India’s proxy war against Pakistan
The latest terrorist attack in Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi is a sign of escalating proxy war in the region. The raid on the stock exchange building, carried out by a Baloch separatist group, is a grim reminder that India will do its best to take advantage of Pakistan’s vulnerabilities in the strategically located Balochistan province.
However, the recent development indicates that It is not just Pakistani security forces but also Chinese interests in the country that are under attack now, making many officials believe that the recent assault in Karachi was part of a conspiracy to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which took its responsibility, is the largest and most lethal of all armed separatist groups fighting Pakistan in the southwestern province of the country. It also features on the US list of terrorist entities and has remained involved in several attacks targeting civilians and Pakistani security forces in recent years.
There has been a marked escalation in the group’s operations with the heightening of tensions between India and Pakistan. Just last month, there were three attacks carried out by the outfit on Pakistani security forces in Balochistan.
Last week’s armed raid on the country’s main bourse carried the hallmark of the 2018 BLA attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Not only was It designed to scare investors but also to send a warning signal to China since its companies took over the management control of the stock market in 2016 after acquiring 40 percent of the shares. These shares are held by the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Shenzhen Stock Exchange and China Financial Futures Exchange.
In the last few years, Pakistan’s security forces seemingly contained the insurgency in Balochistan, but the latest spike in terror attacks in the country indicates that secessionist groups are gaining strength once more. The recent attacks indicate that militants are now better equipped and trained, reinforcing the allegation of foreign support to Baloch separatists
In a statement issued by the group after the attack, the BLA warned to intensify its struggle against China’s interests, if Beijing continued to remain “involved in Baloch exploitation” and supported “Pakistan’s genocide” of them.” The group has already targeted Chinese nationals working on the corridor projects in Balochistan, killing several workers in a bus attack in the province’s Dalbandin district about two years ago.
Balochistan has been in the grip of a low-intensity insurgency for over a decade. With a population of less than ten million, the province is the most underdeveloped region in the country. Years of deprivation and political alienation have led to the rise of militant nationalism. It all started with the demand for the political and economic autonomy for the province, but state oppression and denial of democratic rights forced some Baloch groups to take up arms and seek independence for ethnically Baloch areas.
A majority of Baloch nationalists reject secession and continue to fight for greater autonomy while staying within the framework of the Pakistani federation. However, state repression has blurred the division, pushing many moderates into the arms of radicals.
According to rights groups, hundreds of young Baloch people, many of them students, disappeared after they were picked up by the country’s security agencies. This provided new recruits to secessionist groups. The situation also divided political families in the province, with Balochistan's geostrategic location further adding to its woes since foreign powers also got involved in the conflict.
In the last few years, Pakistan’s security forces contained the insurgency to some extent, but the latest spike in terrorist attacks indicates that secessionist groups are gaining strength once more. The recent attacks indicate that militants are now better equipped and trained, reinforcing the allegation of foreign support to Baloch separatists.
India's assistance to the secessionist movement in Balochistan has increased after Narendra Modi’s ultra-nationalist government assumed the political power in the neighboring country. As part of its policy of what is described as “offensive defense,” the Modi administration offered asylum to Baloch separatist leaders. The strategy now is to capitalize on Pakistan’s internal fault lines to divert attention from the mass anti-India revolt in occupied Kashmir.
Increasingly hostile relations with Kabul have further complicated Pakistan’s predicament. For long, Islamabad has complained about Baloch insurgents taking sanctuary across the border in Afghanistan and being actively supported by India’s intelligence agency, RAW.
Given the new great game being played in the region and the history of proxy wars between India and Pakistan, the involvement of external forces in recent terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out. However, foreign intelligence agencies can only fish in troubled waters. It is, therefore, extremely important for Pakistan to redress the sense of alienation among the Baloch population.
- Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. Twitter: @hidhussain