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Read about Gwadar, CPEC, the high-handedness of the Pakistani forces and the resistance against it by the Baloch people

The Balochistan Government and Islamabad have always blamed Afghanistan, India and Israel for the dire situation of Balochistan, ignoring the fact that the people of Balochistan are not just frustrated because of their ill-treatment but are also well aware of the expansionist desires of Pakistan and China.

20th August 2021’s evening in Gwadar was comparatively boisterous than normal. A small number of political activists from different organizations had staged a joint sit-in to protest the increasingly heavy-handed approach of Pakistani security forces. Representatives from the fishermen unions were unhappy about increasing limitations to the areas of sea where they are allowed to fish, the major if not the only source of income for inhabitants of Gwadar.

Members of political parties present at the protest were complaining against the scarcity of drinking water and other necessities in the coastal town. The personnel of Pakistani security forces had surrounded the protestors and local administration was busy in negotiations with the protestors. In all this clatter, a massive blast shook the entire town.

Gwadar, a small fishing town in Balochistan, hosts a natural deep seaport along the Gulf of Oman. It is currently the flagship port of the much-hyped China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the multi-billion-dollar project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The project has attracted huge resentment from Baloch people who believe CPEC serves the military designs of China and their ancestral land is being usurped. Political parties and armed groups are resisting CPEC and at forefront of this resistance against China and Pakistan is the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a pro-independence armed organization that has waged a “war of independence” against the Pakistani state since the early 2000s.

The huge blast on 20th August in Gwadar was also an attack carried out by BLA. A convoy of Chinese engineers working on CPEC was targeted near Baloch ward, a poor locality of Gwadar where Baloch fishermen have lived for centuries. BLA claimed that the attack was carried out by its Majeed Brigade, and six Chinese engineers were killed and several others were injured in the attack.

Majeed Brigade is a lethal unit that, as per BLA, comprises entirely of its self-sacrificing members, a term BLA uses to identify its suicide attackers. A couple of days later BLA released a video of a young handsome man and identified him as the 21-year-old Sirbuland Baloch from Panjgur town. Sirbuland, who carried out the suicide attack, spoke fluent English in the video confirming the fact that he was an educated student. 

The attack in Gwadar was also not the first by BLA. Earlier in May 2019, Pearl Continental, a luxurious hotel, was attacked in a highly militarized and secure zone of the town by four members of BLA’s Majeed Brigade. The hotel was frequented by Chinese engineers working on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC). BLA occupied the hotel for more than 24 hours and claimed that it had killed several Chinese nationals and Pakistani military personnel before destroying the hotel.

Even before the May 2019 attack, Pakistani forces had very complex security arrangements in Gwadar town to secure Chinese interests. Several brigades of Pakistani forces from the Army, Navy and Coast Guards are stationed in the town. There are multiple units of Pakistani special forces present in the town at any time. There is such a high number of security forces personnel that it outnumbers the civilians. Technical vehicles of the Pakistani military patrol the town 24/7 and all entry and exit routes of the town have very strict security checkpoints, where everyone is checked and questioned individually. However, infiltration by BLA into the town and attacking the Pearl Continental baffled many and to this date, Pakistani authorities have failed to investigate how the attack was carried out. 

After the May 2019 attack, the security arrangements were strengthened even further. From drone surveillance of town to countless intelligence operations the town has witnessed the worst draconian measures in the world. However, on 20th August 2021 BLA not only managed to smuggle explosives but also one of its Majeed Brigade members and carried out another lethal operation. This adds weightage to BLA’s claim that it has the capabilities to carry out attacks anywhere in the region at the time of its own choosing.

BLA has said that the Gwadar attacks of 2019 and 2021 are part of its operation “Zir Pahazag”.  This operation was initiated by Majeed Brigade to “protect Baloch coast and target the occupying Pakistani state and its regional partners that are involved in ‘exploitation” of Baloch natural resources”.

BLA’s attacks against China started in August 2018, when its Majeed Brigade carried out its first attack. On 11 August 2018, Rehan Aslam, son of BLA’s then-chief Aslam Baloch, carried out a suicide attack near Dalbandin Chaghai on a bus carrying Chinese engineers. Three months later on 23 November 2018, the Majeed Brigade carried out another daring attack and targeted the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Three members of BLA’s Majeed Brigade took part in the Karachi attack.

After the May 2019 attack in Gwadar, Majeed Brigade struck again on 29th June 2020 and targeted the Karachi Stock Exchange, where China holds an investment of nearly 40% of the equity. BLA confirmed in a statement that the attack was directed at China too.

Other than lethality and boldness, another thing has also been common in all attacks by Majeed Brigade. Sirbuland, the 20th August attacker in Gwadar, was not the first member of BLA that was educated and spoke English. In fact, almost all missions of the Majeed Brigade have been carried out by young men who speak fluent English in the videos released after the attacks. The sheer number of Baloch students and educated men joining the Baloch Liberation Army has bewildered the regional analysts. The current chief of BLA, Basheer Zeb, is also a university-educated master’s degree holder, and a former student leader. Many believe the reasons behind this trend lies in injustices, grave human rights violations, brutal military operations and the Chinese support of the Pakistani state in this viciousness.

The Baloch armed groups and political parties blame China for supporting Pakistani state oppression in Balochistan. In the past, The Baloch armed groups have warned China to withdraw its investments from Balochistan as it is an “occupied territory”. However, China not only ignored these warnings but instead has been helping Pakistan with billions of dollars. 

With the aid and assistance of China, the military of Pakistan has used every possible means to suppress the voice of the Baloch nation. This has resulted in the huge migration of Baloch people to different parts of Pakistan including Sindh and Punjab. Along with that, a huge number of Baloch people are forced to live in exile in Afghanistan, America, Europe, Iran and the Middle Eastern countries.

To ensure the safety of the Chinese megaprojects, Pakistani military personnel have forced locals to migrate, the migrations have resulted in huge displacements in and outside of Balochistan. Innumerable little villages and hamlets have been burnt into ashes by Pakistani forces with the blessings of China to pave way for the CPEC. People living in areas near the CPEC route have been forced to either leave their lands or face extreme oppression. China has also been blamed for allegedly supporting Pakistan with military supplies to be used against the Baloch populations.

The Pro-independence Baloch political leaders and parties have termed CPEC as “an expansionist initiative” by the Chinese government to further their regional hold in the warm waters of the Arabian sea. The CPEC project will change the demography of not only the Baloch nation but will destabilize the regional balance. The Baloch political parties fear that Pakistan and China will bring a huge number of settlements to turn the indigenous people into minorities in their own homeland. 

The Balochistan Government and Islamabad have always blamed Afghanistan, India and Israel for the dire situation of Balochistan, ignoring the fact that the people of Balochistan are not just frustrated because of their ill-treatment but are also well aware of the expansionist desires of Pakistan and China.

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Hakeem Baloch
Hakeem Baloch
President of Baloch National Movement UK Zone. Freelance journalist. Studying Media Production.

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