Terror grips Balochistan

February 13, 2022

The attacks in Nushki and Panjgur are the biggest staged by Baloch separatists in the ongoing phase of insurgency

Terror grips Balochistan

On February 2, Wednesday at 8pm reports of a blast in Nushki, a town 145 kilometres southwest of Quetta, took the media by storm. Unfortunately, this was nothing out of the ordinary for people of Balochistan who have been witnessing terror and bomb blasts on a regular basis. However, within an hour of the reports first surfacing, it became clear that the scale of the attack was much larger than routine and that a group of militants had stormed the local headquarters of the Frontier Corps (FC) in Nushki.

At the same time, reports of a similar attack arrived from Panjgur, a town 400 kilometres northeast of Gwadar. In Panjgur, again it was an FC camp that was under attack. Within a couple of hours, it become clear that the proscribed Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had carried out the attack.

The attack in Nushki ended the next day. In Panjgur the attacks lasted for 70 hours. During this three-day period, there was a deep sense of uncertainty because of the lack of access to credible information. There was a virtual media blackout. Given the situation, social media became the only source of information. It was rife with rumors, disinformation and propaganda. Only on February 5, when the attack in Panjgur finally ended at night, were people able to start making sense of its magnitude and severity.

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) claimed that 16 militants from the BLA were killed in the attack while nine FC soldiers lost their lives. On the contrary, the BLA claimed that it had killed 195 soldiers in the attack. This claim could not be verified independently. However, this was clearly the biggest attack staged by Baloch separatists during the ongoing phase of insurgency.

Prime Minister Imran Khan flew to Quetta on February 8 to then fly to Nushki to visit the site of the attack. During his visit, the flight operations were severely affected at Quetta Airport. Due to VIP movement, PIA flight PK-322, flying from Lahore to Quetta, was diverted to Lahore when it was about to land at Quetta Airport. During his Nushki visit, the prime minister delivered the usual condemnation speech before leaving for Islamabad.

The role of the provincial government was not much different. It was widely criticised by analysts. Shahzada Zulfiqar, a veteran journalist covering Balochistan for more than four decades now, lamented that no MPA, senators or MNAs from the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) was seen in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

“This is the problem with having an artificial leadership, they can’t defend the government actions in times of crisis,” he tells The News on Sunday (TNS).

The attacks in Nushki and Panjgur were preceded by an attack on a military post in the Dasht area a few days back that resulted in 10 soldiers losing their lives.

While life is slowly returning to normality in Nushki and Panjgur, as more details about the attack and damage caused by them emerge, people worry about the possibility of such deadly attacks being repeated in the days to come.

“Recent attacks [by BLA] are purely [based] on guerilla tactics of survivability in which [insurgents] appear and reappear on intervals,” says Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, a senator belonging to the ruling BAP. He adds that insurgent activity is not at a scale where the Pakistani security apparatus needs to be in the defensive mode. The security forces, he thinks, will adapt to this new challenge by revisiting and learning from previous tactics.

Fakhar Kakakhel, a senior analyst covering militancy in Pakistan, argues that after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, many of the BLA commanders and fighters were killed on both sides of the border.

“The BLA was under immense pressure to react and fight back, which resulted in these attacks,” he says.

Even before the attacks were over, some government officials had claimed that there was foreign involvement in the attacks. According to the ISPR’s claims, “communications taking place between terrorists and their handlers in Afghanistan and India were intercepted”. Zia Langove, Balochistan chief minister’s advisor on Home Department, however said that attackers involved in Panjgur and Nushki could have come from Iran.

“We have yet to see evidence of Iranian state patronage [to Baloch insurgents] but at a social level both sides of the border have the same ethnic group,” Kakar said. He said that Iran could not support the BLA to the hilt due to its own Baloch population.

Kakakhel’s take on the attacks was slightly different.

“Iran might be involved in supporting certain activities of the BLA where these converge with the strategic interests of Tehran. In the past, Iran has supported Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the groups which were ideologically opposed to it. A similar exception can be made for the BLA as well,” he said.

Almost all media reports and much commentary on these attacks mentioned China and its interest in Gwadar port and other related projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being jeopardised through such attacks. After the attack, a press release issued by the BLA warned China to quit Balochistan or face more attacks. This has resulted in speculation on how China will respond to the growing threat.

Kakar is of the view that the Chinese will be wary of such attacks but they cannot be scared away, especially keeping in view the new geostrategic contest in the region. He adds that China can clearly see the interference by its arch-nemesis India and will therefore stay.

“To a Baloch separatist, Chinese presence in Balochistan is aggressive, and so they believe in resistance against them. China, so far, has been unable to communicate with the Baloch and to clear their minds,” says Kakakhel. He adds that there is a need for dialogue and trust-building measures to tackle the challenge. More violence can cause a deterioration of the situation for the Chinese in the region.

While life is slowly returning to normality in Nushki and Panjgur, as more details about the attack and damage caused by them emerge, people worry about the possibility of such deadly attacks being repeated in the days to come.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on

Twitter: @iAdnanAamir.

Terror grips Balochistan