Baloch Rebels Claim Responsibility For Attack Near China-Funded Gwadar Port; Pak Army Says 10 Soldiers Killed

At least 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed when separatist insurgents stormed a security checkpoint in the restive Balochistan province’s Kech district, the Pakistan Army said.

The Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), which claimed responsibility for the attack, said in a statement sent to a Reuters reporter that 17 soldiers and one of its members were killed.

Additionally, a roadside bomb also exploded in the province of Balochistan where at least 4 people were killed and 10 were injured. The explosion took place when the victims were passing in a vehicle in the Mat area of Dera Bugti district.

Senator Sarfraz Bugti confirmed that deadly attack and said one of his cousins was also killed in the blast. He also said the Baloch Republican Army (BLA) was behind the blast.

10 Soldiers Killed

Meanwhile, Kech is located north of the Gwadar port, which has been developed by China as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

The insurgents launched the attack on the night of January 25-26, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing. Ten soldiers were killed in a fierce exchange of fire, as per the statement, which also stated that one militant was killed and many others were injured in the incident.

In the follow-up operation, three insurgents were apprehended. “Armed forces are determined to eliminate terrorists from our soil no matter what the cost,” the statement added. However, no group or individual claimed responsibility for the attack.

File:Drujba pakistan 550 2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
File Image: Pakistani Army – Wikimedia Commons

Condemning the attack, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “Every drop of the blood of the soldiers guarantees the security of the country…The cowardly enemy faces a strong nation that has already defeated terrorism.” 

In a separate statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), paid homage to the killed soldiers, stating that their sacrifices will not go in vain. “The martyred soldiers who sacrificed their lives for peace in Balochistan are the heroes of the nation,” he said. 

Insurgency In Balochistan

Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, witnesses a protracted insurgency. Ethnic Baloch rebels have long accused Pakistan’s federal government of unfair exploitation of the rich gas and mineral resources of the province.

In the past, Baloch militant groups have launched attacks, targeting CPEC projects and killing Chinese workers. While the Pakistani government claims that the insurgency has been eradicated, the region continues to witness insurgency-related violence.

Baloch militant groups carried out roughly 74 attacks in Pakistan in 2021, according to a report released by the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). It says that the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) were mainly responsible for these attacks.

The latest attack occurred only days after another separatist organization, Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA), claimed responsibility for a blast in Lahore that killed three people. BNA is said to have emerged recently as a result of the merger of two militant groups, the Baloch Republican Army and the United Baloch Army.

Major Attacks In Balochistan

In April 2021, a deadly car bombing ripped through the parking area of Serena Hotel in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong who was staying at the luxury hotel was not present there when the bomb went off.

Five people were killed and 12 others injured in the suicide attack, for which the militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility. The incident was seen as a major embarrassment for Pakistan, which claims it is doing everything it can to protect the Chinese citizens and its projects.

In August 2021, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a vehicle carrying Chinese nationals, killing at least two children and leaving three others, including a Chinese, wounded. The attack occurred in the Gwadar port city.

This incident caused a huge uproar in both China and Pakistan because it occurred just a few months after a deadly attack on a bus, killing nine Chinese workers engaged in a dam project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. 

Pakistan initially blamed a mechanical failure of the bus but later said traces of explosives had been discovered and that terrorism could not be ruled out. Premier Li Keqiang of China called it a “terrorist attack” and asked his Pakistani counterpart to prosecute the perpetrators.  

In 2018, a suicide assault in Pakistan targeted the convoy of a political candidate, killing at least 149 people and injuring 186 others. This was considered one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistani history. 

Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, a candidate for an assembly seat in Balochistan’s southern province, was also killed in the blast, along with dozens of others. This attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS). 

In April 2019, dozens of gunmen disguised as Pakistani security officials killed at least 14 people after forcing them off buses traveling between Karachi and the coastal town of Gwadar. 

The gunmen reportedly identified non-Baloch passengers by their identity cards and shot them. All the victims were Pakistani, with a naval official and a coast guard member among the dead.

A month later, three gunmen raided a five-star hotel Pearl Continental in Pakistan’s coastal city of Gwadar in May 2019, killing four hotel employees and a Navy soldier. The attackers were confronted by a security guard in the hotel’s main hall, and they rushed up the stairway, where they opened fire indiscriminately.

Pakistan’s five star-hotel Gwadar Pearl Continental – via Twitter

The fighters were thereafter cornered on the fourth floor of the hotel by Pakistani military forces. The forces then attacked the militants in a firefight, killing all three. A navy soldier was also killed, with two army captains and two Pakistani navy soldiers injured.

In 2020, militants targeted a convoy of oil and gas workers escorted by paramilitary forces, killing 14 persons, including seven soldiers in Balochistan.