Baloch armed groups keeping Pak army on tenterhooks

Advertisement

The Baloch people under the leadership of Prince Agha Abdul Karim Khan Ahmadzai led a nationalist uprising against Pakistan in 1948 and since then there have been six armed freedom movements in the region, writes Mark Kinra

With time taking its toll on memory, fewer people are aware that Balochistan was an independent country for almost 9 months before it was illegally colonised by Pakistan on 27 March 1948. The Baloch people under the leadership of Prince Agha Abdul Karim Khan Ahmadzai led a nationalist uprising against Pakistan in 1948 and since then there have been six armed freedom movements in the region.

The current flare-up in the region with many attacks on Pakistani armed forces has been termed as the sixth armed freedom movement which is a direct result of the consequences of fifth armed movement which led to the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti on 26 August 2006 under the then president Pervez Musharraf’s rule. The fifth armed movement can be attributed to two reasons namely–rape of a female doctor by a Captain of Pakistani Army at Sui Gas facility, where she was employed, and the rejection of a 15-point agenda by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri, who wanted Balochistan to have more control over its resources.

In the first case, Pakistan sided with its Captain, pronouncing him not-guilty and in the second one Pakistan rejected all demands over Balochistan resources, which led to strong armed backlash between the Baloch and the Pakistani Army, which resulted in the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. This ignited calls for an independent Baloch nation and led to the formation of various armed organizations and catapulting Baloch youth towards an armed struggle against Pakistan.

The initial freedom movement was started by the members of Ahmedzai royal family and tribal chiefs like Marris and Bugtis but now even educated people and the common man, who were earlier content with following the tribal chiefs, are now taking up the mantle of freedom movement and becoming new leaders of the national struggle for independence.

The following groups are currently carrying out armed insurrection against Pakistan:

Balochistan Raaji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) – It is an umbrella organization which was created in 2018 comprising Balochistan Liberation Army, Baloch Liberation Army-Bashir Zeb and Balochistan Republican Guards. Later on, BRA (Gulzar Imam group) and UBA (Sarfaraz Bangulzai group) too joined BRAS showing its potential as a magnet among the spread-out Baloch organisations. Importantly, the Sindh Revolutionary Army (SRA) is also part BRAS.

BRAS is said to have brought together people from the middle class who were not part of the Baloch tribal leadership. The creation of BRAS shows that the Baloch people are becoming more united in their approach towards armed rebellion against Pakistan. BRAS has also led the Baloch armed groups to strategize their operations against Pakistan. The latest example of this is the devastating BLA twin attack on the Panjgur and Nuskhi Frontier Corps (FC) camps, where the BLA stated that the operation was supported by the allied organizations of BRAS.

Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) – It is said the BLA was created in 1999 under the leadership of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Mir Balaach Marri and Brahamdagh Bugti. The coming together of the Marri-Bugti tribes was due to a friendship pact but later the Bugtis parted ways. The BLA is an ethno-nationalist organization working towards achieving the goal of a United Balochistan (parts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan). According to an anonymous Baloch human rights activist living-in-exile, BLA derives its strength from all over Balochistan but is most powerful in Marri areas such as Mach, Harnai, Nasserabad, Jaffarabad, Loralai, Quetta and Awaran.

ALSO READ: There will be surprises for Pakistan: Baloch leader

From 2003-13, there were about 15,000 members in Marri areas. Today there are around 200-300 active members, while overall numbers are thousands in the tribal areas. The BLA receives local support while most weapons come from Afghanistan and Pashtoon areas of Balochistan. Also, some sections of Afghans did support the BLA but they have used them as proxies for their own benefits. The Baloch human rights activist states that after 2016, India stopped all support to the Baloch freedom movement which was initiated in the Vajpayee era. Initially, the BLA was involved in the killing of civilians, which was mostly in retaliation, but later recused itself from targeting civilians and its focus is only on Pakistan’s armed forces.

The BLA has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the UK and Pakistan, which alleges that Hyrbyair Marri is the leader of the group while the BLA has never disclosed its leader. BLA’s spokesperson is Azad Baloch.

On 14 Dec 2005, BLA members tried to assassinate then President Pervez Musharraf, who was visiting a paramilitary camp in Kohlu. Musharraf was unharmed. On 13 June 2013, BLA also fired rockets at the summer house of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Balochistan Liberation Army (Bashir Zeb Group) – Pakistan security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana states that Aslam Baloch after having grievances against the BLA leadership formed a splinter organization of the same name in 2013. After Aslam Baloch was killed in a suicide attack in Kandahar in 2018, the leadership was taken over by Bashir Zeb. The Bashir Zeb Group enjoys local support and gets its strength from all over Balochistan but considerably from central and coastal Balochistan.

