ISLAMABAD – Members of a Pakistani militant group that attacks projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative are being killed in Afghanistan by Pakistani security forces in growing numbers.
According to Kiyaa Baloch, a journalist covering the insurgency in Pakistan’s large Balochistan province, the intensification of Pakistan’s military operations against the Baloch separatist group first began in 2004.Since then, many Baloch families have fled across the border to Afghanistan, where locals consider them to be refugees.
In recent months, many Pakistani militants have died in Afghanistan, mostly in Kandahar province, which borders Balochistan.
On December 20, a son of Hazrat Gul, a Baloch leader, was kidnapped in Nimroz province; five days later his bullet-ridden body was found. The Balochistan Post, a pro-militant Urdu-language website, reports that Gul has provided shelter to Baloch men fleeing military operations in Balochistan. There were incidents on December 10 and 19 in which two members of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and two others from another militant group were killed in the Kandahar area.
The Baloch separatist group has been alarmed by the increasing killings of their members and sympathizers. Brahumdagh Bugti, leader of the BRP, issued a statement on December 20 claiming that “Baloch refugees” were attacked in Afghanistan by Pakistani security agencies. He said international human rights bodies should pay attention.
Aslam Baloch, a key commander of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), was killed in December 2018 by a suicide bomber in Aino Mina, a major city in Kandahar. Since then, Baloch militants and their families in Afghanistan, especially in Kandahar, have been frequently attacked, according to sources close to Baloch militants and tribal elders there.
Under Baloch, the BLA established a special unit that carried out suicide attacks against Chinese interests, including the BRI-backed project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC is BRI’s mainstay of relationships worth more than $ 50 billion in infrastructure projects in Pakistan.
Baloch masterminded attacks in 2018 on the Chinese consulate in Karachi and on buses carrying Chinese engineers in Balochistan’s Dalbandin region.
40% of shares on the Pakistan Stock Exchange are owned by three Chinese companies. After four BLA militants attacked the Karachi stock exchange last June, Pakistani law enforcement officials concluded that they had been in direct telephone contact with their handlers in Kandahar during the operation. The day after the attack, the BLA headquarters in Aino Mina were bombed.
“Drug traffickers, Taliban commanders, tribal chiefs, police officials – everyone in Kandahar is involved in a booming killing industry,” Sanauallah Noorzai, a tribal elder in Kandahar, told Nikkei Asia. “Just pay and hire an assassin to kill anyone in the area.”
Interestingly, so far no one has claimed responsibility for the recent deadly attacks on Baloch militants in Afghanistan.
The escalation in violence could support Pakistan’s longstanding view that Indian-backed Baloch militants are using Afghan territory to launch attacks on Pakistan.
In November, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, held a joint press conference with his country’s military. Qureshi claims to have evidence of India assisting Baloch militants with “terrorist” activities launched from Afghan soil targeting Chinese interests in Pakistan. New Delhi and Kabul both dismissed the allegations as “fabricated.”
Pakistan has raised the issue of Afghanistan-based Baloch militants during peace talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban. They have asked for guarantees that Baloch militants will not be able to launch future attacks from Afghanistan.
“It appears that the attack on the Baloch group on Afghan soil was the result of an agreement on security cooperation and intelligence sharing between Pakistan and Afghanistan under pressure from the United States,” a former Afghan diplomat who served in Pakistan told the Nikkei on condition. anonymity. In 2019, the US added BLA to its global terrorist list, primarily at Pakistan’s request.
Last year, a number of Pakistani Taliban commanders, especially Sheikh Khalid Haqqani and Qari Saifullah Peshawari, died in Afghanistan, including in Kabul, in various ways, the Afghan diplomat said.
Pakistani Taliban leaders, like many Baloch militants, also took refuge in Kunar and Khost provinces on the Afghan border after avoiding a Pakistani military operation.
Some analysts believe that after establishing contact with the Afghan Taliban, Beijing wanted to target the Baloch group in Afghanistan. Beijing has been involved in a variety of security issues, including separating the Taliban from Muslim separatist groups in Xinjiang province and protecting Chinese investment in West Asia.
Although the Afghan Taliban has denied involvement in the December killings, analysts believe China can hire Taliban commanders to target Baloch militants.
CNN reported on December 31 that President Donald Trump recently received unconfirmed Chinese intelligence offering payments to non-state actors in Afghanistan for attacking US soldiers.
On Monday, the head of the Afghanistan National Security Directorate told the Afghan parliament that at least ten Chinese nationals suspected of spying for Beijing were detained in December in Kabul. The agents suspected were pardoned and deported.
A security official in Islamabad said that with the recent increased cooperation between Iran and Pakistan, and work underway to fence their 900 km long common border, Baloch militants are increasingly moving their hideouts to Afghanistan.
For years, Iran and Pakistan have blamed each other for failing to eradicate the militants who have taken refuge along the border. Pakistani intelligence has been closely monitoring Baloch militant groups in Balochistan’s Panjgur, Kecch and Gwadar districts – an area on the border with Iran, the official said.