Officials say Sindhi and Baloch ‘separatists’ forming nexus in Sindh but experts skeptical

Policemen patrol near the Pakistan Stock Exchange building following an attack by gunmen in Karachi on June 29, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Officials say Sindhi and Baloch ‘separatists’ forming nexus in Sindh but experts skeptical

  • The little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army has carried out a spate of small attacks in Sindh province in recent weeks
  • Sindh Rangers chief says series of recent assaults have proved “hostile” agencies were working to bring Sindhi and Balochi insurgents closer together

KARACHI: Security officials in Pakistan say investigations into a spate of recent attacks in the southern Sindh province have led them to believe there is growing closeness between Sindhi separatists and militant groups from the insurgency racked Balochistan province, but experts warn that it might be too early to assume a “nexus”. 

Late last month, gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four attackers. Counterterrorism officials said the attack had been claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group from the southwestern province of Balochistan which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Just weeks earlier, three consecutive explosions killed four people including two soldiers in Sindh. A shadowy secessionist organization, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), that wants the province to break from the Pakistani federation, claimed responsibility for the attacks. This week, SRA also claimed a grenade attack on a Karachi bakery in which a retired paramilitary Rangers official was killed.

SRA and two other Sindhi groups were banned by the government in May this year.

Speaking to media after the attack on the stock exchange building, Sindh Rangers chief, Major General Omer Ahmed Bukhari, said the string of attacks had proved that “hostile intelligence agencies” were working to forge a “nexus” between Sindhi and Balochi insurgent groups, adding that he believed ongoing investigations would establish this beyond a doubt.

In a statement emailed to the media after the stock exchange attack, the BLA admitted it had “complete support” from Sindhi groups.

“Today both the nations [Baloch and Sindhi] are fighting for the independence of their homelands against Pakistan,” the BLA statement said. “We had the complete support of Sindhi nation in today’s attack and it shows a strong brotherly bond between both the nations.”

Separatists have been fighting security forces for years in Balochistan over what they see as the unfair exploitation of the province’s vast mineral wealth. They also claim security forces have pushed them to take up arms because of a long history of human rights abuses against the Baloch people, which security forces and subsequent governments in Balochistan have vehemently denied. Insurgents are also opposed to, and attack, projects linked to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in the resource-rich province.

Pakistan has regularly blamed India for supporting Baloch separatists, a charge Delhi denies.

Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament he had no doubt India was behind the attack on the stock exchange building, which India promptly denied. Khan offered no evidence for his allegation, but he said there had been intelligence reports warning of attacks in Pakistan and he had informed his cabinet about the threats.

Sindhi separatists like the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army have carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks, but their fight has been less violent than that of neighboring Balochistan where separatists have attacked a Chinese consulate, a major hotel chain and on many occasions killed security officials patrolling a coastal highway.

Now, officials fear Sindhi groups might be able to enhance their capacity to carry our deadlier attacks with help from Baloch militants and other hostile groups.

“It can be a source of lawlessness in the future if this nexus is not broken,” said a police officer involved in investigating a “possible nexus between Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups, backed by India.” He requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

The police official said Baloch groups already had “some capability” to launch damaging attacks “but once there is a nexus, it can also be helpful for Sindhi nationalists, and that’s worrisome.”

A senior intelligence officer, who also declined to be named, said there was a noticeable increase in the frequency of attacks by Sindhi groups, which pointed to the fact that they might have more experienced helpers.

“Increase in capability [through a nexus with Baloch groups] will only be proved if they launch more sophisticated attacks,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies are absolutely aware and alert to the dangers posed by the growing of this nexus.”

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter terrorism officer in Karachi, said while teaming up with other groups might enhance the capacity of Sindhi nationalists, he did not see the nexus posing a major threat in the near future.

“The nexus can supplement the capacity of Sindhi sub-nationalists,” Khattab said, “but they will not be able create any big law and order situation due to the preparedness of the law enforcement agencies.”

