Mumbai | Updated: July 1, 2020 9:31:04 am
Posted on Twitter and other social media, a photograph stamped with the letters B L A, showing four armed men in camouflage with a caption naming them and their “self-sacrificing attack” on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi earlier on Monday, is being widely seen as a claim by the Balochistan Liberation Army for the attack.
The BLA is a Baloch secessionist militant group headed by UK-based Hyrbayair Marri. Pakistan has long accused India of backing Baloch separatists and militants — an allegation India has always denied. It also alleges an Afghan hand in the movement.
The men in the photo were identified in the caption as Tasleem Baloch alias Muslim, Shehzad Baloch alias Cobra, Salman Hammal alias Notak, Siraj Kungur alias Yaagi, of the BLA’s so-called Majeed Brigade, named after BLA commander Abdul Majeed Baloch.
Monday’s attack appears to have been foiled at the gates of the PSE, where all four men were shot dead by security forces. A policeman and two security guards are also reported to have died. The four armed attackers threw a grenade as they attempted to enter the complex. According to reports in the Pakistani media, they were carrying backpacks with food supplies and ammunition that seemed to suggest they were prepared for a long drawn out operation.
If indeed this is an attack by the BLA, as the claim appears to suggest, this is their second time in Karachi, Pakistan’s business capital and its largest city where the country’s biggest port is located. It is also the capital of the Sindh province. The previous terrorist attack in Karachi was in November 2018, when the BLA claimed a strike on the Chinese consulate in the city, killing four people – two visa applicants and two policemen. The three attackers were killed by security forces.
There is a Chinese angle to Monday’s attack too. According to a December 2016 report in the Dawn newspaper, the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) sold 40 per cent strategic shares to a Chinese consortium comprising three Chinese exchanges — China Financial Futures Exchange Company Limited (lead bidder), Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange — which bought 30pc of the strategic stock, and local financial institutions Pak-China Investment Company Limited and Habib Bank Limited, both of which bought 5 per cent each. The transaction was valued at $85 million. “The significant feature of the deal [is that it is the] first such sale of strategic interest in a bourse in the regional markets. Through the deal, the Chinese bourse has also made its first foray in an acquisition outside China,” Dawn said at the time.
Other Majeed Brigade/BLA attacks have targeted Pakistani government or Chinese targets in Balochistan province. A suicide bombing claimed by the group targeted pro-government Baloch politician Naseer Mengal at his home in Quetta in December 2011 killing 13 people. In August 2018, a month before the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, a suicide attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbandin caused injuries to three Chinese nationals.
Last year, in a widely-shared video on Twitter and other social media, a purported member of the “Majeed Brigade” is heard warning Chinese President Xi Jinping to “get out of Balochistan”. A man wearing military fatigues and a black cloth over his face is heard saying: “President Xi Jinping, you still have time to get out of Balochistan or you will witness a retaliation from Baloch sons and daughters you will never forget”.
The video came soon after an attack by the “Majeed Brigade” on a five-star hotel in Gwadar, where the Chinese delegations usually stay. Eight people, including four hotel employees, a soldier and the three attackers, were killed.
In another video on YouTube, a former leader of the Majeed Brigade, “General” Aslam Baloch, alleges that the Chinese government is helping Pakistan security forces fight Baloch militants by providing them spying equipment. He also alleged that the Chinese are building military bases along the Balochistan coast.
In a brief on the Majeed Brigade, the Pakistan Institute of Conflict & Security Studies, headed by former High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, says a training video of the group seems to suggest it is based in Afghanistan. It says “targeting Chinese interests is the prime task given to Majeed Brigade by BLA leadership”.
China is developing Gwadar Port in Balochistan as a key link in its Belt and Road Initiative. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor, that begins at Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan ends at Gwadar. It is envisioned as China’s superhighway to the oilfields of the middle-east.
Hyrbyair Marri, who is said to lead the BLA, is the son of Khair Baksh Marri, the late head of the Marri, the largest Baloch tribe, and seen by the Pakistan security establishment as part of an axis of anti-Pakistan tribal chieftains, along with Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Sardar Ataullah Mengal. Marri, who died in 2014, was a Baloch nationalist, and spent years in exile in Afghanistan.
Militant Baloch secessionism is low-intensity guerrilla warfare that has never gained critical mass except for a brief period in the 1970s, primarily because Balochistan is a thinly populated province. Some seccessionists speak of Greater Balochistan, which also includes Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province.
PICSS says in its brief that BLA is funded by Afghanistan and India, as well as by wealthy Baloch businessmen living abroad, and that Hyrbyair Marri “enjoys the patronage of anti-Pakistan forces”.
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