Balochistan Liberation Army

Formed2000
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackJuly 22, 2000: July 22, 2000: The BLA claimed responsibility for a bomb that was placed in a market in Quetta, Balochistan. (7 killed, 25 wounded). [1]
Last AttackJune 30, 2015: June 30, 2015: According to security forces, the BLA attacked the United Baloch Army. (20 killed, 0 wounded). [2]
UpdatedAugust 3, 2015

Narrative Summary

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a Balochi ethnonationalist militant organization fighting against the Pakistani government for greater regional autonomy for the province of Balochistan. [3] [4] [5] Most members are drawn from the Marri or Bugti tribes. It is speculated that the BLA may also be drawing members from political youth activists. [6] Although the group officially was founded in 2000, the media along with some analysts speculate that the group is a resurgence of prior Baloch ethnonationalist insurgencies, and more specifically the Independent Balochistan Movement of 1973 to 1977.[7][8]

The BLA formed in the summer of 2000 in response to growing resentment in Balochistan over the perceived government monopoly of Balochistan’s natural resources and unequal allocation of jobs to Punjabis over Balochi natives. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] The organization was first recognized after they claimed credit for a series of bombings in markets and railways targeting Pakistani soldiers and police. [15]Throughout the rest of the summer, the BLA claimed eight more attacks. These attacks targeted Pakistani military locations and personnel using mortar strikes, typical of the BLA’s small scale bombings that persist till present. [16] Following its founding, the BLA’s activities, particularly from 2000-2003, are undocumented. However, in May 2003, the BLA carried out a string of attacks, killing police and non-native Baloch residents. The following year the BLA attacked Chinese foreign workers that were involved in government sponsored mega-development projects, which lead to increased media coverage on the group and signaled the groups willingness to go after foreigners to draw Pakistani government attention. [17] [18] The Pakistani government responded to these attacks by mobilizing an estimated 20,000 additional troops to Balochistan. [19] 

Despite the government’s military presence, the BLA’s attacks continued throughout 2003 and into the summer of 2004 with car bombs and numerous IED attacks. In 2005, the group carried out an attack on Camp Kohlu, which at the time was housing the visiting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistani government designated the attack against Camp Kohlu as an attempt against the president’s life and led the . government to label the BLA as a terrorist organization in 2006. [20] Additionally, the Pakistani government began to more actively target the BLA, particularly alleged BLA leaders.  This strategy is still in use by Pakistani security forces today. [21] [22] [23] On August 26, 2006, the government killed alleged leader Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti and on November 21, 2007, it killed Mir Balaach Marri. [24] [25] [26] [27] The two alleged leaders were considered to be some of the most influential people in Balochistan and the attacks, according to the Pakistani Human Rights Commission, may have been formulated to incite more attacks by the BLA, which could be used by the government to justify further intervention in Balochistan. [28]

Around the same time, the Pakistani government gave rights to the port of Gwadar, located in southern Balochistan, to China on a forty-year lease. The BLA and many Balochis interpreted the lease as another Pakistani government effort to colonize Balochistan. [29] The deal was publically used by the BLA to further support its claims that the Pakistani government is trying to colonize Balochistan. 

In September of 2008, the BLA, the Balochistan Liberation Front, and the Baloch Republican Army, and  Pakistan declared a ceasefire. The ceasefire was made with the understanding that the Pakistan government would meet with the three groups for negotiations. However, the ceasefire was ended by the BLA in January 2009 because it was upset that the Pakistani government had made no meaningful attempts to begin negotiations. [30] [31] On April 15, 2009 during an interview on AAJ TV, alleged leader Brahamdagh Khan Bugti urged Balochi people to kill any non-native Balochi residing in Balochistan whether they were military or civilian. [32]  Following Bugti’s interview, targeted killings of Punjabi civilians broke out in Balochistan. The BLA claimed credit for inciting the violence, but it is unclear if the killings were carried out by Balochi residents “answering the call” or if the killings were carried out directly by the BLA. According to the BLA an estimated 500 Punjabis were killed following the interview. Many of the Punjabi killed were multi-generational residents of Balochistan. [33] In addition to ethnic cleansing from 2009-2012, the BLA continued to carry out various attacks against Pakistani government affiliates including military personnel, policemen, government officials, and school teachers. [34] [35] [36]

In 2013, the BLA claimed responsibility for the attack on the historic summer home of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s, a national heritage site. [37] Following the natural death of alleged leader Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri In 2014, Marri’s six sons fought over the leadership of the BLA, it is believed that three of the sons left the BLA to help create a splinter group called the United Baloch Army. The feuding brothers have not been identified and there is little information on which brothers took part in the two organizations. [38] Since then, the BLA has continued their operations against the Pakistani government and has recently begun to carry out attacks against the United Baloch Army. [39]

Leadership

The BLA does not publicize their leaders and most alleged leaders actively deny affiliation. It has been speculated by analysts that the BLA’s leadership is made up of Marri and Bugti tribe members.

