengal chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal observed that they had signed two agreements with the PTI. One was the six-point agreement including recovery of missing persons, implementation of the National Action Plan, observance of a six per cent quota for Balochistan in federal government departments, immediate repatriation of Afghan refugees and construction of dams in the province to resolve the acute water crisis. In the second agreement, they had demanded allocations for various developments projects for Balochistan. None of the demands were fulfilled. Crucially, Baloch activists and leaders have particularly underlined the systematic campaign of extermination of ethnic Baloch people through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, a trend that SAIR has repeatedly highlighted.

The BNP-M chief alleged that the government was more concerned about Kashmir and the peace process in Afghanistan, and had no time to look into Balochistan’s issues. He argued,

You [the government] are constituting committees on Kashmir which is not with us, but you are not worried about losing what you already have. This house can discuss issues of wheat, sugar and tomatoes, but not the blood of the Baloch people. Why a Balochistan peace conference could not be convened similar to the conference held for the Afghanistan peace process?

Given the depth and persistence of exploitation of the region by Islamabad, and the increasing complicity of China, there is an increasing in trust deficit in Balochistan, and it is unlikely that Baloch groups will cease their attacks on economic targets in Pakistan.