Sindh’s chief of Rangers has also said Baloch and Sindh separatists were also cosying up to the London faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Pakistani political party whose leader Altaf Hussain lives in exile in London.

“Hostile intelligence agencies strive to make a nexus of the cells, sleeper cells and facilitators of the remnant terrorists organizations [separatists], which include the remnants of the MQM,” Bukhari said during his press talk after the stock exchange attack.

The MQM, one of Pakistan’s biggest political parties, mostly comprises descendants of Muslim Urdu-speaking people who migrated to Pakistan around the time of the partition of India in 1947.

Once able to control Sindh province with an iron grip, the party’s fortunes have waned in recent years, particularly since 2013 when the military launched a crackdown against criminal groups and militants as murder rates soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily. Many saw the operation, centered in Karachi, as a pretext to wrest control of the teeming port city from the MQM, an accusation security forces deny.

While Karachi crime rates have dropped sharply and many local businesses have welcomed the operation, allegations of brutal and illegal methods have remained.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has in the past referred dozens of cases of illegal abductions of MQM workers to the Pakistan government, concluding a “pattern of specific targeting” of the MQM by Rangers, which the paramilitary force denies.

Before the 2013 operation, law enforcement agencies and many Karachi residents accused the MQM of racketeering, the abduction, torture and murder of opponents and holding the city to ransom by calling mass strikes at will.

On Wednesday, the MQM’s Qasim Ali Raza denied the party had any links to separatists or attacks in Sindh and urged the state to stop the “blind and fraudulent” process of blaming the party.

Karachi-based political analyst Mazhar Abbas said a nexus between the MQM and separatist groups, if it existed, would not work.

“The workers of MQM neither accepted the alliance with Sindhi nationalists [in the past],” he said, “nor will they subscribe to the current idea of a friendship.”

Other analysts said there was as yet no “sold” evidence to claim the nexus existed.

“Politically, there has been some closeness between Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, but speaking about a military nexus, one needs to have solid evidence at hand,” Sohail Sangi, a Karachi-based analyst who closely observes separatist groups, said.

Anwar Sajjadi, a Quetta-based security analyst, however, said he believed a growing nexus was a possibility, saying it was no coincidence that Sindhi groups too had recently started voicing opposition to Chinese projects being built under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) umbrella, which Baloch groups have long opposed.

“We have seen uniformity in their stances,” Sajjadi said. “Same stance on CPEC and other [rights] issues is bringing all these groups closer.”

OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia

Updated 29 February 2024

OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia

  • COMSTECH, Al-Shifa Eye Trust Hospital to set up free cataract eye surgery camp in Mogadishu from March 1-10
  • Initiative aims to eliminate “avoidable blindness” with free cataract eye surgeries to those in need, says state media

ISLAMABAD: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Ministerial Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) has joined hands with a leading Pakistani hospital to provide free cataract eye surgeries in Mogadishu, Somalia, from next month, state-run media reported on Thursday. 
COMSTECH and Pakistan’s Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital are collaborating with Al-Nur Foundation Somali and the Benadir University Somalia to organize a free cataract eye surgery camp in Mogadishu from March 1-10, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 
“The goal of this initiative is to eliminate avoidable blindness by providing free cataract surgeries to those in need,” the report said, adding the camp would be organized at the Dalmar Specialized and Teaching Hospital in Mogadishu. 
APP said that the eye surgery camp is poised to make a “significant impact” on the lives of individuals in need. 
“By offering free medical consultations, medications, eyeglasses, and surgeries to address cataract-related issues, the camp aims to alleviate the burden of visual impairment and improve the overall quality of life for participants,” APP said. 
Headquartered in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, COMSTECH aims to strengthen cooperation among OIC member states in science and technology, and enhance their capabilities through training in emerging areas.

Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

Updated 29 February 2024

Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

  • Analysts say maiden National Assembly session boosted investors’ confidence in Pakistan’s stock market
  • After much political uncertainty and rigging accusations, Pakistani legislators will elect a new premier on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s stock market continued its bullish run on Thursday, extending its previous day’s gains to close with an increase of 1.3 percent, as political uncertainty somewhat decreased after the country’s National Assembly convened its maiden session following controversial polls this month.
The stock market’s benchmark KSE100 index gained 875 points to close at the 64,579 level on Thursday, official data showed. On Wednesday, the KSE100 index had gained by 484 points to close at 63,703 points. 
Pakistan has been wracked with political uncertainty due to countrywide protests by political parties, who say the national polls of Feb. 8 were heavily rigged. However, financial analysts noted that investors’ confidence in the market increased as Pakistan’s National Assembly held its maiden session on Thursday, indicating that the country would soon be led by a new democratic government. 
“Stocks closed bullish after the president summoned the National Assembly session himself for the formation of a government,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive officer of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. 
“The move is easing political noise.” 
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) parties have announced joining hands to form their government at the center. The two parties have the required number of seats to form a coalition government. They also have the support of smaller parties in the assembly and have announced former premier Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister. 
Sheheryar Butt, portfolio manager at Pakistani securities brokerage company Darson Securities, said the market had continued its bullish trend from Wednesday amid growing anticipation of the PML-N forming the next government. 
“The next government will have to negotiate with IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the manifesto of the PML-N is compatible with the IMF,” Butt noted. 
He said that Pakistani investors expect the new government will continue to implement the measures undertaken by the caretaker administration to secure a new long-term program from the IMF.
One of the principal tasks of the new government would be to secure a long-term bailout program from the international lender, as its short-term program expires next month. Pakistan’s fragile $350-billion economy is in desperate need of external financing to shore its up its foreign exchange reserves and escape its economic crisis. 
“Pakistan needs a long-term program for at least three years to ensure economic stability, so the market expects that the PML-N will follow the footprint of the caretaker government,” he explained.
Butt was confident Pakistan would secure the last tranche from the IMF under the $3 billion short-term financing agreement it reached with the lender last summer. 
Pakistan’s National Assembly will elect the country’s prime minister on March 3 while elections for the speaker and deputy speaker’s posts are scheduled to be held on Friday, March 1.

Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Updated 29 February 2024

Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

  • The exercise was held at semi-mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s Punjab province from Feb. 25-27
  • Pakistan’s army chief attends closing ceremony, lauds participating teams for their professionalism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan concluded a three-day, 60-hour joint military training exercise with participating teams from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other countries this week, Pakistan Army’s media wing said on Thursday.
Pakistan opened the 7th International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Exercise in the northwestern town of Pabbi on Sunday. The exercise, which ran from Feb. 25-27, was aimed at enhancing combat skills through the sharing of innovative ideas and experiences by participants. 
The exercise would also help hone basic soldierly attributes besides interoperability through the sharing of innovative ideas and mutual best practices, the ISPR said last week. 
Seven teams from the Pakistan Army and 15 teams from Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, the US, Uzbekistan, Srilanka, Thailand and Turkiye participated in the exercise. Azerbaijan, China, Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar witnessed the exercise as observers, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
“The exercise was conducted from 25-27 Feb 2024 in the semi-mountainous terrain of Punjab,” the ISPR said. “Over the years, the exercise has gained much prominence as a very competitive professional military activity for friendly countries.”
Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir attended the event’s closing ceremony at the eastern city of Kharian, the ISPR said. Munir appreciated the participating teams for their professionalism, and for demonstrating physical and mental endurance during the various stages of the exercise.
“At the end, COAS [chief of army staff] gave away individual and team awards to the participants of the exercise,” the ISPR said.
Pakistan routinely holds joint air, ground and sea exercises with friendly nations to foster interoperability and joint deployment concepts to counter threats to global peace.
Several cadets from these nations annually visit the South Asian country, which has fought back militancy for decades, to undergo specialized military training.

