Conflict Alerts # 119, 1 July 2020
In the news
On 29 June, four-armed militants stormed the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in Karachi with hand grenades and assault rifles. In the hourlong crossfire that finally neutralized the militants, one police officer and three security guards were reported dead. The Baloch insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), have claimed responsibility for the attack through social media. However, the heads of Pakistan's paramilitary force Sindh Rangers, the Army, Counter-Terrorism Department and Prime Minister Imran Khan have directly and indirectly accused the Indian government and its intelligence agency of aiding BLA in orchestrating the attack to 'destabilize Pakistan.' The overt accusations have been denied by India.
Issues at large
First, target on larger Chinese interests through CPEC. In recent years, the militant group has directed its attacks on China's presence and interests in Balochistan province such as the Gwadar deep-sea port which is a part of BRI's flagship programme of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The attack on the PSX could be interpreted as a larger attack on Chinese investments in Pakistan as the Chinese investors hold a 40 per cent stake in the PSX in Karachi.
Second, target on Pakistan's clampdown on the Baloch insurgency. Baloch disappearances, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, killings and abuses have long been the tool used by Pakistan to subdue the Baloch insurgency. The human rights abuses have been issues that featured in the PTI-BNP(M) agreements. However, the Human Rights Council of Balochistan in its annual report said that there was no betterment in the human rights conditions of Balochis. Historically too, the resource-rich southwestern province has been violence beset, and the issue of Baloch disappearances dates back to 1973.
Last, accusing the BLA of India connections. Pakistan's PM, security heads and mainstream media have linked the BLA with the Indian government. The political leadership has cited several reports by the Indian media, such as Modi's statement during his Bangladesh visit about India's involvement in 'destabilizing Pakistan' and Indian citizenship offer to exiled anti-Pak Baloch leaders including Baloch Republican Party Brahamdagh Bugti. Accusing India externalizes the problem than finding a solution inwards.
First, the attack echoes swelling dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and loss of faith in the federal government and Pakistan's political and judicial structures. It also reflects the socio-political and economic frustrations within the Baloch community. The event sets a dangerous precedent considering the rifts and cracks within the ruling coalition at the Center.
Second, the inadvertent nexus of BNP-M exit and the PSX attack and Pakistan's allegations are difficult to ignore. A week before the attack BNP-M withdrew from the ruling coalition, citing the unfulfillment of the two agreements signed in 2018 which included the six-point pact. As the attack followed, it was quickly and vociferously attributed to India. It remains to be seen whether this leads to winning back the support of the BNP-M.
Lakshmi V Menon is a Research Consultant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.