KARACHI, Pakistan 

Regrouping of separatist groups, the volatile situation in neighboring Afghanistan and foreign support are key factors behind a new flare-up of violence in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, according to local political and security analysts.

Terrorism has reared its head in the mineral-rich province as dozens of security personnel and suspected militants have been killed in ambushes, clashes, and bomb blasts across the region in recent months.

Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Anadolu Agency that the resurgence of terrorism in the province is not unexpected, given the vastness of the region, loose control of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and involvement of foreign elements.

At least 20 soldiers were killed in attacks on security check posts and clashes with suspected militants in several parts of the province, a key route of the multibillion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the past week alone, in a clear indication of the return of otherwise dwindling violence.

The killing of 10 army troops in an attack on a security checkpoint in the Kech area near Iran’s border on Jan. 28 was the deadliest incident in months.

The Balochistan Liberation Front, an outlawed militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Another seven army troops and 13 suspected militants were killed in two separate security operations in the Panjgur and Noshki districts on Feb. 3.

“There is no support (for terrorism) from the Afghan government but it’s because of the loose border control, of which the militants are taking advantage not only in Balochistan but in the northwestern tribal region,” said Masood, who served in Pakistan’s army from 1956 to 1992.

Pakistan has also seen a surge in terror attacks in the tribal region, mainly North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, since the Taliban took control of Kabul last August.

Mineral-rich Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but poorest province. Security forces have long been facing a low-intensity rebellion by Baloch separatists, who claim the province had been “forcibly” incorporated into Pakistan, following the end of British colonial rule in United India in 1947.

The province is also a key route of the $64-billion CPEC project, which aims to connect China’s strategically important northwestern Xinxiang province to Balochistan’s Gawadar port through a network of roads, railways, and pipelines for cargo, oil, and gas transportation.

With its 600-kilometer (373-mile) coastline, Gwadar is an important deep seaport currently operated by China, which aims to attain direct access to the Indian Ocean via the seaport.

The economic corridor will not only provide China cheaper access to Africa and the Middle East but will also bring billions of dollars to Pakistan in the form of transit fees from the world’s second-largest economy.

But the separatists, who are said to be involved in kidnapping and murdering Chinese workers in the recent past, oppose the project, accusing Beijing of “stealing” resources.

Complacence

The vastness of the province, which makes up 42% of Pakistan, according to Masood, is another advantage terror groups have been taking to regroup after short and long intervals.

“Balochistan is a vast province, and hard to fully control. Therefore, it is not very difficult for them (militants) to regroup,” he said.

Supporting the view, Ikram Sehgal, a Karachi-based defense analyst, observed that a no man’s land between Pakistan and Iran has long been serving as a “safe haven” for militants.

“The security forces should not have been complacent after subsiding the insurgency in recent years. They have reared their head also because of lack of preparedness from the security forces,” Sehgal, who edits the reputed Defense Journal of Pakistan, told Anadolu Agency.

He called for doubling the number of troops within Balochistan and at borders with Iran and Afghanistan to check the “cross-border movement of terrorists.”

Unification of militants and suspected ‘Indian hand’

Anwar Sajidi, a Quetta-based political analyst, sees the “unification” of several Baloch separatist groups as a key reason behind the fresh wave of violence across the province.

He said different separatist outfits have recently formed the “Baloch National Alliance” (BNA), an umbrella group, which has improved “coordination” and “access” in terms of attacks.

Sehgal and Masood also claim the “Indian hand” behind the rise in terror attacks, whereas Sajidi, too, does not rule out the possibility.

Islamabad has accused New Delhi of patronizing terrorism in Balochistan, a charge India denies.

Masood said New Delhi is “opening new fronts in Balochistan with the help of dissident elements along the borders to settle the score on Kashmir.”

Sehgal contended that India has “reactivated its network” in Balochistan, which is responsible for the latest wave of violence in the region.

Sajidi said the possibility of the involvement of a foreign hand in the latest string of attacks in Balochistan is “there.”

In 2016, Pakistan arrested “Indian spy” Kulbhushan Jadhav — who Islamabad said was a serving officer in the Indian Navy — in Mashkel in Balochistan, a few miles from the border with Iran.

Allegedly disguised as Mubarak Hussein Patel, a Muslim, he was accused of running a spy network for the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s premier intelligence agency, from the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Video confessions of his activities were released, which India claimed to have been recorded under duress.

A Pakistan military court sentenced Jadhav to death in April 2017 on espionage and terrorism charges. His appeal is pending in the Islamabad High Court.

“These waves of terrorism will keep on coming and going unless the actual cause of terrorism, which is a sense of alienation (in Balochistan) is rooted out,” said Masood. “Baloch (people) think they are deprived and out of the power structure. They need to be brought into the power structure.”

“If it happens, the waves of violence will automatically die down.”

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