A surge in religious-nationalist militancy is turning Pakistan’s province of Balochistan into a new hot-bed of armed conflict, with waves of new violence aimed to hit the government’s plan to bring a “wave of development” through the China-backed Gwadar Port project and a possible US military return to the region.
Balochistan, which served as a political base for Afghan Taliban leaders under Pakistan’s watch for several years after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is now in the throes of surging Taliban-linked militancy, a clear signal that America’s troop withdrawal is fomenting new instability in the region.
The violence is rising just when the chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) authority, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa, claimed in recent days that Gwadar Port and its associated Gwadar Free Zone would generate economic activities of around US$10 billion per year. He said the port would play a key role in lifting the impoverished province’s economic fortunes.
This upbeat line is diametrically opposed to the rising terrorist attacks launched from both Islamist and Baloch nationalist groups, which seek to implement Sharia law and establish an independent, breakaway “Greater Balochistan”, respectively.
On April 21, the Pakistan Taliban, likely encouraged by the Afghan Taliban’s probable victory in Afghanistan, staged a deadly suicide bombing in the parking area of the high-security Serena Hotel in Quetta.
That followed a mid-April IED attack that wounded 14 people at a football match in Balochistan’s industrial town of Hub. On May 24, at least five people were injured in a roadside bomb attack in Quetta.
That came within three days of an attack on a Palestine solidarity rally in the Balochistan provincial town of Chaman bordering Afghanistan that killed 7 and injured 14 others.
On May 5, a terrorist attack from across Afghanistan killed at least 4 paramilitary troops and injured 6 others. On June 1, at least 8 people were killed and 15 wounded in two separate attacks in Balochistan on security forces.
That attack took place in Turbat, which is situated less than 160 kilometers from Gwadar. It was claimed by the armed Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which is now allied with the Baloch National Freedom Movement, an alliance that includes the BLA, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and Balochistan Republican Army (BRA).
The rising Taliban and Baloch militant group attacks are separate from ongoing targeted sectarian killings of Balochistan’s minority Hazara community. Punjab-based militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ), inspired by their sectarian ideology to “purify” Pakistan of “unbelievers” and “infidels”, continue to attack the beleaguered community. In one of its latest attacks, the group brutally killed 11 coal miners in January 2021.