  1. Brahamdagh Khan Bugti (Unknown to Unknown): Brahamdagh Bugti was an alleged BLA leader who is most known for calling for the killing of all non-native residents of Balochistan in a live TV interview. Pakistani government alleged that after leaving the BLA he helped bring back the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF).[40]
  2. Bijar Khan (Unknown to Unknown): An alleged leader of the BLA, Khan was killed in a government raid operation that took place in July. [41]
  3. Mir Balaach Marri (Unknown to November 21, 2007): 1. Mir Balaach Marri (unknown-November 21, 2007): Marri, a former provincial parliament member, allegedly used his political influence to gain support from the community for the BLA. It is unclear when he may have taken control of the BLA. Pakistani security forces carried out numerous attacks against Marri and he was eventually killed by what was believed to be a Pakistani security forces operation on November 21, 2007. [42]
  4. Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri (Unknown to August 2014): Nawab Marri was involved with the 1970’s insurgency in Balochistan and has been called “the godfather” of the Baloch armed movement and a key figure in the organization until he died from natural caused in June 2014.[43]
  5. Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti (2000 to August 26, 2006): Bugti was the former Chief Minister of Balochistan. He is considered one of the grandfathers of the organization and was killed by a Pakistani security forces operation on August 26, 2006. [44]

Ideology & Goals

The BLA seeks greater regional autonomy of Balochistan from Pakistan. The group believes that the foundation that Pakistan was built on, that all Muslims are created equal, is wrong and that, instead, ethnic identity takes precedence over religious identity. [45] Further, the BLA believes that the central government of Pakistan inequitably distributes profits from natural resources in the region and jobs to Punjabis.

Size Estimates

500 (Institute for the Study of Violent Groups) [46]

•1,000-2,000 (Unconventional Warfare in South Asia: Shadow Warriors and Counterinsurgency) [47]

•6,000 (BLA Official Twitter Feed) [48]

Designated/Listed

The groups behavior was described as terrorism by the U.S. Department of State on April 30, 2007; however, the group has not been officially designated by the U.S. Government. [49]

 

Resources

Pakistani intelligence agencies accuse Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, of providing covert arms, financial support, and training to the BLA in an attempt to destabilize Pakistan and block Chinese influence in Balochistan. [50] However, some analysts argue that such interference would be against Indian interests, as India, like Pakistan, also seeks to profit from Balochi oil and gas resources. [51]

It is also believed that the BLA benefits from leftover weapons from prior conflicts in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. [52] Due to high community support for autonomy and independence from people of the Balochistan, many analysts suspect that a large amount of the BLA’s income and weapons supply come from donations from the Balochi people. [53] Balochi leaders have also claimed that financial contributions from the Balochi diaspora make it possible to procure arms and ammunition through the black market. [54]

Experts have also speculated that since Balochistan is a key smuggling route for many products, with a very large portion of the world’s opium passing through its borders, smuggling could also be a large source of income for the BLA. [55]

 

External Influences

Pakistani intelligence agencies accuse Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, of providing covert arms, financial support, and training to the BLA in an attempt to destabilize Pakistan and block Chinese influence in Balochistan. [56] However, some analysts argue that such interference would be against Indian interests, as India, like Pakistan, also seeks to profit from Balochi oil and gas resources. [57]

Pakistani politicians have also claimed that U.S. and British intelligence agencies are supporting the Balochi rebellion in order to sabotage a proposed oil pipeline that could undermine U.S. control of Gulf oil. [58]

 

Geographical Locations

The BLA is headquartered in the mountains of the western province of Balochistan in Pakistan. Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, sharing a border with Iran and Afghanistan to the west, the Arabian Sea to the south, and the Sindh and Punjab provinces to the east.

