A COLLECTION of small nationalist insurgent groups has been making its presence felt in Sindh for the last several years. However, the government and security institutions appear to be least concerned about these groups and the security threat they pose.
A new Sindhi militant group, the Sindhudesh People’s Army, has recently appeared on the scene by claiming a heinous attack on a dental clinic run by a Chinese-Pakistani couple in Karachi. The group’s purported spokesman, Soreh Sindhi, released a statement claiming that the SPA fighters had targeted the clinic, killing one Chinese man and injuring three others. He stated that his group claimed responsibility for the attack and warned the Chinese government against cooperating with Pakistan, which it said was an occupier of ‘Sindhudesh’. The statement also demanded that China should end its projects in the province.
No doubt, this sounds very familiar as most Baloch insurgent groups issue similar statements to the media after accepting responsibility for terrorist attacks. The resemblance in their narratives strengthens the view that the Baloch and Sindhi militant groups might have developed synergy in their political and terrorist strategy, as Baloch militants are targeting Chinese nationals working on CPEC and other development projects in the country.
Many security experts strongly believe that the Sindhi militant groups have developed a nexus with BRAS, an alliance of Baloch insurgent groups, which is providing training to Sindhi insurgents in return for logistical support for its operations in Karachi and other places in Sindh. Others assert that there is very little space for an insurgent movement to be nurtured in the province because of a growing middle class and the stakes that educated youth have in the system. Right now, the political landscape is not very fertile for any popular separatist movement either.
Security experts believe that Sindhi militant groups have developed a nexus with Baloch insurgents.
However, since the rumours erupted about the growing ties between Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups, the former have become more assertive. The operational strength and threat of the Sindhi insurgents is low to moderate. But the emergence of new groups such as the SPA is a clear warning, especially for Pakistan’s bilateral and multilateral economic and trade engagements in the province and the rest of the country. Though little information is available about the group, experts argue that it could be a faction of either the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army or the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz. Others hold the view that using a new name could be just an operational tactic employed by some old group to get recognition and attention.
The Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army and the Sindhudesh Liberation Army have been involved in terrorist activities since 2007 in interior Sindh and Karachi; initially, their attacks were confined to damaging ATM machines, power transmission lines and railway tracks, but gradually, they started attacking the security apparatus, mainly the police and paramilitary forces deployed in the province. After a surge in attacks, the federal interior ministry decided to include these two Sindhi groups, along with the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, on its list of banned organisations under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
State institutions in the country believe that they can deal with the issue through hard security approaches; even the weak reconciliatory processes of the past took place under the influence of this perception. While the nationalist insurgency in Sindh is not even considered a threat to national security, there are few prospects that these movements will disappear anytime soon. Constant security engagement, however, has its own financial and political costs, and it also builds up anger in communities, especially among the youth. It is also believed that the situation in Balochistan is entirely different as the people’s grievances are deep-rooted, and the province has a history of nationalist insurgency and armed conflict.
The Sindhi militant groups have the potential to remain potent as long as their external support mechanism or nexus with Baloch insurgent groups remains intact. However, the Sindhi groups face two disadvantages; first, they don’t have an extensive support base, which is essential for any insurgent movement to move towards a logical conclusion. Insurgent movements have political objectives and adopt terrorist tactics to become politically relevant and force the power institutions to initiate a political process to address their grievances. The Sindhi militants do not have any political outlook, and neither does any major political nor nationalist party in Sindh province subscribe to their ideology or action.
Second, Sindhi militant groups do not have a face, like the Baloch insurgents who have a visible leadership. Though the Baloch insurgents have almost abandoned the leadership belonging to tribal elites, they have leaders hailing from the lower middle classes.
The new leadership transformed the Baloch insurgency, making the old leadership irrelevant, and pushing the latter towards the establishment. There are rumours swirling around that the establishment and exiled Bugti and Marri leaders are in contact, and that they may reconcile soon. It was the argument of the new Baloch insurgents that tribal leaders compromise when the insurgent movement picks up momentum. However, the Sindhi militant groups do not have the luxury of being ‘deceived’.
At the same time, the Sindhi militants have succeeded in denting the trust that the Chinese companies had reposed in the security institutions of Pakistan. China and Pakistan are both investing a lot to protect Chinese nationals working on CPEC projects, but the militants have succeeded in finding soft targets such as Chinese teachers and doctors, which has caused Beijing to panic and put pressure on Pakistan.
The security institutions have limited options to deal with a faceless militant group, but they can focus more on breaking the nexuses with external factors, including like-minded militant movements in Balochistan. At the moment, the tactics of the Sindhi militants are not sophisticated, and vigilant policing can help minimise their terrorist potential.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2022