Baloch Insurgents Escalate Attacks on Infrastructure

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 20

Since 2002, Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan has remained gripped by insurgent violence. In the last few months, this violence has increased in frequency and intensity. The favorite targets of insurgents are energy production sites—such as Sui in Dera Bugti—and energy infrastructure that supplies natural gas to Pakistan’s industrial hub in Punjab and Karachi (Terrorism Focus, March 21). On May 19, two main gas pipelines to Punjab were blown up, cutting off gas supplies to the province (Dawn, May 20).

Although it is easy to damage Pakistan’s extended but unguarded network of gas pipelines, insurgents are now hitting harder targets such as gas production sites. On May 19, the gas supply line to one of the gas plants in Sui was blown up (Dawn, May 20). Sui sits on the country’s largest reserves of natural gas, which has been in production since the 1950s. Pakistan’s commercial, industrial and residential consumers are heavily dependent upon gas from Sui, the disruption of which can shut the country down. Besides Sui, there are three other gas fields in Pir Koh, Loti and Uch, which each make a tempting target for insurgent attacks. On April 17, “the regulator of the Pir Koh gas plant was blown off” (Daily Times, April 18). In a similar incident on May 19, the gas pipeline that supplies gas from the Loti gas field to one of the Sui gas plants was also bombed (Dawn, May 20).

Like gas pipelines, railway tracks are another easy target of insurgent violence to disrupt human as well as freight traffic between Balochistan and Punjab provinces. On April 22, a railway bridge near Kari-Dor in Balochistan was blown up, stopping all major passenger trains—Chiltan Express, Balochistan Express, Jaffar Express and Bolan Mail—that run between Balochistan and Punjab and Balochistan and Sind (Daily Times, April 23). In the past two months alone, insurgents mounted 12 attacks on railroad infrastructure on the Sibi-Harnai section (Daily Times, April 23). On May 19, the railway track between Quetta and Chaman (the latter a border town on the Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan), which largely remains under heavy use by security forces, was blown up (Dawn, May 20).

Islamabad has bolstered security in and around the gas production sites as well as the railroad tracks. The major focus, however, has been on the protection of the Sui area where Pakistan has heavily-deployed military and paramilitary forces that also come under frequent attacks. For instance, “On April 17, ‘suspected tribal militants’ fired 19 rockets at security forces in Dera Bugti” (Daily Times, April 18). No casualties were reported, however. The day before, on April 16, seven rockets were fired on security forces’ check posts in Sibi, which is a land route to Dera Bugti and the Sui area (Daily Times, April 17). Bridges on the Sibi-Harnai section, which is a major means of transportation for security forces in Dera Bugti, have been routinely hit by insurgents. On April 16, a section of the bridge was damaged in rocket attacks (Daily Times, April 17). On April 22, two bridges on Sibi-Harnai section were blown up. On May 13, a civilian official was abducted together with his driver and two bodyguards on his way to Uch (Dawn, May 15). The next day, his beheaded body was found and his driver and bodyguards were missing.

Additionally, insurgents are now using “unmanned” weapons such as landmines to attack security forces. The area around the Sui production site is heavily mined, which has caused significant loss of life. On March 11, 28 civilians were killed in a landmine blast (Arab News, March 11). As recently as April 17, three security officials were wounded in a landmine explosion in Sangsila in Dera Bugti (Daily Times, April 18). Besides security forces, agencies engaged in the exploration of oil and gas in the remote areas of Balochistan are also targets of insurgent violence. One such agency is Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP). On May 19, a hand grenade was lobbed at the house of an important official in the GSP’s residential colony in Quetta (Dawn, May 20). The grenade exploded in the front yard of the house and shattered its windows, but caused no casualties. Such incidents should be seen as warnings for lethal violence to come.

The government blames violence in Balochistan on Afghanistan, Baloch tribal chiefs and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) (APP, April 26; Dawn, May 6, 20). On April 26, Balochistan’s minister for home and tribal affairs said that “foreign hands” are sending “arms and terrorists” into the province. Similarly, the federal minister for the interior claimed on May 19 that a tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti, has links to “trouble-makers” in Balochistan. He has banned Nawab Bugti, many members of his family and his nephew Shahid Bugti, who is a member of the Senate of Pakistan, from traveling abroad. Similarly, the government has recently outlawed the BLA, which it blames for attacks on human and property assets. Yet, the government is far from stemming the raging wave of violence in Balochistan.

Although violence in Balochistan has its own roots, its ebb and flow is amenable to the intensity of violence in neighboring Afghanistan and neighboring northwestern Pakistan, especially the latter’s Waziristan agencies. Islamabad’s strategy to divide Baloch tribes and arm those who do its bidding is further enflaming the existing perilous situation. It is important to understand that the violence in Balochistan is a reaction to President Pervez Musharraf’s illusory “strategic objectives”—such as the building of the Gwadar naval port, air bases around the Arabian Sea coast and military installations in the energy-rich section of the province—which are exacerbating an already difficult “situation that could lead to the break-up of Pakistan” (Khabrain, May 21). The reason the government has thus far failed to end violence in Balochistan is the depth and breadth of mass discontent in the province against the government that knows no political and class divides.