Baloch Separatists Continue to Launch More Sophisticated, Coordinated Attacks Against Pakistan

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 22 Issue: 7

The Baloch flag, as used by the Baloch Liberation Army. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Executive Summary

  • The current wave of Baloch insurgency has grown increasingly sophisticated in its attacks over the last few years, adopting new tactics and targeting a wider array of high-value targets. As the Pakistani state is beset by a fresh wave of violence from the “Pakistani Taliban,” Baloch separatists are seeing greater success in their attacks the government and Chinese interests in the country.

On January 29, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), launched Operation Dara-e-Bolan in Mach City, within Kachhi District in the Province of Balochistan, Pakistan. The BLA is one of the main separatist groups operating from the insurgency-prone province. Mach City is nearly 70 kilometers from Quetta, Balochistan’s provincial capital. The attacks that occurred as part of the operation were among the most sophisticated ever conducted by Baloch separatists, involving more than 380 fighters from various elite units within the BLA. As a result, the BLA claimed control over Mach City for more than 40 hours, with all strategically important entry and exit points manned by the group’s fighters (The Balochistan Post, February 17).

The BLA’s coordinated attacks involved shooting at the local paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) headquarters, firing rockets at the central jail, ambushing police centers, bombing a railway track, and setting fire to a hotel as well as several shops and oil tankers. The operation reportedly resulted in the deaths of four security personnel, two civilians, and more than 20 militants (Dawn, February 2). However, the BLA disputes these numbers and claims a higher number of causalities on the government side.

More recently, on March 20, Baloch separatists carried out an audacious attack on the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) complex. The facility is considered an important part of the $62 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The sensitive site hosted security and intelligence forces and a residential area (Dawn, March 21). According to the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the attack was thwarted and eight militants were killed, while two armed forces personnel lost their lives during the attack (The Express Tribune [Pakistan], March 20). The BLA’s Majeed Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack (Pakistan Today, March 20; for more on the Majeed Brigade, see Terrorism Monitor, July 1, 2022).

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area. However, it is scarcely populated and the most economically deprived province in the country (Dawn, November 14, 2021; The Express Tribune [Paksitan], December 22, 2018). This has spawned a cycle of violence and counter-violence between the state and ethnic Baloch militants. Balochistan is now in its fifth insurgency since 2006. That year is considered a turning point, as it was when Baloch tribal leader Akbar Bugti was assassinated in a military operation, motivating the then-fledgling separatist movement (see Terrorism Focus, September 7, 2006). Unlike the previous waves of insurgency, which called for greater autonomy, the current phase is rooted around the demand for outright independence. Moreover, the past insurgencies typically lasted for only a few years, but the current wave has lasted for nearly two decades. If current trends are any indication, the Baloch militant movement is gaining strength.

Resurgence of Terrorism

These latest attacks took place in the wake of a growing resurgence of violence by both religious and separatist militants in Pakistan. According to the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), an Islamabad-based think tank, acts of violence increased exponentially in Pakistan in 2022 (CRSS, 2022). More than 370 terrorist attacks took place across the country. Most of these attacks were claimed by three militant organizations: the BLA, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (often called the “Pakistani Taliban”), and Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). In addition, 64 percent and 26 percent of terror-related fatalities took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces, respectively.

Even in comparison with 2022, the first three quarters of 2023 witnessed an alarming rise in terrorist attacks. More than 1,000 people were killed, with security personnel constituting 36 percent of the fatalities. Moreover, more than 90 percent of the attacks took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan (CRSS, September 2023). These incidents underscore the growing instability in Balochistan and a marked escalation in separatist violence. Likewise, the statistics highlight the evolving dynamics of the Baloch insurgency in terms of sophistication, adoption of new tactics, and the selection of diverse, high-value targets.

