Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Balochistan Liberation Army: Pakistan hails US for terrorist group designation

Pakistan has welcomed the move, which will allow the US to target the militant separatist group's assets, reports Ben Farmer from Islamabad

Pakistani passengers and villagers gather after a remote-controlled bomb exploded on a railway line in Nasirabad in the province of Balochistan, 311km southeast of Quetta, Pakistan. AFP
Pakistani passengers and villagers gather after a remote-controlled bomb exploded on a railway line in Nasirabad in the province of Balochistan, 311km southeast of Quetta, Pakistan. AFP

Pakistan has welcomed a decision by the United States to designate Pakistani separatist militant organisation the Balochistan Liberation Army a global terrorist group.

The BLA is a militant organisation that seeks independence for Balochistan, the largest and least developed province of Pakistan, which also straddles Iran and Afghanistan. It has been running a violent insurgency for years.

The BLA has attacked both security forces, civilians and Chinese assets, in what Pakistan's military says is a proxy war abetted by India and Afghanistan. China has significant investments in the mineral-rich province.

The move comes ahead of a state visit to Washington DC by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and has been seen as a favouring both Pakistan and China.

The designation will allow the US to target and freeze any financial assets connected with the group in the US.

“It is hoped that this designation will ensure that BLA’s space to operate is minimised,” a statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“It is important that the perpetrators, organisers, finances and external sponsors, including those glorifying these acts of terror against Pakistan, are held accountable and brought to justice.”

However, a statement from the BLA called the ban "beyond comprehension and unjustified". It said the movement worked to resist foreign intruders and protect its people, alleging that the US had fallen victim to diplomatic "blackmail" by Pakistan.

Tensions in the province were in the media earlier in the week after Pakistan’s foreign ministry demanded an investigation into alleged abuse during a Cricket World Cup match with Afghanistan in the United Kingdom on Saturday. There was crowd trouble after a banner was flown at the game that read “justice For Balochistan”.

Imtiaz Gul, chief executive of Islamabad-based think tank the Centre for Research and Security Studies, said outlawing the group had been a long-standing request from Pakistan.

“I think I would say this is a confidence building measure by the US, ahead of the prime minister's visit to DC.

Analysts have suggested that the grant was in return for Pakistan's help trying to secure a peace deal in neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan has long sponsored and supported the Taliban. It says it has little sway over the militants, however, its influence is still considered critical to hopes of securing some kind of political settlement to end the long-running war.

“The Pakistanis are being helpful, but so far they have not done anything they couldn't easily reverse,” said one Western official who is familiar with peace negotiations.

The BLA has in recent months emerged as a significant threat to the vast Chinese infrastructure investment spree in Pakistan. While resentment that the mineral-rich province is being exploited by the central government at the expense of locals has long fed a low level insurgency, recent Chinese investment in mines and the deep water port of Gwadar have provided a new rallying cry for the militants. They accuse Beijing of aiding Islamabad's suppression.

BLA militants took credit for an attack in May on the five-star Pearl Continental in Gwadar, which is popular with business travellers. Several Pakistani staff and guards died after four gunmen raided the hotel.

The group also said its fighters were responsible for attacking the Chinese consulate in Karachi in November 2018. The attackers unsuccessfully tried to break into the mission, killing two policemen and a father and son applying for travel documents in the process.

Imran Khan said both attacks were a conspiracy against Pakistan's close co-operation with China. Pakistan's security establishment blames India for stoking the insurgency to try to sabotage valuable Chinese investment.

Updated: July 3, 2019 04:05 PM

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