Security situation deteriorates in Pakistan's volatile Balochistan province

On Sunday, January 3, Unidentified gunmen stormed a coal mine near the town of Mach, about 50km east of Quetta, pulling out ethnic Hazaras – who are members of the country’s minority Shia community and have distinctive facial features – from their residential quarters.

They then marched them to the nearby mountains where they opened fire on them, killing ten people, according to local security officials.

The Deash group (ISIS or ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on the group’s Amaq news service. A picture accompanying the claim showed two armed men standing over three bodies lying face down on the ground, with an ISIL flag hanging in the background.

On Monday protesters gathered on a highway in the western part of the provincial capital of Quetta to protest against the killing of the miners a day earlier, the coffins of their relatives laid out on the ground before them.

This is the latest episode of terrorist activity in Balochistan, an important region for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with ambitious project to connect China’s Xinjiang province with the deep-sea Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

Militant Raid Kills 7 Pakistani Soldiers in Baluchistan

Tellingly, on December 27 a militant raid in southwestern Baluchistan province had killed at least seven soldiers.The pre-dawn attack in the Harnai district targeted a paramilitary Frontier Corps checkpoint. The casualties occurred during the ensuing “intense” exchange of fire with the “terrorists,” said a military statement. The attack followed the killing of 10 terrorists by the security forces five days ago in the province.

Not surprisingly, Balochistan Liberation Front spokesperson Major Guhram Baloch while taking to media from an unknown location said that yesterday morning at 11:00 o’clock the armed men Baloch (Sarmachars) ambushed on convoy of Pakistan Army at Goragani Kaor on CPEC route between Hoshab and Tijaban. A vehicle got damaged under hard this attack two occupying Army personnel were killed and another one injured. Guhram Baloch said that such kind of attack will be continue till the independence of free Balochistan. The BLA claim was posted on facebook.

On December 22, Pakistan’s Security forces gunned down 10 militants during an intense exchange of fire in Balochistan's Awaran district, the Inter-Services Public Relations said adding: An intelligence-based operation was conducted in Awaran's Gwargo which led them to the terrorists who were also involved in the firing incident that had resulted in Lance Naik's killing on December 20.

Convoy attack kills 14 in Balochistan

On October 15, unidentified gunmen killed at least 14 people in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan after ambushing a convoy of vehicles travelling on a major highway towards the country’s largest city, Karachi. The vehicles were travelling to Karachi from the port town of Gwadar when they were ambushed near the small town of Ormara, about 250km west of their destination. The convoy of vehicles was carrying employees of the state-owned Oil and Gas Development Corporation Limited (OGDCL). The dead included security forces personnel who were accompanying the convoy, according to officials.

In a statement, the separatist Baloch Raaji Aajoi-e-Sangar (BRAS) claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming it had “completely destroyed” the OGDCL convoy. Baloch Khan, a spokesperson for BRAS, claimed the convoy was targeted because OGDCL was “exploiting Baloch resources.”Claiming to fight “for the freedom of Balochistan,” the BRAS spokesman warned OGDCL that any projects to drill for new oil and gas supplies in the province “would be dealt with iron fists.” He added: “We also want to inform China that Baloch nation completely rejects all Chinese agreements with the Pakistani occupying forces and they stand null and void.”

These terrorist attacks had raised questions about the security of the port and the safety of the Chinese workforce engaged in CPEC-related projects.

Gwadar port sealed off to protect Chinese interests

Amid growing security concerns in Balochistan, authorities plan to fence off the entire 24-square-kilometer area surrounding the Gwadar seaport to secure what they call the “crown jewel” of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), F. M. Shakil of Asia Times has reported.

Work on erecting barbed-wire fencing around Gwadar’s sensitive parts, which is planned to be complete in phases, has already started. Authorities plan to have 15,000 acres of land secured with iron barriers in the first phase of the project.

Government sources were quoted by Asia Times as saying that the “Gwadar safe city” would be equipped with more than 500 high-definition surveillance cameras to keep a close watch on “suspicious activities” or unauthorized or forceful intrusions into the city.

Analysts claim Beijing has grown apprehensive about the rising number of attacks on Chinese installations in Balochistan as Pakistan’s army failed to serve as a bulwark against the outsized shadow of Baloch militants.

They say Beijing proposed boxing in strategic sites of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to protect their investments.

The activities of Baloch separatists against the Pakistan army and Chinese personnel working on CPEC projects in the province has seen a phenomenal surge during 2020.

Attacks on Chinese interests in the volatile Balochistan province intensified with several Baloch separatist groups showing a greater unity by entering into a ‘trans-province’ alliance with like-minded armed groups in Sindh province.

Following the forming of the alliance – three Baloch militant groups under the Baloch Raaji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), or the Baloch People’s Liberation Coalition – they officially announced stepped up attacks on the army and Chinese nationals.

The Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and Baloch Liberation Army then regrouped and joined forces to carry out coordinated operations against the Chinese and Pakistani authorities.

The Gwadar seaport in Balochistan, which Pakistan leased out to China’s Overseas Port Holding Company for 40 years, is strategically important for Beijing for its energy needs and maritime influence in the Indian Ocean.

For China, Gwadar could become a tactical port that could serve as Beijing’s overseas naval base much sooner than expected according to analysts.

Gwadar will reduce Beijing’s dependence on the cost-intensive and time-consuming South China Sea routes for its energy needs.

On November 13, 2016, CPEC became partly operational when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar Port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia.

—Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)