Over the last couple of years, an unprecedented spike in terrorist attacks in Balochistan province has been observed and the trend became extremely deadly when recently at least 150 people were killed on July 13 on an election-related corner meeting of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). Importantly, the responsibility of the attack was accepted by the global terrorist organisation, the Islamic State (IS). The fact of the matter is that the unabated terrorism in Balochistan has much to do with several concatenated internal and external factors. Some of these factors are the upshot of the local, national, regional and extra-regional security dynamics.
In this connection it must be recalled that in September 2016, Pakistani authorities reportedly busted a huge network of the IS in Balochistan. The busting of the network demonstrated the effective measures by the state’s security institutions against the terrorist organisation as well as the seriousness of the threat which the group has had posed to Pakistan. Importantly, the operatives of security agencies had also arrested top 10 IS commanders who were said to be on a mission in the country to recruit thousands of foot soldiers for the IS Middle East’s war theatre specifically in Iraq and Syria. The group once controlled large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria but then lost a good part of it to state and international forces in both the countries. It was then revealed that the arrested top 10 commanders had just returned after meeting the IS head of Khorasan (Pak-Afghan-Iran-India-Central Asia) region in Afghanistan before his death in a US drone strike in Afghanistan a few weeks back. Many of them had also met Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the kingpin of the IS in Syria and Iraq.
This shows the threat which the Afghanistan-based Khurasan Chapter of the IS poses to Pakistan and its citizens. However, another important aspect of the unearthing of the IS network in Balochistan in 2016 was that some of the group’s commanders who have been arrested were directly in contact with the central leadership based in Iraq and Syria. This also shows how important Pakistan is from the point of view of the IS’s central leadership and matters significantly in their strategic calculation. Reports also claim that an IS commander, Sajjadur Rehman, resident of Khushab, was running a training camp in the heart of Lahore. This indeed was alarming as the members of the busted IS network in Pakistan were planning terrorist attacks in order to herald their prowess and display their destructive capacity.
However, terrorist networks like the IS are not very easy to be eliminated as they have a tendency to resurface. Mastung incident is indicative of this propensity. Balochistan is also very important from the IS calculation. The IS has a strong anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian agenda. It may be mentioned here that Iran’s own separatist Baloch group, Jundullah, which later put on a religious garb, also cultivated a network in Pakistani Balochistan. Iran also has a province by the name of Sistan-Baluchestan, which is a Sunni-dominated province, in the predominantly Shiite country.
The ethnic-based conflict in Balochistan has kept the province volatile. Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, has been taking advantage of this situation to create problems for Pakistan. The arrest of Indian naval officer Kulboshan Yadav by Pakistani authorities in Balochistan points towards this fact. It is a signature tactic of terrorist groups to exploit any conflict and crisis to their utter advantage. Thus the IS had wanted to take advantage of the volatile situation, which has been prevailing in Balochistan for years.
Noticeably, Sunni sectarian militant and terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ), which traditionally has a very strong network in the Punjab province, has largely been neutralised in the province by LEAs. Members of the groups like LeJ also seem to have relocated to Balochistan where the terrain, its remoteness plus conflict and crisis provide typical environment for their hideouts and launching pads.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2018.