Evolving Tactics, Capabilities, and Strategies of Separatist Groups

A significant impact has been seen in the ambush and hit-and-run capabilities of separatist groups in Balochistan. There has also been greater coordination and cooperation among militant organizations, which had in the past worked against each other. The formation of Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS) in 2018, for example, lent a new vitality to the insurgent movement in Balochistan, which had ebbed in the preceding years (Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research [Pakistan], April 18, 2019; see Terrorism Monitor, September 20, 2019). BRAS is a coalition of three militant groups: the BLA, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), and the Baloch Republican Guard (BRG). The motive behind the formation of this coalition was to unify and strengthen the collective power of Balochistan’s separatist groups.

A combination of surprise, improved training and cooperation, and the use of modern weapons and heavy armaments have increased the intensity of violent attacks against Pakistan’s security forces (The National [UAE], May 5, 2023). This can be seen in the high death toll and the nature of some attacks. For example, in April 2019, militants wearing FC uniforms intercepted a bus, checked the identity cards of passengers, offloaded 14 passengers—mostly Pakistan Navy personnel—and killed them (Dawn, April 18, 2019). Similarly, in January 2022, an attack against an army check post in Turbat, Balochistan resulted in the deaths of ten soldiers (Al Jazeera, January 28, 2022). These attacks demonstrated a growth in both the capacity and ability of Baloch separatist insurgents to coordinate.

Fedayeen Attacks

The separatist groups have also introduced the use of fedayeen (“self-sacrificing”) attacks (The Balochistan Post, July 20, 2020). Unlike ambushes and hit-and-runs, in fedayeen attacks militants hit a target with the intention of causing maximum damage, sometimes attempting to capture hostages. The militants involved, however, do so with the assumption that they will be dead at the end of the operation.

Several sophisticated fedayeen attacks have been carried out by Baloch militant groups over the last few years. Last year, the BLA’s Majeed Brigade—considered the most lethal and organized separatist unit in Balochistan—carried out simultaneous fedayeen attacks against security camps in two different districts, Panjgur and Nushki (Al Jazeera, February 5, 2022). They entered the camps and held several soldiers hostage for nearly 72 hours before they were killed (Dawn, February 6, 2022). This incident alone demonstrated effective coordination, increased capabilities, and the adoption of a new tactic to wage an insurgency. The militants also tried to carry out a similar attack against the Karachi Stock Exchange in 2020 (BBC, June 29, 2020). However, this attempt was foiled, and all the militants were killed before they could enter the complex.

Suicide Bombings

One important aspect of separatist insurgency in Balochistan has been its use of suicide bombings. The first suicide attack by Baloch separatist groups is traced back to 2011, when a suicide bomber tried to assassinate Shafiq Mengal, an alleged proxy of the Pakistani government (The Express Tribune [Paksitan], December 31, 2011). Mengal survived the attack, but multiple civilians were killed. An interlude of seven years transpired before the next suicide attack took place in 2018.

Since 2018, Baloch insurgents have carried out four suicide attacks, including two by women. Three of these have targeted Chinese nationals. In 2018, a suicide attack hit a bus carrying Chinese engineers working in Dalbandin, Balochistan (Daily Times [Pakistan], August 12, 2018). The engineers were working on the Saindak project, which is a joint venture between Pakistan and China to extract gold and copper. In August 2021, a young suicide bomber also attempted to attack Chinese nationals in Gwadar (Pakistan Today, August 20, 2021). While Chinese nationals only received minor injuries, the attack killed two children and wounded three other people. The first female suicide bomber, Shari Baloch, also attacked a bus carrying Chinese teachers, who were teaching the Chinese language at Karachi University’s Confucius Institute (BBC, April 26, 2022; see Terrorism Monitor, May 20, 2022).


The revitalized insurgency in Balochistan complicates the Pakistani state’s security challenges. The gravity of this threat is compounded by a fresh wave of violence from the TTP, which is forcing Pakistan’s security forces to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously. Moreover, the renewed insurgency, given its anti-China bent, also poses a particular threat to the CPEC (The Diplomat, August 15, 2023). Considering the complexity of these threats, it will be necessary for Pakistan to comprehensively reassess its approach to counter the underlying dynamics fueling the insurgency in Balochistan, expanding its toolkit beyond military options alone.