By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Unidentified militants opened indiscriminate fire on labourers working in an agriculture field in the Manjho Shori area of Naseerabad District in Balochistan on May 15, 2019, killing three of them and injuring one. The deceased had come from Tando Adam area of the Nawab Shah District in Sindh, and were daily-wage labourers. The attackers managed to escape. Though no group has so far claimed responsibility for the killing, Baloch insurgent groups have a history of killing non-Baloch labourers.
In the intervening night of April 17 and 18, 2019, unidentified assailants shot dead at least 14 passengers after forcibly offloading them from a bus plying on the Makran Coastal Highway in the Ormara area of Gwadar District. Reports indicate that around 15 to 20 armed assailants wearing Security Forces’ (SF) uniforms stopped five or six buses travelling between Karachi (Sindh) and Gwadar (Balochistan), checked the identity cards of passengers, and offloaded 16 of the passengers from just one bus. Two of the offloaded passengers managed to escape despite sustaining injuries. Balochistan Inspector General of Police Mohsin Hassan Butt described the incident as a “targeted killing”. Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS, Baloch National Freedom Front) claimed responsibility for the killing.
On March 24, 2019, Police recovered three bullet-riddled bodies in the Zadin area under Rakhni tehsil (revenue unit) in Barkhan District. All the three deceased were residents of the Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). No group claimed responsibility for the killings.
According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 229 ‘outsiders’ have been killed in Balochistan since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, leader of the Bugti tribe and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), on August 26, 2006, (data till May 19, 2019). Bugti was killed in a military operation in the Chalgri area of the Bhamboor Hills in Dera Bugti District.
Baloch insurgents have essentially targeted people from other provinces. However, out of the 229 ‘outsiders’ killed, at least 178 were Punjabis alone. Eight Punjabis were killed in 2018; 23 in 2017. There were no such fatalities among Punjabis in 2016. The number of Punjabi fatalities in the Province stood at 22 in 2015; 17 in 2014; 29 in 2013; 26 in 2012; 13 in 2011; 21 in 2010; 18 in 2009; and one in 2008. No such fatalities were recorded in 2007 and 2006. While Punjabis have been the main targets, other non-native persons also fell to the ethnic collateral damage. Out of 51 non-Punjabi ‘outsiders’, 33 were Sindhis, while the ethnic identity of the remaining 18 is unascertained.
A series of attacks on ‘outsiders’ in Balochistan, as well as the destruction of national infrastructure followed the killing of Akbar Bugti. These killings have been orchestrated by Baloch insurgent groups such as the BLA, Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), among others, who began to voice anti-Punjabi sentiments in their campaigns in the wake of the military action against Bugti. A media report published on June 28, 2011, noted, “Almost all non-Baloch are on their hit-list.” Muhammad Khalid of Balochistan-Punjabi Ittehad stated, “The militants began to target the Punjabi settlers after Nawab Bugti was taken out by the military (in August, 2006). Before that there were occasional incidents in which Punjabis were targeted.”
Significantly, most of the Punjabi settler killings were recorded in South Balochistan, which accounts for 156 killings out of the total of 178, (principally in Bolan, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Sibi and Lasbela Districts); and 27 in North Balochistan (mostly in Nushki, Quetta and Mustang Districts). The overwhelming concentration of such killings in the South is because of the presence and dominance of Baloch insurgent groups in this region, while the North is dominated by Islamist extremist formations such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who engage principally in sectarian killings.
Forced disappearances engineered by Pakistani SFs are another reason behind the targeted killings of non-Baloch persons in the region. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, of the 4,317 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 (data till May 19, 2019), at least 1,378 have been attributable to one or other terrorist/insurgent outfit. Of these, 435 civilian killings (263 in the South and 172 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), TTP and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 943 civilian killings, 860 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 83 in the South. The remaining 2,939 civilian fatalities – 1,708 in the South and 1,231 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’. It is widely believed that Security Agencies are busy with “kill and dump” operations, particularly in the Southern region, against local Baloch dissidents, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognized.
Irked, by such killings the Baloch insurgent groups target non-Baloch people or even some Baloch whom they suspect to be spying for the SFs. At least two labourers (ethnicity not known) were killed when unidentified militants opened fire on a coal mine in the Khosat area of Harnai District on May 9, 2019. After the incident, Frontier Corps (FC) personnel rushed to the spot and a vehicle carrying the FC personnel hit a landmine, resulting in three FC fatalities. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack in an emailed statement from Jeehand Baloch, a BLA spokesperson: “We want to make it clear to the local spies and death squad groups of Pakistan Army that they will not be forgiven for their crimes.”
‘Outsiders’ are also targeted as the Baloch groups believe that they are helping Islamabad push forward its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The Project according to Baloch nationalists, brings no benefit to the Baloch, but constitutes just another tool for their exploitation. Not surprisingly, since its inception in Pakistan on April 20, 2015, CPEC has been under attack from Baloch insurgents. According to official figures 44 people had died and over 100 wounded in “attacks targeting CPEC projects mainly road construction in Balochistan, which began in 2014” till September 8, 2016. Since September 9, 2016, according to partial data compiled by SATP, at least another 31 persons have been killed in attacks targeting CPEC-related projects across the Province (data till May 19, 2019), including the most recent attack on May 11, 2019, in which four terrorists stormed the luxury Zaver Pearl-Continental Hotel, in Gwadar in Balochistan. The Hotel had around 70 guests at the time, 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.
Amidst all this, overall fatalities in the province are on the rise. Between January 1 and May 19, 2019, a total of 127 fatalities (58 civilians, 39 SF personnel, and 30 terrorists) have been recorded. During the corresponding period of 2018, the number of fatalities stood at 108 (39 civilians, 39 SF personnel, and 30 terrorists). Through 2018, there were a total of 381 fatalities (239 civilians, 79 SF personnel, and 63 terrorists). There were 343 total fatalities in 2017. Fatalities had registered declining trends between 2014 and 2017.
Baloch insurgents have been fighting continuously against Islamabad’s coercion for more than a decade – and, indeed, intermittently for over seven decades – demanding independence for the ethnic Baloch areas of the country. They argue that the Province has been neglected by the Pakistani state and exploited for its mineral resources, and that the ‘outsiders’ that are being targeted by the insurgents are agents of Islamabad. Islamabad has done little to alleviate conditions in Balochistan, or to address the grievances of its people.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management