On July 16, 2023, Security Forces (SFS) foiled an attack on the Zhob Cantonment in Zhob Town (Zhob District) of Balochistan. When a group of terrorists attempted to enter the garrison late in the night, SFs who were on alert retaliated, forcing the terrorists to retreat. Though a heavy exchange of fire and explosions continued till early morning of July 17, no casualty was reported on either side.
Four days earlier, on July 12, 2023, the same garrison had come under terrorist attack, in which nine Army soldiers, five terrorists and one civilian were killed. Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP), a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) affiliated group, claimed responsibility for the attack.
On July 12, 2023, three Army soldiers and two terrorists were killed during an exchange of fire in Sui Sub-District of Dera Bugti District. The Baloch Liberation Tigers (BLT) claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, BLT ‘spokesman’ Miran Baloch declared operation was retaliation against the Pakistani Army’s military operation launched against the local population in the Rais Tokh and Gurdo Navah areas of Sui. The spokesman said BLT cadres reached the area to defend the common people.
On July 11, 2023, three SF personnel were killed when terrorists attacked a SF patrolling team with a bomb in the Gardank area of Buleda tehsil (revenue unit) of Kech District. Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) cadres claimed responsibility for the attack.
On July 2, 2023, three Police personnel and a Frontier Constabulary (FC) trooper were killed while a terrorist was gunned down after Police and Levies Check Posts came under attack in the Dhana Sar area of Sherani District. Two terrorists and one FC trooper also sustained injuries in the exchange of fire.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Balochistan has recorded a total 225 terrorism-related fatalities, including 130 SF personnel, 51 civilians and 44 terrorists, in the current year, so far (data till July 23, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, the province had recorded exactly the same 225 fatalities, including 115 SF personnel, 71 terrorists and 39 civilians. Though the overall numbers remained the same during this comparative period, in a worrying development, fatalities in the civilian and SF categories increased by 30 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.
A statistical report released by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) on July 3, 2023, also underlines the surge in violence in the province. According to the PICSS report, Balochistan comes second in terms of terrorism-related violence after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the first half of 2023. Balochistan reported 75 terrorist incidents in the first half of 2023, resulting in 100 deaths and 163 injuries. There was a 103 per cent increase in terrorist attacks, compared to the same period in the previous year, and a 14 per cent rise compared to the last six months of 2022. Fatalities in Balochistan rose by 61 per cent and 64 per cent in the first six months of the current year compared to the first and second half of 2022, respectively.
The escalating attacks on SFs in Balochistan are substantially a consequence of the continuing frustration among Baloch nationalist groups over the systematic extermination of ethnic Baloch through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by Pakistani security agencies. Reprisal attacks by the major Baloch insurgent groups such as the Baloch National Army (BNA), BLA, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), BLT and United Baloch Army (UBA), resulted in the escalating casualties among SF personnel in 2022 and 2023.
In a detailed analysis by The Balochistan Post reported on July 10, 2023, regarding the responsibility claimed by Baloch insurgent groups during the first half of 2023, a total of 285 incidents were reported. The BLF led the way with a staggering 146 attacks at the cost of 29 fighters. These attacks resulted in the loss of 137+ lives among SF personnel from various departments. Additionally, over 57+ personnel injured and damage to property were inflicted by the BLF. The BLF operated in a total of 50 areas across 10 districts, with a focus on Kech, Panjgur, and Awaran Districts. The BLF was the only organization to claim responsibility for attacks in Gwadar District, a key center for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The BLA claimed 118 attacks during the first half of the year. These attacks resulted in the loss of 98+ SF lives, with 116+ personnel sustaining injuries. Property losses were reported in 80+ attacks. The BLA operated in 54 areas spanning 17 Districts. Their tactics ranged from self-sacrificing attacks to traffic blockades. In June alone, the BLA disrupted coal mine extraction operations twice by blocking the main transport route and setting multiple trucks on fire. The BLA was also responsible for multiple raids in the Bolan and Quetta regions. The organization faced the loss of four fighters during this period, including a female member of the Majeed Brigade who carried out a suicide attack.
The remaining Baloch groups – BLA, UBA, and Baloch Republican Guards (BRG) – claimed a total of 21 separate attacks. These incidents resulted in 19+ fatalities, 9+ injuries and 6+ property losses. The groups operated in 10 areas across eight Districts. Most of their attacks were of low intensity. Notably, no fighters were lost from these organizations. Collectively, these groups accounted for approximately eight per cent of the total attacks during the first half of 2023.
Apart from Baloch insurgent groups, the TTP and its allied groups were also active in the province. Speculation about a TTP-Baloch alliance appeared to receive some confirmation when TTP ‘spokesperson’ Mohammad Khurasani congratulated the Baloch insurgent groups for their attacks in Nuskhi and Panjgur, stating,
The Pakistani Army is carrying out the massacre in Balochistan. We are against the massacre of Balochistan as well as in Waziristan by the Pakistani Army. Our enemy is common.
Indeed, after the February 2, 2023, BLA twin attacks on Panjgur and Nuskhi Army camps, the then Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, citing intelligence reports, told the media on February 3, 2023,
Baloch militants are not capable of launching major attacks in Nuskhi and Panjgur. TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) has the capability, experience and latest NATO weapons to launch such attacks. There’s some understanding between the TTP and Baloch militants. They have their hideouts in Afghanistan.
The growing nexus between the Baloch insurgents and the TTP is also visible in the absorption of two Baloch groups into the TTP fold. On April 12, 2023, the TTP claimed that a group from Quetta District, led by Asim Baloch, and another from Kalat District, led Akram Baloch, had joined its ranks. Though the development is worrisome for the security agencies and the government, it is not new. Indeed, a local Baloch jihadist group, led by Mazar Baloch from Makran, Balochistan, had joined the TTP on December 23, 2022, as well. Ustad Aslam Baloch’s group from Nushki District was the first Baloch group from Balochistan to join the TTP in June 2022.
In view of recent TTP – Baloch alliances, Faran Jeffrey, a London-based security analyst, noted that relations with the TTP had also helped Baloch militant groups “drastically upgrade their capabilities” with the addition of suicide squad operations and suicide bombings. He further observed,
After the Taliban takeover of Kabul, these ties have only grown stronger and TTP might even have provided some logistical help to some of these Baloch militant groups in recent times. This would also explain how some of these Baloch militant groups are getting their hands on NATO weapons and equipment.
Inputs indicate that TTP has provided bases to the Baloch rebels in the Barmal District of Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktika, which is adjacent to Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region, the TTP’s stronghold. The growing tactical alliance between the TTP and the Baloch groups has coincided with a sharp uptick in attacks against Pakistani SFs in Balochistan in recent months.
This growing collaboration between TTP and Baloch insurgent groups will prove bloodier in the days to come, even as their common enemy, the Pakistani State and Military Establishment escalates operations against them. It will be a challenge for Pakistani state entities to counter the growing threat from terrorists and militants at a time when the state is itself facing severe challenges on the economic and political fronts.