Chinese consulate attack: BLA’s bid for revival

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By Naveed Ahmed

On Friday Pakistan faced two terror attacks: one took a heavier toll on human lives while the other was aimed at its most prized strategic and economic partner. The prime minister termed both attacks as part of “a planned campaign to create unrest in the country by those who do not want Pakistan to prosper.” The assault on the Chinese consulate in Karachi killed four, along with three militants.
In an edited video, released on social media after the incursion, two of the three attackers are seen reading a statement in English at an undisclosed location. The duo threatened Beijing and Islamabad of more subversive actions. Later, purported pictures show that two men committed suicide to avert imminent arrest.
The facts reveal so far suggest that the botched blitz on the consulate was a desperate attempt by Baloch militants.
The objective of scaring the Chinese from developing Gawadar port, as well as logistical arteries connecting to the national grid, is already a lost cause. The kidnapping of Chinese engineers or killing of security personnel has resulted in the elimination or surrender of the erstwhile militants. The gaps, however, remain in sealing off the Afghan and Iranian borders. Ever since Kulbushan Jadhav’s arrest and the bust of the Chabahar network in Balochistan, Pakistan-Iran engagement over border security has intensified. As much as Islamabad and Tehran find a convergence of national interests in effectively regulating their mutual border, Kabul seems less inclined to appreciate Pakistan’s installation of a fence and cameras on the shared frontier.

The entire effort is directed at creating camaradarie among like-minded Baloch tribesmen as well as a media campaign. The BLA’s terror squad might have failed to enter the Chinese diplomatic campus but has succeeded in launching a media campaign by providing audio-visual content.  The consulate attack reflects a shift in the BLA’s media strategy and a change in tactics. While the subversive activities in Balochistan have dropped significantly, the militants might try to hit high-profile targets in urban Sindh, possibly Multan and Peshawar.
The BLA won’t stop at using Friday’s ambush to launch a recruitment campaign and a media crusade, but may very likely pad it with a diplomatic shove. Remember the New York and London buses gilding the Baloch separatist message a few months ago? More of that is most probably set to come.
Imran Khan must listen to Baloch leader Attaullah Mengal more attentively and deliver. He is the most valuable ally for the PTI government, and Islamabad must capitalize on that. It’s high time to effectively address the root causes of Baloch resentment.
Karachi has been a hornet’s nest, where a mafia of various ilks connive with law enforcement authorities. Sindh police and intelligence service are key to the megacity’s future. Be it al-Qaeda sleeper cells or sanctuaries for Baloch militants, Karachi can’t be purged and kept clear of miscreants without a professional security apparatus. The Chinese consulate attack must bring the federal and provincial government on the same page in restoring the rule of law, without the assistance of the Rangers or other paramilitary forces. This time a brave female police superintendent saved the day, but who knows? Terrorists may have better luck in the future.

(Naveed Ahmad is an investigative journalist and academic based in the GCC with a career in writing on diplomacy, security and governance. He won the Jefferson Fellowship in 2000 and UNAOC Cross-Cultural Reporting Award 2010. Twitter: @naveed360