FOR the second time in a month, Balochistan is the scene of a terrorist attack. Even more disturbing, the incident took place in Gwadar city, whose port is the gateway to CPEC and the veritable jewel in the crown of the multibillion dollar project — which makes the area one of the most heavily secured in the restive province. Nevertheless, on Saturday three armed assailants, disguised as security forces personnel, managed to make their way up the promontory overlooking the port and storm the PC hotel located at the top. According to official sources, five individuals — four of them hotel employees, including three security guards who tried to fight off the attackers, and a navy official — lost their lives. At least six people were injured, and the militants themselves were killed. The banned Balochistan Liberation Army has reportedly claimed responsibility, as well as a far higher death toll.

The ferocity of the attack can be gauged by the fact that it took the security forces all night to clear the hotel and declare the premises safe. While it is commendable that law enforcement acted as quickly as it did, which may have helped in keeping the number of casualties comparatively low, a couple of questions instantly present themselves. One, how did the militants access the luxury hotel, situated at a vantage point, with such apparent ease — that too in broad daylight? Two, how was it possible for them to conduct an operation in such a sensitive area without intelligence agencies getting wind of it? These security lapses must be investigated thoroughly in the coming days so that any loopholes can be plugged and further violence averted.

The motive is of course patently clear. Baloch separatist groups have made no secret of their hostility towards CPEC, which they perceive as yet another manifestation of state plunder of Balochistan’s resources. They seem to have stepped up their campaign in recent months with a number of high-profile attacks. On April 18, around a dozen gunmen singled out and killed 14 bus passengers, including 11 personnel of the navy, air force and Coast Guards, travelling on the coastal highway near the town of Ormara, also in Gwadar district. Last November, BLA launched an armed assault on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, killing two policemen and two civilians. These are but two among several such recent attacks, and they illustrate the Baloch separatist groups’ tenacity in their war against the Pakistani state. Containing them by force is necessary, but it is not a durable solution. The only long-term resolution to this extended, if low-key, conflict is a political one. The state must reach out to disaffected nationalists and individuals who have some currency with the more obdurate Baloch. Moreover, it must do all it can to eliminate extremist groups of all stripe — ethnic, sectarian and ultra nationalist.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019

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