Despite the long standing discontent between the ethnic Baloch and Pakistan’s federal government due to its oppressive policies, terrorism-related violence has declined in the province over the last seven years. However, experts say that the reasons that destabilised the province still exist.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), this year till 21 January, Balochistan recorded 26 fatalities out of which seven were civilians, 14 were Security Force (SF) personnel and five were militants. During the corresponding period in 2017, Balochistan had registered 11 fatalities out of which three were civilians, four were SF personnel and four militants.
In 2017, the total number of fatalities recorded in Balochistan were 343 (183 civilians, 83 militants and 77 SF personnel), while there were 633 fatalities (229 militants, 251 civilians and 153 SF personnel) in 2016. Thus, fatalities in all three categories declined between 2016 and 2017.
Significantly, the decline in fatalities was the sharpest in the “militant” category. Militant fatalities declined by 63.75% compared to a decline of 49.67% registered in the SF and 27.09% in civilian categories, which SATP saw as an indication that the SFs were progressively relinquishing the operational initiative. The province witnessed a decline in other parameters of violence as well. The number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) decreased from 59 (resulting in 500 fatalities) in 2016 to 39 (resulting in 273 fatalities) in 2017.
Moreover, the province saw a decrease in the number of bomb blasts. There were 43 bomb blasts in 2016 that resulted in 262 fatalities, whereas in 2017 there were 34 bomb blasts that resulted in 134 fatalities. Suicide attacks and resultant fatalities also declined, though they continued to create havoc in Balochistan. There were five suicide attacks resulting in 73 fatalities in 2017, compared to seven such attacks resulting in 224 fatalities in 2016. However, the number of sectarian attacks increased from four in 2016 to seven in 2017, though the resultant fatalities decreased from 60 to 43.
The problem of extra judicial killings in the province persisted through 2017. According to the SATP database, out of the 183 civilians killed in the province in 2017, at least 86 were attributable to one or other terrorist/insurgent outfit. Of these, 10 civilian killings (all in South Balochistan) were claimed by Baloch separatist formations. The Islamist and sectarian extremist formations like LeJ, TTP and Islamic State (IS, also Daesh) claimed responsibility for another 76 civilian killings, out of which 53 were in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 23 in the South. The remaining 97 civilian fatalities—71 in the North and 26 in the South—remain “unattributed”, and a large proportion of these are believed to be the handiwork of state agencies or their proxies. SATP in its report said, “The large number of unattributed civilian fatalities strengthens the widespread conviction that the security agencies execute ‘kill and dump’ operations against local Baloch dissidents, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognised.” Continued extra-judicial killings by the Pakistani security establishment have made Baloch insurgent groups more violent towards non-Baloch people in the province. In a series of attacks, insurgents have targeted Punjabi and other non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan. These killings have been orchestrated by Baloch groups, including the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), among others, who have openly voiced anti-Punjabi sentiments. According to the annual report of BLF released last week, in 2017, the BLF carried out 446 attacks on Pakistani forces in which over 388 personnel were killed and over 200 were injured. In these attacks, 112 vehicles and 14 motorcycles of Pakistani forces were destroyed. Over 42 attacks were carried out on the Pakistani army construction companies in the region and also targeted an oil and gas company. Gharam Baloch, spokesperson, BLF, said, “Our youth are fighting for the nation. Our people have been killed mercilessly by the security forces of Pakistan. But we are fighting back. We will not allow Balochistan to become a colony of Punjabis.” According to partial data compiled by SATP, a total of 198 settlers have been killed in Balochistan since 2006.
Out of the 198 “outsiders’ killed, at least 75 were Punjabis. While 23 Punjabi settlers were killed in 2017, 2016 witnessed no attack on Punjabis. The number of such fatalities stood at six in 2015; 17 in 2014; 29 in 2013; 26 in 2012; 13 in 2011; 21 in 2010; 18 in 2009; and one in 2008. No such fatalities were recorded in 2007 and 2006. Urdu-speaking people from Karachi and Hindko-speaking settlers from Haripur District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), have also been singled out in acts of ethnic violence.