June 29, 2020
By Ahmed Saeed
On Monday morning, (June 29), the nation was shocked after security forces killed four terrorists who attempted to break into the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) armed with guns and grenades. Some time later the banned group – Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) – claimed responsibility of the attack and released a picture of four men who they claimed were the attackers. All four men were killed without entering too far into the compound, while three security personnel- two security guards of PSX and a police sub-inspector- were also killed in action.
It was commendable that the attack was thwarted within a duration of ‘eight minutes’ as the media was told – thanks to the quick response of the PSX security personnel and the Sindh police officials. While there were deaths and some were also injured, if the attack would have been successful it would have been a long and challenging situation.
Tributes for the police and security guards flooded in, including one by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa who praised them for foiling the attack. Still it has been puzzling as to why the BLA targeted the PSX specifically.
#COAS paid glowing tributes to security guards of #PSX, who sacrificed their lives as first responders vigilantly checking terrorist’s entry to PSX foiling a major terrorist incident. Appreciating LEAs for their operational readiness, COAS lauded prompt, effective… (1/2)
— DG ISPR (@OfficialDGISPR) June 29, 2020
WHAT IS THE BLA?
The BLA, an ethno-nationalist militant organisation that arose from Balochistan and also mainly operates there. The group started its operation in the 2000s after Baloch tribe leader Nawabzada Khair Bux Marri was arrested in a murder case. Marri himself had led a separatist insurgency in Balochistan around 46 years ago, and spent years in exile after being freed from jail in the 1970s. Among many he is considered the symbol of Baloch resistance.
However Marri did not admit to encouraging the BLA, but it is widely believed that he had a hand in forming the group in 2000, when the military dictator, General Pervez Musaharraf, contracted international firms to explore oil and gas in the Kohlu region – which was his own birth town.
The BLA aimed at destroying defence installations, gas pipelines and railway tracks in Balochistan by using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or hand grenades. It was also involved in ethnic cleansing of non-Baloch minorities in Balochistan. But since the last few years, the group seems to have expanded its operations and it has carried out some attacks outside of Balochistan especially in Karachi where a large chunk of the population are Balochi speaking and natives of Balochistan. It has also claimed the responsibly of several suicide attacks.
The BLA was also responsible for the attack on the Quaid-e-Azam Residency, a historical residence in Ziarat, where Muhammad Ali Jinnah spent the last days of his life. The building was attacked by rockets on 15 June, 2013.
Apart from being declared a global terrorist organization by Pakistan, it was also declared so by the United States and the United Kingdom.
ATTACKS IN KARACHI
Quetta based journalist Mujib Ali has reminded that the banned outfit had shifted its headquarters and training camps to Kandahar in Afghanistan because of continuous military operations in Balochistan. He said that the BLA was getting financial and strategic support from India and Afghanistan.
In 1975, all National Awami Party leaders, including Khair Bux Marri had been arrested today known as the ‘Hyderabad conspiracy case’. As a result of this, the Baloch rebels joined the Marri tribesmen in an increasingly violent insurgency against the army, which forced much of its leadership across the border into Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Mujib Ali also mentioned the attack on the Chinese consulate in 2018.
“After the inauguration of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the BLA and other Baloch militant organizations teamed up to form a group called ‘brass’. This group then attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018.”
According to Ali, the militants’ organizations choose to target Karachi because they get better media coverage. “Whenever they do something in Karachi, everyone shines light on them and this way they gain influence in metropolitans too,” he said.
In 2018, the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi was also quelled by timely action of security forces. Seven people including the four attackers were killed in that attack. But the attack got prominent coverage in both the local and the international press.
Journalist Zia ur Rehman, who has been covering violence and terrorism in Karachi since the last many years says that police reports reveal that the PSX attack and the one on the Chinese consulate were similar in nature. Both were carried out by the Majeed Brigade – a group within the BLA who have been especially trained to carry out suicide missions.
Meanwhile security analyst Amir Rana says that the BLA is continuously trying to hurt Chinese interests in Pakistan and today’s attack was just a part of this campaign.
“Chinese companies have invested a huge amount in PSX and the Shanghai Stock Exchange is also interested in investing in the PSX. So, prima facie it seems that the BLA chose to target it just to damage Chinese interests,” says Rana.
Whatever the motive may be, Karachi has remained vulnerable to terrorist attacks, mainly because it is the business center and the port city of Pakistan.