BLA attack on PSX: A lesson to learn

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Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

The killing of eight people in the militant attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in Karachi on Monday has sent shock waves around the country. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack, and government officials pointed a finger at India’s involvement immediately.

Law enforcement agencies thwarted the militants’ entry into the main building, but the attack has raised alarm about a BLA presence and operability in the country’s busiest commercial hub. The first reaction of  Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said following the attack was; “India cannot tolerate peace in Pakistan,”.

Attackers armed with grenades and rifles were also carrying food items with them, indicating they had planned for a more prolonged assault and had possibly wanted to hold people inside the building hostage.

On April 7, 2006, the government of Pakistan declared BLA a terrorist organization, and the US confirmed it as a global terrorist group on July 2, 2019. 

KARACHI: Pakistan Army soldiers deployed at Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) to tackle any odd situation following the militant attack at the building on Monday (June 29).

According to the US State Department; “BLA is an armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan. BLA has carried out several terrorist attacks in the past year, including a suicide attack in August 2018 that targeted Chinese engineers in Balochistan, a November 2018 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, and a May 2019 attack against a luxury hotel in Gwadar, Balochistan.”

But despite BLA’s designation, the government has failed to curb the violent activities of the group due to an archaic provincial governance and the parochial political culture of Baloch society. Above all– there is external organizations’ foreign financial and material support.

Indeed, handling the Balochistan situation, especially in a charged political atmosphere, is difficult for the government when the Baloch elected allies of the ruling PTI government have been beating the drums of Balochistan’s neglect by the central government. 

On June 16, BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal announced that his party had  decided to leave the PTI coalition at the centre because Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government had “failed to deliver.”

The dissatisfaction of Baloch parliamentarians works in favour of separatist militant groups in the province such as BLA, and the lawmakers’ frustration will be used by such groups to justify nefarious activities and recruit discontented unemployed Baloch youngsters.

Balochistan is an economically backward and politically unstable province of Pakistan.  Since the 1970’s, Baloch dissident groups have been involved in insurgent activities. The Baloch leaders claim the federal government is not providing enough funds to the province and has been manipulating its mineral resources. Some even demand the independence of Balochistan from the federation. 

The government of Pakistan has been trying to accommodate their genuine political and economic demands but has forcefully cast off the idea of their secession from the federation. The secessionist demands of these groups has alienated them from the Pakistani state. But that does make them attractive for anti-Pakistan regional and global forces.

The secessionists’ created violent insurgent groups such as BLA– with  cadres spread across Balochistan and in the bordering areas of Afghanistan.  And the BLA has systematically penetrated the youth through its student wing—Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), which recruits students from universities for their cause.

Another advantage for groups like BLA is the gradual socio-economic transformation within Bloch society that has rocked its tribal system. The wearing tribal system is creating an authority vacuum filled by insurgents rather than government institutions. 

Interestingly, BLA propagates that it is determined to reform Baloch society. Therefore, it is opposed to the traditional tribal ‘sardar’ or ‘kawailey’ system to attract both young and educated Baluchs. And yet, many ‘sardarzadas’– scions of tribal chiefs– are currently active in BLA.

In summary, without a realistic political approach, the government cannot cut off BLA’s support in Balochistan. Admittedly, the transformation of political culture needs an evolutionary process, but anarchical governance issues can be resolved through the accommodation of Baloch elected parliamentarians’ concerns.    

(Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: jaspal_99@hotmail.com Twitter: @zafar_jaspal)