On Tuesday, July 2, the US Department of State added the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Hezbollah member Husain Ali Hazzima to its Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list, citing attacks in 2018 and 2019 against Chinese engineers, consulate, and a hotel. The groups aliases have also been blacklisted.
“The outfit [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 on a luxury hotel in Gwadar,” said the State Department, according to Tribune.
The US State Department’s classification of BLA as terrorists means that no entity or individual in the US can have ties to the group and that the government can freeze assets of anyone found to have ties to the group.
Pakistan welcomed the move and hailed it as a positive development in the fight against domestic terrorism. It has accused the BLA of being an agent of RAW, India’s external intelligence agency.
It said, “We have taken note of the designation by the US Administration of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). BLA remains a proscribed entity in Pakistan since 2006 and, in recent times, has carried out several terrorist attacks in the country.”
Retired Defence Analyst Lieutenant General Amjad Shoaib spoke to Tribune and said the US blacklisting BLA is part of its strategy on Iran. BLA was allegedly operating on behalf of Iran and Afghanistan.
What is the Balochistan Liberation Army?
The BLA or Balochistan Liberation Army is an ethnic separatist group in the Balochistan province. It leads an armed insurgency against the Pakistan government and security forces and demands independence of the Balochistan province.
The province makes up almost half of Pakistan and is the largest of its four provinces. Tensions first sparked between Baloch and the Pakistan government when a member of the military allegedly raped a local, Dr. Shazia Khalid, in Sui, a town in Baloch.
At the time, the Pakistan government tried downplaying the matter, saying stray militants were trying to dredge up an anti-Pakistan sentiment by agitating against the security forces. However, the call for Baloch nationalism has since grown strong.
The BLA now contends that Pakistan consistently overlooks the welfare of Baloch people and only exploits the mineral-rich province for gas, coal, and metals. The BLA has also accused the Pakistan government of persecuting Baloch activists.
The Diplomat suggests that through its attacks on the Chinese, the BLA is also protesting China’s hostility in Xinjiang, a Muslim majority region in China.
Despite being labelled a terrorist group in 2004 by the Pakistan government, sources say the BLA has been trying to acquire more power and access to natural resources to consolidate its stronghold in the province.
Impact of BLA on Pakistan’s relations with US and China
This move by the US will lend credibility to the Pakistan government in its fight against the BLA.
The government has said that other organisations, financiers, and sponsors should follow the US and choke BLA’s funding, so that the government has greater power in Balochistan.
“This step will pave the way for development in Balochistan, especially the Gwadar port development plan and Chinese projects in the province,” said an official at Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
The US’ designation displays an improvement of US-Pak relations after Pakistan received international pressure following the Pulwama attack in India. Gulf News suggests that the US is trying to leverage Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban in the hope that it will be able to broker peace in Afghanistan.
The designation might also have a ripple effect on Pakistan-China relations, because the BLA specifically threatened Chinese interests.
“We warn China to stop her exploitative projects in Balochistan and do not support Pakistan in the genocide of Baloch people, otherwise, we will respond with more attacks,” said the BLA.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is an especially contentious issue for the BLA because it has become a symbol of Pakistan’s subservience to foreign interests at the cost of its own Baloch people.
The Pakistan government said it hopes the US designation will bring BLA’s insurgent activity to a standstill.
“It is hoped that this designation will ensure that BLA’s space to operate is minimised. It is important that the perpetrators, organisers, financers, and external sponsors, including those glorifying these acts of terror against Pakistan, are held accountable and brought to justice.”
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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