Suicide bombing in Karachi, Baloch insurgency starts a new phase with an unprecedented attack on Chinese assets in Pakistan.
On April 26, a female suicide bomber, belonging to Balochistan Liberation Army’s (BLA) elite ‘Majeed Brigade’, killed four people including three Chinese nationals outside the Confucius Institute, Karachi University. The BLA immediately took the responsibility of the attack and claimed, “the mission was carried out by the first female fidayeen (martyr) of the Brigade.
The BLA has often targeted Chinese nationals in Pakistan. The Majeed Brigade was reportedly behind an armed attack on Karachi-based Chinese consulate in 2018, and a similar strike on the city’s stock exchange in 2020. In its recent statement, BLA said that targeting officials of the Confucius Institute was “to give a clear message to China that its direct or indirect presence in Balochistan will not be tolerated.”
It was BLA’s “first-ever” female suicide mission carried out by a woman named Shari Baloch. Interestingly, Baloch belonged to an educated, middle-class family from Balochistan’s Kech district. Her induction into BLA and a subsequent successful suicide mission can be seen as a major ‘paradigm shift’ in decades old Baloch insurgency. There have been five rebellion movements in Balochistan since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. The current one, which began in 2000, is supposedly the longest. Baloch nationalists are against China’s aggressive economic investments in the province, which started after the announcement of US$ 47 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2013. They accuse Beijing of looting and taking away their minerals and natural resources without providing benefits to the local population. For example, in February 2022, Pakistan extended the lease of the MCC Resources Development Company (MRDL), China to explore and develop the eastern mines under the Saindak Copper-Gold Project for 15 years. China’s plans to ‘colonialise’ Balochistan through CPEC projects and mining activities have exacerbated insecurities among locals, who are feeling “doubly” marginalised, first from Pakistani security agencies, and now deep Chinese ingress.
Provincial government representatives and Baloch political parties have also failed to safeguard interests of local citizens in Balochistan. Failed political experiments such as the emergence of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in 2018, and short-lived alliances between local parties and the federal government have added more problems for the locals in Balochistan. On the other hand, Pakistani security agencies are unabatedly using known methods such as forced disappearances, military operations, and targeted killings of innocent civilians and alleged supporters of Baloch rebel groups, etc. to repress the local population.
Under these circumstances, Baloch nationals are left with possibly two choices: first, join the local insurgent movement and fight against the state-inflicted armed atrocities; second, suffer in silence and wait for justice. Shari Baloch’s suicide operation suggests that there is growing impatience among the younger, non-tribal Baloch population, who face daily humiliation and violence at the hands of the Pakistani security forces and may pick up guns over facing state atrocities silently.
After the announcement of CPEC in 2013, especially the redevelopment project of the Gwadar Port, there was some hope that the proposed Chinese investment would lead to the economic upliftment of Balochistan. Unsurprisingly, increased Chinese presence only led to further marginalisation of the local communities and exploitation of their resources. For example, the fishing community living along the Makran coast in Balochistan is facing an ‘existential’ crisis after Pakistan’s federal government granted Chinese trawlers fishing rights in Gwadar by issuing them licensing rights. Despite several street protests and official complaints to the local administration, Chinese trawlers are continuing to exploit marine resources along the Gwadar Port, generating more resentment against the presence of “outsiders”. Additionally, the local population has complained about lack of clean drinking water because Chinese workers, engineers and those working on CPEC projects are consuming most of it.
According to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report on the state of human rights in 2021, 1108 cases of enforced disappearances were recorded in Balochistan. It is noteworthy that these are ‘official’ figures, and the real numbers could be far worse. Moreover, there are thousands other pending cases of disappearances in Balochistan since the legal justice system in Pakistan has also failed to provide any recourse to the victims’ families. It is an ‘open secret’ in Pakistan that security agencies pick up Baloch people on reasons ranging from alleged links to insurgent activities to personal grudges. Consequently, several Baloch insurgent groups are using violence against Pakistan security forces, Chinese nationals, and those working on CPEC projects in Balochistan as a part of revenge tactics and for local recruitment.
China has, on several occasions, raised concerns regarding the safety and security of CPEC projects and Chinese nationals in Pakistan. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, and the consequent spike in terror activities in the region, have further dwindled China’s confidence in Pakistan’s abilities to secure its economic interests and provide safety to Chinese nationals. The recent suicide bombing in Karachi has marked the beginning of a new violent phase in Baloch insurgency, where Chinese nationals are the prime targets. What is more concerning for Pakistan’s security agencies is the fact that Baloch groups are not limiting themselves to Balochistan province only. There will be likely spillovers of violence in other parts of the country.