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Updated 29 February 2024

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

  • Pakistan’s eastern Rawalpindi city will host Pakistan Super League matches from March 2-10
  • Snipers, police to be stationed along ‘critical routes’ and at rooftops near stadium says state media

ISLAMABAD: The administration in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi has taken “extensive measures” to provide security to players and citizens as the city gears up to host the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament next month, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Pakistan’s eastern city of Rawalpindi will host PSL matches from March 2-10. PSL matches every year draw thousands of people to stadiums in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where matches are usually held. The PSL also features apart from local cricket stars, international cricketers of renown. 
The Rawalpindi administration has finalized a security plan ahead of the tournament’s matches, the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report, amid a surge in militant attacks across the country. 
“Under the security plan finalized for PSL matches, over 5,000 police personnel, including elite forces, would be deployed to provide foolproof security cover to the matches,” the APP said. 
It said the security plan includes closing stations, managing traffic, and “strict surveillance” to ensure the safety of the cricketers, officials and spectators. 
It said around 750 police officers would be tasked with managing the teams’ movement from the Islamabad airport across the districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
“Snipers, along with police equipped with advanced security tools, would be stationed along critical routes and rooftops near the stadium,” the report said. “These measures are designed to ensure a secure environment for the event.”
It said Rwalpindi’s traffic police has also developed a traffic management plan to cope with the expected increase in vehicles during the matches. 
Pakistani authorities have been wary of attacks targeting cricketers and cricket events, especially since 2009 when militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The incident scared international teams from touring Pakistan, forcing the South Asian country to choose the UAE as its home ground for several years before international teams started touring the country again.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, especially in its western regions bordering Afghanistan, since November 2022 after a fragile truce between the state and the Pakistani Taliban broke down.

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

Updated 29 February 2024

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

  • Pakistan offering basmati rice at competitive prices amid rebound in production
  • India, Pakistan are leading exporters of rice to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UAE

MUMBAI: India’s basmati rice exports are likely to fall in 2024 after nearing a record high last year, as rival Pakistan is offering the grain at competitive prices amid a rebound in production, industry officials said.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of the premium long-grain variety of rice, famous for its aroma, to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
India’s exports of basmati rice surged 11.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons in 2023, just shy of the record high of 5 million tons hit in 2020, on lower supplies from Pakistan and stocking efforts by importing countries, industry officials said.
Basmati rice shipments helped the world’s biggest rice exporter to garner a record $5.4 billion in 2023, up nearly 21 percent from the previous year, because of higher prices, government data showed.
“Last year, buyers were hustling to stock up when Pakistan was facing production issues. This year, however, Pakistan offers lower prices than India due to increased production,” Vijay Setia, a leading exporter based in Haryana state of India, said.
Islamabad’s total rice exports could jump to 5 million tons in 2023/24 financial year, up from the last year’s 3.7 million tons, Chela Ram Kewlani, chairman of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) said last month.
The depreciation of the Pakistani rupee has made Pakistan’s exports more competitive, according to Akshay Gupta, head of bulk exports at KRBL Ltd.
Meanwhile, lower export demand amid an estimated 10 percent rise in India’s basmati rice production has started pulling down basmati prices in that country, said Gupta.
Iran, the biggest buyer of Indian basmati rice, slashed purchases by 36 percent in 2023, but higher shipments to Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia offset the shortfall, according to data compiled by India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Indian exports had lost momentum in September and October as the government imposed minimum export price (MEP) on basmati rice, but they quickly recovered, said a New-Delhi-based exporter.
In August, India imposed the MEP on basmati rice shipments at $1,200 per ton, exceeding prevailing market rates, before lowering it to $950 in October.
However, exports began faltering again in January, and may decline further in the near term as buyers delay purchases due to increased freight costs caused by disruptions in shipping via the Red Sea, exporter Vijay Setia said.
“Buyers are holding ample inventory; there’s no need for them to rush,” he said.