New leaders are using both overt and covert tactics to oppose the Pak. state
The June 29 attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange that claimed at least eight lives brought back attention on the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) as well as the complexity of the Baloch militancy.
In an email to the media, a group called the Majeed Brigade, claiming to represent the BLA, said the attack was carried out by Tasleem Baloch, Shehzad Baloch, Salman Hammal and Siraj Kungur.
The claim immediately triggered a protest from the BLA. Spokesperson Azad Baloch claimed that the four were already expelled from the BLA. His statement indicated that the attack was part of Iranian effort to malign the group because it had not compromised with Iran. The BLA considers both Pakistan and Iran as occupying powers of Baloch territories stretching from Pakistan's Balochistan province to southeastern Iran. Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has blamed India for the attack.
The Baloch militancy is broadly divided into three phases. The first phase unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the creation of Pakistan and the second phase during the era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto following the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
Gen. Zia ul Haq made peace with the Baloch militants as he focused on the Mujahideen-driven movement against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. With this compromise, the Marris, the Bugtis, the Bizenjos and the Mengal clans had nearly two decades of peace which was interrupted by the launching of a military campaign against the rebels by Pervez Musharraf.
The BLA, which drew from an earlier version, was reborn in 2000 when it claimed a few attacks on Pakistan targets. The group, however, maintains an indirect overground presence in Baloch leader Hyrbyair Marri, who remains in exile in London. From London, he runs the Free Balochistan Movement. Mr Marri has in the past denied his links with the BLA. The leader hit the headlines in 2016 when he sent a representative to Delhi to read out a message in support of Baloch freedom at an event.
The identity of the military commander of the BLA remains a mystery as the organisation refuses to confirm who really conducts the operations locally. Azad Baloch, the spokesperson, speaks to the media whenever the outfit feels like communicating. In recent past, on two occasions, the BLA expelled important figures for “violating” its rules. Aslam Baloch, a key military commander of the organisation, had travelled to India in 2018 and underwent treatment for kidney ailments. He spoke to the media during his stay at Delhi's Lajpat Nagar with an assumed identity of ‘Qazi’.
What made his presence in India problematic was that the BLA is considered a terror outfit in Pakistan. He was later expelled. In another case Jiyand Baloch, who became a spokesperson of BLA, was expelled after he claimed responsibility of the November 9 2019 attack in Bolan that targeted a road construction company.
It is difficult to say with certainty if the BLA uses expulsions to achieve its strategic goals, but at least in the case of Aslam Baloch, the expulsion was real. The commander was subsequently killed on December 24, 2018 when a suicide bomber targeted a vehicle carrying Baloch activists in Kandahar. The major difference between the BLA and the previous phases of the Baloch militancy lies in the fact that the current generation of fighters are mostly educated youngsters who have made a conscious decision to take on the Pakistan military which they see as an exploitative arm that is partnering with foreign countries to cart away Balochistan’s natural resources.
Balochistan’s militancy had for long been based on the demand for just compensation for Pakistan’s use of gas reserves in the province. The current generation make the same demand, maintaining that Pakistan has partnered with China for using the province without giving due share to the province itself.
In adopting this line and method of armed militancy, the BLA has made a clean break from the Sardar-driven militancy of the 20th century Balochistan when the Mengals and the Bugtis called the shots. Today the scions of these families, including Mr. Marri, are active in overground activities, while a new generation of rebellious commanders are driving the BLA militancy