Salem Radio Network News Friday, March 24, 2023


The Media Line: Suicide Attack in Southwestern Pakistan Kills 9, Injures 16

Suicide Attack in Southwestern Pakistan Kills 9, Injures 16

The newly formed Tehrik-i-Jihad Pakistan (TJP) group claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted security personnel

The Media Line

[Islamabad] At least eight security personnel and one civilian were killed and 16 others were injured in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on Monday when a suicide bomber drove his motorbike into a security vehicle.

The officers were on their way back to Quetta, Balochistan’s capital city, after serving as security at the Sibi Mela, an annual cultural festival in the province.

The explosion targeted a vehicle of the Balochistan Constabulary, one of the province’s two paramilitary security forces, that was traveling on the Kambri bridge.

As soon as the explosion was reported, law enforcement officials, paramedics, and volunteers set out for the blast site. Those injured by the explosion were transported to Quetta Hospital by helicopter.

Law enforcement officials cordoned off the area and launched a search operation for those involved in organizing the attack.

A state of emergency was declared in Quetta hospitals following the explosion. Sources told The Media Line that the number of fatalities is expected to rise.

According to unofficial sources, the newly formed terrorist group Tehrik-i-Jihad Pakistan (TJP) claimed responsibility for the attack and identified the suicide bomber as Salem Raisini. The group says it will continue its attacks in Pakistan until Islamic law is mandated in the country.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has not yet commented on the TJP’s apparent claim of responsibility for the attack.

Balochistan is no stranger to attacks of this sort. Nearly a year ago, in March 2022, at least seven security personnel were killed in an explosion at Sibi Mela, just minutes after President Arif Alvi had addressed the crowd at the closing ceremony.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Muhammed Notezai, a senior superintendent of district police, told The Media Line that the explosion appears to have been a suicide attack, but cautioned that further investigation is required before a definitive explanation can be given.

Chief Minister of Balochistan Abdul Quddus Bizenjo condemned the attack, painting the perpetrators as cowards who are attempting to create unrest in the province and stifle its progress. “All these conspiracies will be foiled with the support of the people,” he said.

Bizenjo also offered condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Balochistan has seen a recent increase in terrorist incidents, including attacks on security forces.

According to data from the counterterrorism department, more than 36 targeted killings and explosions were reported in the province over the last two months. Seventeen people were killed in Quetta alone, including security personnel.

More than thirty terrorists from various banned organizations were also killed by security forces as Pakistan attempts to respond to the escalating violence.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by area, extends across 44% of the country.

The province is rich in natural gas – the biggest contributor to the local economy – in addition to oil, copper, and gold. It borders the Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces as well as Afghanistan and Iran.

Balochistan is also at the center of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, part of Beijing’s massive Belt and Road Initiative to develop routes of transportation throughout Central Asia.

A central aspect of the CPEC project is the development of a deep-water port at Gwadar, which will be linked to China’s Xinjiang Province. Other CPEC programs aim to develop the region’s energy infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, and industry.

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and other Baloch ethnonationalist groups have been fighting since at least 2004 to establish a homeland for the Baloch people in a territory currently located across Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. In 2019, the US declared the BLA a terrorist organization, calling it an “armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan.”

Baloch terrorist groups including the BLA have carried out several attacks in recent years. In April 2019, Baloch fighters blocked the Gwadar coastal highway near Iran and executed 14 members of the security forces who were accompanying CPEC staff.

The next month, in May 2019, the BLA struck a luxury hotel in Gwadar that was occupied by Chinese managers of the CPEC project as well as foreign businesspeople.

In April 2022, the BLA claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed three Chinese nationals in Karachi. They specified in a statement that they had deliberately targeted the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute in Karachi in order “to give a clear message to China that its direct or indirect presence in Balochistan will not be accepted.”

The BLA’s founder, Balach Marri, was killed by a US airstrike in Afghanistan in 2007.

Faran Jeffery, COO of the UK-based Midstone Centre for International Affairs, told The Media Line that it should not come as a surprise that a new terrorist group is claiming responsibility for such a serious attack in the context of Pakistan’s crackdown on more established terrorist groups.

A senior Pakistani delegation recently visited Kabul in order to insist that Afghanistan rein in the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, which has been responsible for numerous recent terror attacks in Pakistan. The TTP is independent of the Afghan Taliban, but Pakistani officials believe that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP have close ties and that most of the TTP’s leadership is based in Afghanistan.

“As I had predicted following the recent visit of the Pakistani delegation to Kabul, smaller and new groups will start claiming major attacks while the TTP will only claim minor attacks. That will release some pressure from the Afghan Taliban and distract Pakistan at the same time,” Jeffery said.

According to Jeffrey, most of these smaller terrorist groups are in fact closely connected to the TTP. But while the Taliban has offered to mediate talks between the TTP and Pakistan, it has not accepted any responsibility for other Pakistani terrorist groups. The execution of attacks by smaller organizations that are less obviously tied to the Taliban allows for plausible deniability on the part of the Taliban and the TTP.

“As long as there’s a jihadi industry in the Afghan-Pak region, Pakistan will keep fighting these militants, who will simply keep changing the names and flags of their groups, but their ideology, targets and ambitions remain largely the same,” Jeffrey said.

Retired Brigadier General Muhammad Zeeshan, who serves as director general of the Center for Peace, Security and Development Studies, Islamabad, told The Media Line that TJP, the terror organization responsible for Monday’s suicide attack, was formed in a merger between the TTP and Baloch separatists.

“This merger has emboldened the capability of the Baloch insurgents,” Zeeshan said.

Once led by tribal elders, Baloch militias have since splintered and are now led by various commoners. The militias are well-funded due to a sophisticated system of extortion and narcotics sales. “Because of the huge funding, Baloch militants can buy those sophisticated weapons which were left behind during the US troops’ evacuation from Afghanistan. Subsequently, insurgents are frequently using those high-tech weapons against Pakistani security forces,” Zeeshan said.

Quetta-based analyst Ali Usman Bangalzai blamed the recent terror attacks on security lapses.

“The acts of terrorism have also damaged the infrastructure built for the people of the province and disrupted the provision of basic amenities to the people,” Bangalzai said. He called on the province to improve its political conditions and change its feudal and chieftaincy systems in order to curb the rise in extremism and militancy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior officer from the counterterrorism department told The Media Line that formerly dormant terrorist organizations seem to have become active once again.

The officer refused to comment specifically on the TJP, which claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack.


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