The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), one of the most prominent militant groups operating against Pakistani, has claimed a deadly attack on Chinese citizens in Karachi on Tuesday. The BLA, which operates mainly from Balochistan, has been battling for the liberation of the province. Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province by territory but the smallest in terms of the population given its arid mountainous terrain.
Balochistan borders Afghanistan to the north, and Iran to the west and has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. It has Pakistan’s largest natural gas field and is believed to have many more undiscovered reserves, reported news agency Reuters.
Over the years, the BLA’s main focus has been Pakistani security forces, but in recent years the group has also targeted not Chinese interests, but its citizens.
CCTV footage of the attack showed a burqa-clad woman standing outside the entrance of the Confucius Institute on Tuesday. The woman detonated herself just as the van neared the institute’s entrance. Three Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver died in the attack.
A spokesperson of the BLA, which is banned in Pakistan, the UK and the US, said the attack was carried out by Shari Baloch alias Bramsh – the “first female suicide bomber of the brigade”. The attack marks “a new chapter in the history of Baloch resistance,” he added.
Recent attacks on Chinese nationals
This is not the first time Chinese nationals have been the target of terror attacks in Karachi – Pakistan’s biggest city and economic hub.
The BLA claimed attacks there on the Pakistan Stock Exchange Building in 2020 and the Chinese consulate in 2018.
In 2021, 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals, were killed in an explosion that hit a bus carrying Chinese engineers to a hydro-power plant construction site in northern Pakistan. Although, Pakistan blamed that attack on the Pakistani Taliban, operating out of Afghanistan.
In 2020, at least five people died when the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi was targeted in an attack claimed by the BLA in “retaliation” against “Chinese exploitative plans in Balochistan.”
In 2018, the group claimed another attack in which gunmen tried to storm the Chinese consulate in Karachi, killing four people.
So, why is BLA targeting Chinese nationals and its interests?
The BLA claimed it attacks Chinese nationals because Beijing ignored warnings not to enter deals and agreements regarding Balochistan before the province had been “liberated”, Reuters reported.
Thousands of Chinese personnel are working in Pakistan on several projects being carried out under the aegis of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which envisages development projects worth more than $60 billion.
Among China’s major projects in Balochistan is the port of Gwadar, strategically located near the Strait of Hormuz – a crucial oil shipping route in the Arabian Sea.
Chinese engineers working at the port came under attack from an operation claimed by the BLA last year.
A Chinese company also operates a major gold and copper mine in Balochistan.
The security of its nationals in Pakistan has become a major issue for Beijing, especially since it launched the CPEC.
The group demands that all Pakistani security forces withdraw from Balochistan and has suggested negotiations in the presence of an “international guarantor”.
It claims its “Fidayees” (guerrillas) are made up of young, educated Baloch who are disillusioned by hardship and being sidelined from economic development.
(With inputs from Reuters, PTI)