Targets & Tactics

The BLA uses car bombs, mortar strikes, rocket strikes, IEDs, landmines, grenades, kidnappings, small-arms attacks, conventional warfare, unconventional warfare, ethnic cleansing, social media, and nationalist propaganda to achieve its goal of gaining greater regional autonomy. The BLA largely targets Pakistani government affiliates and interests, including natural gas pipelines, oil fields, civilian and soldiers working for the government, in addition to people with Punjabi heritage and ties. [59] [60]

Some human rights organizations accuse the BLA of ethnic cleansing because on April 15, 2009 during an interview on AAJ TV, alleged leader Brahamdagh Khan Bugti urged Balochi people to kill any non-native Balochi residing in Balochistan which allegdegly led to the deaths of 500 Punjabis. [61]

Political Activities

While the BLA has no formal political organization, it garners sympathy, and at times open support, from many Balochi political parties including the National Party and the Students Organization. [62]  

Major Attacks

  1. Unknown: The BLA attacked Chinese foregin-workers involved with Pakistani government mege-development projects. (uknown killed, unknown wounded).[63]
  2. Unknown: Alleged BLA leader Brahamdagh Khan Bugti called for Balochi natives to kill non-native residents of Balochistan. The BLA claims that these attacks took the lives of about 500 Punjabis. (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[64]
  3. July 22, 2000: The BLA claimed responsibility for a bomb that was placed in a market in Quetta, Balochistan. (7 killed, 25 wounded).[65]
  4. May 2003: The BLA carried out a string of attacks, killing police and non-native Baloch residents. (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[66]
  5. December 14, 2005: BLA combatants launched six rockets at a paramilitary camp in Kohlu that then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was visiting. Though Musharraf was unharmed, the Pakistani government labeled the attack an attempt on his life, and initiated a sweeping army operation in retaliation. (uknown killed, unknown wounded).[67]
  6. June 14, 2009: Masked BLA gunmen shot dead Anwar Baig, a schoolteacher in Kalat, who had opposed the recitation of the Baloch anthem in schools. This killing was part of a larger campaign against educators who were seen to be sympathetic to the Pakistani state. (1 killed, 0 wounded).[68]
  7. July 30, 2009: BLA attackers kidnapped 19 Pakistani police personnel in Sui, killed one and injured 16. Over the course of 3 weeks the BLA’s captors killed all but one of the kidnapped policemen. (19 killed, 16 wounded).[69]
  8. November 22, 2011: BLA insurgents attacked government security personnel who were guarding a private coal mine in the northern Musakhel district. (14 killed, 10 wounded).[70]
  9. December 31, 2011: BLA militants placed a car bomb outside the house of a former minister of state, Mir Naseer Mengal. (13 killed, 30 wounded).[71]
  10. June 13, 2012: BLA militants claimed a rocket attack and raid on the summer home of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The Pakistan flag had also been replaced by a BLA flag on the property. (1 killed, 0 wounded).[72]
  11. June 30, 2015: BLA militants attacked United Baloch Army Karam Khan Camp in Peer Masori area. (20 killed, 0 wounded).[73]

Relationships with Other Groups

The BLA is one of multiple insurgent groups fighting for increased sovereignty for the Balochistan province. In addition to the BLA, the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), Lashkar-e-Balochistan (LeB), and the Jhalawan Baloch Tiger are also active in the region. The BLA and BLF are the strongest and most influential militant groups of Balochistan. [74] There has been no confirmed coordination between the BLA and other Balochi and non-Balochi groups, and some groups’ leaders have claimed that the different militant organizations have almost identical goals, but operate independently of one another. [75] 

While the BLA has not actively cooperated with any other groups, individual members have gone on to establish other groups. Alleged BLA leader, Brahamdagh Khan Bugti, reportedly led the BLA for several years until he left to help form the Balochistan Liberation Front. [76]  In addition, following the death of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri in June 2014, his sons fought over who was the rightful successor of the organization. As a result, a group of the six Marri brothers broke off and formed a new organization called the United Baloch Army (UBA) while a different Marri brother ran the BLA. It is unknown which brothers were involved with which of the two groups. [77] As of June 2015, the two groups were still fighting one another as the BLA pushed to eliminate the UBA. [78]

 

Community Relationships

There is significant support in Balochistan for an independent Balochi state. [79] As a result, the Balochi people support many of the ethnonationalist groups in Balochistan. While the majority of people distance themselves publically from the BLA, sympathizers and supporters can be found throughout the community. [80] Although some in the community find BLA tactics distasteful, others feel that the BLA and organizations like it are fighting for its cause. [81] 

The majority of the BLA leadership is comprised of the Marri and Bugti tribes and these two tribes hold a lot of political support and power in Balochistan, which ultimately provides a very pro nationalist voice that is in line with some BLA sentiments. [82] [83] [84]


References

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