MORE than 24 hours after the mass murder of over 20 Pakhtuns in Mastung on Friday night, the United Baloch Army claimed responsibility for the attack. The UBA is one of several separatist groups active in the province.
Balochistan is in the throes of the fifth and longest running insurgency since 1947. Triggered in 2005 by the rape of a lady doctor allegedly by an army officer in Sui, it was exacerbated by the death of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in an Army operation in August 2006. T he latest insurgency is different from the previous ones in several respects. Firstly, its contours are far wider, encompassing virtually all the Baloch-majority areas in the province including southern Balochistan, which was unaffected earlier. Secondly, it also finds considerable support among young, educated Baloch. That partly explains why it is most intense in areas like Turbat district where literacy rates — compared to other Baloch-majority areas — are higher.
Following are some of the more prominent groups involved in or linked with the insurgency in some capacity. They are all banned by the government.
Baloch Liberation Front: Led by Dr Allah Nazar, BLF claimed responsibility for the murder on April 11 of 20 labourers in Turbat. Unlike most other separatist leaders, the BLF chief does not have a feudal background; he belongs to a middle-class family from Mashkay in district Awaran. This, coupled with the fact that he is the only leader of the main insurgent groups who is engaged in actual fighting on the ground in Balochistan, contributes to his popularity among the younger Baloch.
BLF’s area of operations stretches largely across Awaran, Panjgur, Washuk, Turbat and Gwadar districts in southern Balochistan where, contrary to popular belief, the sardari system in which powerful tribal chiefs own huge tracts of land, does not exist. However, following the earthquake in Awaran in late 2013, the Army has made considerable headway in accessing parts of the district that were hitherto ‘no-go areas’ due to risk of insurgent attacks. BLF’s cadres include large numbers of Zikris, as members of this sect are concentrated in the Makran belt.
Balochistan Liberation Army: From 2000 until his death in 2007 on the Pak-Afghan border in disputed circumstances, the BLA was led by Balaach Marri — a son of veteran Baloch nationalist, the late Khair Bux Marri. The mantle of leadership was then taken up by his brother Hyrbyair Marri, who lives in self-exile in London. He was granted political asylum in the UK, having successfully argued that his life was in danger in Pakistan.
The June 15, 2013 attack on the Ziarat Residency was carried out by the BLA, which also claimed responsibility for the murder of 13 non-Baloch labourers in September of the same year. The BLF mainly operates in Khuzdar and Bolan districts although like the other insurgent groups, its area of operations is not rigidly defined.
Baloch Republican Army: After Akbar Bugti’s death in 2006, his Jamhoori Watan Party broke into three factions, one of them — the Baloch Republican Party — controlled by his grandson Brahamdagh Bugti. According to a Wikileaks cable dated March 6, 2009, “The Baloch Republican Army is rumoured to be the military wing of the BRP under control of Brahamdagh Bugti from his refuge in Kabul”. The younger Bugti escaped the military operation that killed his grandfather and lived in Afghanistan for several years after which he moved to Geneva and applied for political asylum.
One of the BRP’s more recent attacks occurred on Jan 24, 2015, when it bombed two electricity transmission lines in Naseerabad district, plunging much of the country into darkness.
United Baloch Army: The UBA is the outcome of a reported rift between Mehran Marri, youngest son of Khair Bux Marri, and his brother Hyrbyair, who heads the BLA. According to a pro-militant web portal, the BLA leadership has accused Mehran and some of his companions of “stealing three million dollars from BLA funds as well as half its weapons stash worth 800 million rupees” with which they then launched the UBA.
The massacre carried out by the UBA on Friday has been condemned by both the BRP and BLA, with the latter tweeting “Elements that want to destroy the Baloch national struggle are behind such incidents”. Until now, the deadliest attack claimed by the UBA had been the bombing of a Rawalpindi-bound train at Sibi station in April 2014, which killed at least 17 people.
Lashkar-e-Balochistan: Led by Javed Mengal, the brother of Akhtar Mengal, the LeB claimed responsibility for two bomb blasts in Lahore and Karachi in 2012. In a sign, perhaps, of differences between the separatist groups, it gave a statement to an Urdu newspaper recently saying that the BLA was more active on social media than the actual battleground.
Baloch Students Organisation-Azad: Dr Allah Nazar, current leader of the BLF, joined the Baloch Students Organisation, while he was in college. In 2002 he created a breakaway faction — BSO-Azad — that advocated armed struggle for an independent Balochistan. As Selig S. Harrison says in In the Shadow of Afghanistan, “In a tribally-based society like that of the Baloch … students play a particularly important political role, helping to fill the vacuum left by the absence of a significant middle class.”
With the insurgency’s fifth iteration finding support also among educated youth, many members of BSO-Azad have been the target of the state’s kill-and-dump tactics in the province. On March 18, 2014, BSO-Azad’s chairman, Zahid Baloch, was allegedly abducted from Quetta by security forces; in his absence Karima Baloch is the acting chairperson.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2015