On Thursday, April 18, unidentified gunmen stopped a group of buses on the Makran Coastal Highway in Ormara, Balochistan, and shot dead fourteen people on board. While the buses had been carrying a total of almost 40 passengers on their way to Gwadar from Karachi, the assailants only targeted specific individuals, and that too only after checking their CNICs. This suggested that the attackers were targeting people belonging to a specific religious community, province, or race, and that they may have had some prior knowledge regarding the people on board.
The attack occurred around 1am in the morning, and Reports indicate that around 15 to 20 armed assailants wearing Security Force (SFs) uniforms stopped five or six buses travelling between Karachi (Sindh) and Gwadar (Balochistan), checked the identity cards of passengers, but offloaded 16 of the passengers from just one bus. Two of the offloaded passengers managed to escape despite sustaining injuries. Balochistan Inspector General of Police Mohsin Hassan Butt described the incident as a “targeted killing”. The majority of the selected personnel were from the Pakistan Navy indicating that the attack was against the armed forces. The perpetrators involved in the assault were wearing the uniforms of local security forces. Two of the offloaded passengers managed to escape despite sustaining injuries, making their way to the nearest Balochistan Levies check post, while the bodies of the victims were recovered from the Noor Baksh Hotel near the site of the attack.
Balochistan Inspector General of Police Mohsin Hassan Butt described the incident as a “targeted killing” and also added that many of the bodies that had been recovered bore marks of mutilation and torture. The majority of the selected personnel were from the Pakistan Navy indicating that the attack was against the armed forces. The attack was claimed by an alliance of three separatist groups operating in Baluchistan province—the Baluch liberation army, Baluch Republican Guards and Baluch Republican Army. It is unlikely that these are organized groups or an actual alliance. More likely that these are small groups of dissidents masquerading under big sounding names to give themselves a larger than life image.
The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Jam Kamal, strongly condemned the attack, stating that “these cowardly terrorists showed the extent of their barbarism by murdering innocent passengers” and that this incident was nothing but another attempt to halt the great progress taking place inside the province. However, he reassured the people of the region that the “progress (would) continue no matter what”. The Chief Minister also seemed to hint that some foreign actors may have been involved in planning this attack, saying that “the people of Balochistan look upon terrorists who follow the agenda of foreign elements with hate” and that “through the support of the people, terrorism will be eliminated and the terrorists will continue to be brought to justice”.
In the past Baluch dissidents have reached out to India for support and India has encouraged, supported and advised them. There seems to be external sponsorship of destabilizing activity in Baluchistan, with this episode the latest in a string of incidents suggesting that foreign elements may be actively trying to undermine the peace process underway within the province.
This attack comes days after a bomb blast in Quetta’s Hazarganji market claimed the lives of twenty people, and injured almost fifty more. The attack was targeted at the small Shiite, Hazara community that frequents the market, and was claimed by two different terrorist groups. Immediately after the attack, it had been the Taliban that had claimed responsibility for the blast, saying that they had been assisted by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). However, a few days later, the Islamic State (IS) claimed that they had masterminded the blast, and even released the name and picture of the alleged bomber.
According to DIG Cheema, a cursory investigation had revealed that the attack took place in a green grocer’s shop and that it had been carried out by planting an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in a gunny sack filled with potatoes. However, he did note that “whether it (the explosive) was timed or remote-controlled, our experts will tell. Right now they are investigating”.
Over the past few months it seems that episodes like this have been getting more frequent by the day. While Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its war on terrorism, it seemed that in recent years some progress was finally being made. Yet, it appears that despite the best efforts of our armed forces, hostile groups within and outside the country remain hell-bent on disrupting the peace that hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have already given their life for, and continue to do so, as evidenced by the recent incidents in Balochistan.
With the Islamic State being driven out of its headquarters in Iraq, and the successful operations conducted in the North West region by the Armed Forces, Balochistan has suddenly become the perfect destination for nefarious groups to conduct their operations with a small degree of freedom that may not be afforded anywhere else. However, this movement of terror groups in to the province seems to have just begun, and it would be wise if the military and the government formulate a comprehensive strategy in order to drive out these meddling forces from within our borders. For if they are given the same freedom that was afforded to them in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Fata, then there is no telling what they may do next. The sooner action is taken against these groups, the better it is for the future stability of Pakistan.