Despite Karachi bloodshed, many point to successes in strategy against separatists

Police commandos set an example of bravery and professionalism when they repulsed an attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi in which three security guards and a police officer were killed.

The assault on Monday was claimed by the Baluchistan Liberation Army, or BLA, terror organization. The group has been waging an insurgency for years, demanding independence for Pakistan’s gas-rich southwestern Baluchistan Province, which borders the southern Sindh Province, where Karachi is the provincial capital.

The Rapid Response Force, an elite group within Pakistan’s police force, killed all four of the attackers within 10 minutes in an exchange of fire. In doing so, the commandos swiftly reduced the potential loss of life from the attack. Nevertheless, it left the country bleeding from yet another act of terrorism.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday said: “The world knows Pakistan’s position against terrorism. We have lost thousands of innocent lives in the war against terrorism.”

Pakistani officials and foreign policy and defense experts say the BLA is dancing to the tune of foreign organizations.

Some believe the BLA is getting financial support and training from foreign groups in and beyond the South Asia region, even though Pakistan has claimed to have broken the terrorist network in Baluchistan. They talk of the group’s media arm getting a sympathetic hearing in Europe.

Pakistan has regularly blamed India for supporting Baloch separatists-a charge New Delhi has repeatedly denied.

On Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told Parliament: “I have no doubt that India is behind the attack.” Intelligence gathering weeks earlier had suggested a threat, which put security agencies on high alert, he added.

As with previous attacks, India has denied any involvement.

Murad Ali Shah, chief minister of Sindh Province, said the assault on the stock exchange in his province was “akin to an attack on national security and the economy”.

Global condemnation

The terrorist attack was condemned across the globe.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated the solidarity of the United Nations with Pakistan’s government and its people in their efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism, his spokesman said.

In a statement on Wednesday, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, extended his country’s support for Pakistan and expressed condolences over the lives lost in Karachi.

In a video message on Tuesday, Yousef al-Othaimeen, the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, also offered support for Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.

The BLA, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Kingdom, among others, attacked a five-star hotel in the port city of Gwadar in Baluchistan on May 11 last year. A serviceman of the Pakistan Navy and four hotel workers were killed in the raid.

On Nov 23, 2018, BLA terrorists tried to attack the Chinese consulate in Karachi, but were killed before they could enter the building.

After years of unrest, Pakistan’s government and armed forces adopted a new strategy in an attempt to stop the violence in Baluchistan. An amnesty was announced in 2018 for Baloch youths who were lured to the ranks of the BLA. By January this year, more than 6,000 young militants had surrendered.

The government is also trying to create jobs for young people in the province. According to Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior, around 500 of them have recently gained work in the armed forces and with civilian government departments. Hundreds of Baloch students have been granted scholarships by universities in Punjab Province.

Separatist leader Nawabzada Gazain Marri has returned to Pakistan after a decade in self-imposed exile, a development seen as another government success in soothing tensions with the militants in Baluchistan.

“The return to ordinary life of Baluchistan youths, with their surrendering of their arms, has broken the backbone of the BLA,” said Sohail Iqbal Bhati, an Islamabad-based independent researcher.

“They have run short on human resources,” Bhati said of the militant group. “We must acknowledge Pakistan’s counterterrorism department for devising a strategy that is finally bearing fruit.”

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