Anatomy of Baloch Liberation Army

July 15, 2006

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EVEN though the existence of the Baloch Liberation Army has been denied time and again by the government, the organisation, which represents the violent face of the nationalist struggle in the province, was declared a terrorist outfit in April this year. Because of its clandestine chain of command, it remains a shadowy organisation, with some sources actually claiming that it does not exist.

The organisation is reportedly headed by Nawabzada Balaach Marri, the Moscow-educated son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, who is known to have Marxist leanings. Some sources believe that the BLA was a Russian creation and came into being during the Afghan war of the 1980s, and was propped up as a reaction to Pakistan’s anti-Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. However, this claim is countered by others who view it as a purely secular-nationalist movement without any foreign links. These sources say that the BLA activists receive no foreign assistance and use their own resources to keep the struggle going.

But a question that is frequently asked is whether an insurgency of this level can be sustained without outside support. A report that was submitted by the Pakistan intelligence to the government in the late 1990s mentioned the location of a militant training camp linked to the BLA, in Kishan Garh, India, a few kilometres away from the eastern border, and along a route of illegal arms supplies. Eyebrows were also raised when Balaach’s brother, Nawabzada Gazin Marri, was arrested in Dubai in March 2006 and accused of channelling funds to the BLA from Dubai-based sympathisers.

Even though it is considered to have a loose structure, the attacks the BLA has claimed responsibility for in Balochistan have been successful and coordinated. In 2004 alone, the rebels carried out almost 1,500 attacks.

The organisation claims that it does not wish to hurt civilians and that its main targets are government and military establishments. Indeed, most of the militants’ targets have been power, gas and train lines. However, its ongoing struggle against the government has meant insecurity for the civilian population as seen in the Kohlu-Kahan areas that are dominated by the Marris. Here, the loss of civilian lives at the hands of the security forces has been immense.

Not all Baloch support the BLA’s violent ways, and even though they feel that they have been wronged by the central government, they have begun to resent militant activity. They feel that they suffer both at the hands of the government and the organisations that claim to fight for their rights by taking up arms. A smaller militant group, Balochistan Liberation Front, is also known to be engaged in anti-government guerrilla operations in the Pasni and Gwadar areas.