The BLA has created the ‘Majeed Brigade’, which is a suicide squad and has carried several attacks even against civilians. Majeed Brigade takes its name and inspiration from Majeed Langove, who tried to assassinate PM Bhutto in 1974, while Balochistan was suffering military operations by Pakistan. Years later in 2010, Majeed Langove Junior (brother of Majeed Langove) was killed by the Pakistani Army, while trying to save his comrades. This led Aslam Baloch to formally announce the formation of the Majeed Brigade.

After coming from exile in Afghanistan, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri used to give lectures to youth on various topics where Aslam Baloch came in contact with Nawab Marri. These gatherings later produced a group of politically charged youth who would later form BLA. It is a hearsay that Nawab Marri raised questions on the idea of Majeed Brigade during his study circles. Majeed Brigades’s first attack was on 30 Dec 2011, when they tried to target Shafeeq Mengal—a Death Squad leader.

In another attack, Rehan Baloch (son of Aslam Baloch) sacrificed himself while carrying out a suicide attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbadin. The Majeed Brigade has carried out several high-profile attacks on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, the Pearl Intercontinental hotel in Gwadar and the Karachi Stock Exchange in Karachi.

On 2 Feb 2022, the Bashir Zeb group carried out massive attacks on FC camps on Panjgur and Nushki whereby BLA memebers took hostage of army camps for 72 hours and have allegedly killed 195 soldiers.

Bashir Zeb group has time and again stated that their motherland is under occupation and they are attacking enemy interests and installations. Bashir Zeb group is also part of Balochistan Raaji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), which is an umbrella organization of Baloch armed groups. The spokesperson of the BLA (Bashir Zeb group) is Jeeyand Baloch.

United Baloch Army (UBA) – According to several reports, it is stated that UBA was created in 2010 after an alleged rift between Hyrbyair Marri and Mehran Marri. UBA is an ethno-nationalist organization that enjoys local support and has strongholds in Kohlu, Kahaan, Bolan, Lasbela etc.

Mehran Marri has been a regular speaker at the UN in Geneva where he has time and again highlighted Pakistani human rights atrocities in Balochistan. In 2017, Mehran Marri was detained at the Zurich Airport, Switzerland, and was placed on lifetime ban for entering Switzerland on the request of Pakistan. As per various news reports, it is said Mehran Marri is currently based in the United Kingdom.

The UBA has been designated as a terrorist organization by Pakistan. After the January 2022 Lahore blasts, Mehran Marri condemned the killing of civilians and advocated to continue the struggle within the parameters of International Law. Mehran Marri through his tweet is advocating the use of violence against armed personnel but in 2014 UBA was responsible for a blast in Islamabad Market which killed 24 people. UBA has also targeted trains in the past, killing several people. It has never disclosed the leader of its organization but its official spokesperson is Mazar Baloch.

United Baloch Army (Sarfaraz Bangulzai Group) – According to various reports, after having differences with the UBA leadership, Bangulzai created his group with the same name in 2020. Bangulzai has claimed that he was punished because he wanted to make UBA a part of BRAS alliance to bring more unity and solidarity among the Baloch organisations. Sarfaraz Bangulzai group is also ethno-nationalist and is working towards an independent Balochistan.

After separation, Bangulzai’s group later joined BRAS. It has recently merged with the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA). After the Lahore blasts, Bangulzai criticized comments by Mehran Marri against hitting out civilian targets, instead suggesting that their group will continue to target Pakistan interests including civilians.

Baloch Republican Army (BRA) – It was formed in 2006 in response to the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and growing resentment among Baloch over the control of Balochistan resources by Pakistan. Though the BRA doesn’t identify its leaders, however, Pakistan has alleged Brahamdagh Bugti as its leader and designated the BRA as a terrorist organization. BRA derives local support from Bugti areas like Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Loralai, and a few small pockets in Dera Bugti and southern Balochistan.

Recently, Brahamdagh Bugti condemned the Lahore blasts which targeted civilians stating there is no justification for civilian killings even if the Pakistan Army is doing the same. The spokesperson for the group is Sarbaz Baloch.

In some of its biggest attacks, on 21 April 2011, the BRA attacked a military run Frontier Works Organization camp thereby killing 11 people. On 21 Oct 2013, BRA planted bombs which derailed the Jaffar express thereby killing six people.

Baloch Republican Army (Gulzar Imam Group) – In 2018, the membership of Gulzar Imam was cancelled by BRA, after which he created his own group under the same name. The Gulzar Imam group has a considerable following in the Makran region. Imam’s BRA group later joined BRAS. Recently, Gulzar Imam group merged their group into the Baloch Nationalist Army (BNA).

Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) – Human Rights activist Mehrab Baloch states that BLF was formed in early 2000’s and it gets support from all parts of Balochistan with no foreign support. Mehrab Baloch elaborates that the BLF ideology currently demands attacking anyone who supports the Pakistan Government. After the Lahore Blasts this year, Allah Nazar stated that each independence struggle is unique and the strategy will be formulated accordingly. BLF is the founding member of BRAS. Major Gwahram Baloch is the current spokesperson for the organisaton.

Pakistan has designated BLF as terrorist organization and believes that medical doctor Allah Nazar Baloch is the leader of the organization. Allah Nazar himself has risen as a student leader from the ranks of the Balochistan Student Organization-Azad which tries to bring political consciousness around Baloch issues among youth. Later on, he took over the command of the BLF. Allah Nazar was arrested for a year in 2005 but was soon released under political pressures. Allah Nazar enjoys deep support among locals due to his long association with the youth since his college days.

ALSO READ: London billboards highlight human rights situation in Balochistan

On 25 January this year, BLF members took over a security forces outpost in Dasht area of Kech district, saying that they had killed 17 soldiers, making it one of the most demotivating attacks for the Pakistani military.

Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LeB) – Pakistan security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana says that the organization came into being in 2008 with the aim of maintaining the status of Mengal Sardars. LeB derives its support base from the Jhalawan area. Though several reports suggest that the LeB is working towards independence for Balochistan, it seems to be in dormant state and not much activity has been seen from the group.

Significantly, Javed Mengal—who is supposedly heading the group, is the son of Nawab Attaullah Mengal—the first Chief Minister of Balochistan in 1972. After Attaullah Mengal’s government was dismissed, he was thrown in jail and later went into exile. He returned to Balochistan in 1996 and formed a political party—Balochistan National Party. His other son, Akhtar Mengal is the president of the political party, who in June 2020 left the coalition government of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) in the federal assembly on the sensitive issue of missing persons among other Baloch issues.

Like all Baloch armed organisations, LeB too has not declared its leader though Pakistan alleges that Javed Mengal is the leader of the group with Lawang Khan as its spokesperson.

One of its biggest operations was on 25 September 2020, when LeB members attacked a Frontier Corps convoy in Khuzdar killing several Pakistani security personnel.

Baloch Republican Guards (BRG) – Pakistan security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana says that the organization was formed in 2012 after Bakhtiar Domki’s wife and daughter were shot dead by unknown assailants in 2012. Bakhtiar Domki’s wife is the sister of Brahamdagh Bugti and several news reports suggest that this targeted assassination was a message to Brahamdagh Bugti.

The BRG too does not disclose the name of its leader.

According to human rights activist Mehrab Baloch, the BRG is active in the areas of Naseerabad, Bolan, Quetta, Sibi etc. Despite being a part of BRAS, it has nominated its own spokesperson in Dosten Baloch.

Just a few days back, on 10 Feb 2022, BRG members had hurled a grenade in Dera Murad Jamali town killing one and injuring several others.

Baloch National Army (BNA) – Among the numerous Baloch organisations fighting for a common cause of an independent country, earlier this year on 11 January 2022, BRA (Gulzar Imam group) and UBA (Sarfaraz Bangulzai group) merged together to become the BNA. The idea behind the merger is to expand the resistance and unite Baloch forces against the Pakistani military.

The new outfit is headed by Gulzar Imam with Mureed Baloch as its spokesperson.

Immediately after its formation, BNA exploded bombs in the Anarkali market in Lahore killing three and injuring 20 people on 20 January 2022.

Reasons behind disunity among Baloch

Despite a common goal—the independence of Balochistan, a dozen Baloch organisations force an outsider to think that the Baloch freedom struggle is more divided than united. With abundant armed organisations and multiple factions, the Baloch groups have been evolving over decades.

A fiercely independent people, Balochistan has been governed by various tribal chiefs for hundreds of years. When the time for an armed revolution came, it was obvious that it would be started by the numerous tribal chiefs and the local population would follow them. With time, as more and more tribal chiefs were killed or forced to flee into exile, local commanders climbed up the ladder and began to assert themselves and their methodology on the resistance in Balochistan. This gave rise to various splinter organizations such as the BLF whose leader rose from the rank of student politics.

Currently, most of the leaders and alleged leaders are not living in Balochistan. They are managing the operations remotely from Afghanistan, Europe and even Iran, while their local units are conducting the armed operations in Balochistan. However, despite issues among the Baloch armed organizations, their differences don’t seem to deter their larger goal.

(The writer is a geopolitical analyst on Pakistan issues) (The article is carried under an arrangement with the indianarrative.com)

ALSO READ: Blast in Balochistan kills 4 soldiers