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The United States on Tuesday (July 2) declared Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a global terrorist organization.

The US State Department said it was classifying the BLA as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any US assets they may have.

“The BLA is an armed separatist group that targets  security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan,” the State Department noted, citing reason behind the move.

“The outfit has carried out several terrorist attacks in the past year, including a suicide attack in August, 2018 that targeted Chinese engineers in Balochistan, a November, 2018 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, and a May, 2019 attack against a luxury hotel in Gwadar,” it added.

Jiyand Baloch, the official spokesperson of the Baloch Liberation Army, termed the US State Department’s ban as “beyond comprehension and unjustified”.

In a press statement reported by the Indian Wire, Baloch said the US has become a “victim of Pakistani diplomatic blackmailing” even when the BLA has been “abiding by international laws while resisting Pakistani and Chinese expansionist designs” in resource-rich Balochistan region, where Beijing is constructing its multi-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“BLA is a moderate, secular and an armed defense organization. BLA is resisting, on its motherland, against foreign intruders to protect its people. The international laws allow any person or nation to act in self-defense. The US State Department’s ban on BLA is beyond comprehension and unjustified,” Baloch said.

Pakistan’s reaction

The move to declare BLA as terrorist organization is seen here as “positive development” since Pakistan had long been calling for such a decision.

“We have taken note of the designation by the US Administration of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT),” said an official statement issued by the Foreign Office shortly after the US announcement.

It pointed out that the BLA has remained a proscribed entity in Pakistan since 2006 and in recent times has carried out several terrorist attacks in the country. “It is hoped that this designation will ensure that BLA’s space to operate is minimised,” the statement said.

“It is important that the perpetrators, organisers, financers and external sponsors including those glorifying these acts of terror against Pakistan are held accountable and brought to justice,” it added.

Defence analyst Lt-Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib termed the US designation of BLA as terrorist organisation as diplomatic victory for Pakistan. “BLA has been the proxy of RAW and it is certainly a setback for India,” Gen Shoaib commented while reacting to the US decision.

Shoaib also said the timing of this decision suggested that the Trump Administration wanted to send a positive message to Pakistan ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming visit to Washington.

Washington’s announcement comes as Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to undertake his maiden trip to the US from July 20. He will have a face-to-face meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Pakistan declared the BLA a terrorist organisation in 2006 after its involvement in a number of terrorist attacks, targeting both civilians and security personnel. The group was recently involved in a terrorist attack targeting a five-star hotel in the strategically important Gwadar Port.

Indian Connection

Designation of BLA as a global terrorist organization is seen a setback to India which was reportedly backing it to destabilize Pakistan.

Tellingly, in August 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed that India is backing Baloch seperatists.

In August 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated: “Today from the ramparts of Red Fort, I want to greet and express my thanks to some people. In the last few days, people of Balochistan, Gilgit, [and] Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me, have expressed gratitude, and expressed good wishes for me.”

On another gathering in August 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said : The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Baluchistan.”

The separatist Balochistan Republican Party (BRP) leader Braham dagh Bugti, who has applied for political asylum in India, thanked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for raising the issue of the situation in Balochistan in the latter’s Independence Day speech.

In August 2016, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said that Pakistan has many many more vulnerabilities than India and it may lose Balochistan.

Indian newspaper, The Hindu reported that the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) commanders, in the past, had sought medical treatment in India’s hospitals, often under disguise or with fake identity.

In one such case, a militant commander in charge of Khuzdar city was based in Delhi for at least six months in 2017 when he underwent extensive treatment for kidney-related ailments. Baloch militants visits to India were often under assumed identities.

Similarly, another Baloch Liberation Army commander, Aslam Baloch alias Achu, was also alleged to have visited India in the past where he met people who were sympathetic to the his cause. Aslam Baloch was also alleged to have been treated at a hospital in New Delhi.

In June this year, a Baloch woman activist has urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fulfill his government’s earlier promise of making the world aware of Pakistan’s brutalities in Balochistan.

Professor Naela Quadri Baloch, the President of World Baloch Women’s Forum, made the request while congratulating Modi for securing a massive mandate to lead India for a second term.

“Halfway into its first term, his government had promised to raise our plight at the international level. While in practical terms this did not translate into any significant change in India’s approach to the Baloch issue, Pakistan used the stray statements issued by India to demonise our seven-decades-old struggle for independence as an India-sponsored movement,” Naela said.

“The Baloch people hope that the Modi government will fulfil its earlier promise of making the world aware of Pakistan’s brutalities in occupied Balochistan,” she added.

In July last year, Amir Ahmed Suleman Daud, officially known as His Highness the Khan of Kalat, welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in favor of Balochistan during his Independence Day address from the Red Fort.

“India is one of the powers of region, the biggest democracy in the world. The Prime Minister’s [Modi’s] was the only voice we heard in a long time coming out of the neighborhood and appreciated the intervention. We know we have got a friend,” Daud told Press Trust of India at a media briefing in London.

Tellingly, in March 2016, Pakistan arrested an Indian operative Kulbhushan Yadav who was imparting Naval fighting training to Baloch separatists in an attempt to target Pakistani ports.

During interrogation it was revealed that Yadav had purchased boats at the Iranian port in Chabahar in order to target Karachi and Gwadar ports in a terrorist plot.

It was also revealed that Yadav used to visit Pakistan and lure Baloch students to carry out anti-national and other destabilizing activities by offering huge funding. Installations in coastal areas of Gawadar, Pasni, Jevani and other places in Balochistan were the target of Yadav.

According to the DG Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa Yadav was given the task to attack a five-star hotel in Gwadar where Chinese nationals used to stay.

Balochistan Liberation Army

The Balochistan Liberation Army (also Baloch Liberation Army, or BLA) is a militant organization based in Balochistan, a mountainous region of western Pakistan, according to Countering Violent Extremism Monitor of Stanford University. The Baloch Liberation Army became publicly known during the summer of 2000, after it claimed credit for a series of bombing attacks on Pakistani authorities. The group has an estimated strength of 10,000 members.

BLA (Balochistan Liberation Army) was built around the core of BSO (Baloch Students Organization). BSO was a group of students in Quetta and some other cities of Balochistan. Misha and Sasha can be considered among the architects of the original BLA. The BLA remained active during the Russo-Afghan war and then it disappeared from the surface, mostly because its main source of funding – the Soviet Union – disappeared from the scene.

China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC)

Balochistan is crucial to the success of the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), but the restive province through which the initiative passes poses a stiff challenge to China as Baloch nationalists are up in arms against what they see as Beijing’s designs to exploit the area.

A number of attacks in recent weeks against Chinese assets in Balochistan, which also is home to the Gwadar Port, have roiled Beijing.

Baloch nationalists, led by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), have alleged that China is a so-called ‘partner in crime’ with Pakistan’s national government in “looting the natural resources of Balochistan,” said an expert who tracks Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Baloch rebels believe that China is militarily supporting Pakistan Army in its efforts to crush the Baloch insurgency.

China has been involved in projects in Balochistan even before CPEC was put in place.

China’s state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) received a contract in the 1990s to extract gold and copper from the Saindak mine in Balochistan.

Baloch nationalists allege that such projects represent exploitation of the mineral resources of Balochistan.

The BLA is one of the oldest, and arguably the largest, of at least six nationalist groups fighting Islamabad for an independent Balochistan.

The BLA and other Baloch insurgent groups have conducted a series of attacks against Chinese interests since last year.

These attacks have significantly affected Chinese economic projects, most particularly by inhibiting the free movement of the Chinese people in the region, according to news reports published by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper

The Chinese are present in Gwadar, where they work under strict security protection. In Quetta, the Baloch capital, Chinese expatriates are unable to move freely, and must travel.

The attacks have also increased security costs at the CPEC. To protect Chinese personnel working on CPEC projects, Pakistan has raised a special security division of more than 15,000 personnel.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com 


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