| Security

Pakistan welcomes US designation of BLA as terrorist group

By Abdul Ghani Kakar


Pakistani army soldiers walk outside the Chinese consulate after an attack in Karachi on November 23, 2018. The Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack. [Asif Hassan/AFP]

Pakistani army soldiers walk outside the Chinese consulate after an attack in Karachi on November 23, 2018. The Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack. [Asif Hassan/AFP]

QUETTA -- The recent designation of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a global terrorist organisation is a major milestone in ties between Pakistan and the United States, Pakistani leaders and officials say.

The BLA "is an armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan", the US State Department said in its designation July 2.

Pakistan has been fighting insurgents in Balochistan since 2004. In 2006, the government designated the BLA as a proscribed entity.


This undated photo shows Asalam Baloch (left), also known as Ustad Achu, the former leader of the BLA, and Bashir Zaib Baloch, his successor. [Courtesy of Abdul Ghani Kakar]

This undated photo shows Asalam Baloch (left), also known as Ustad Achu, the former leader of the BLA, and Bashir Zaib Baloch, his successor. [Courtesy of Abdul Ghani Kakar]

"The outfit has carried out several terrorist attacks in the past year, including a suicide attack in August 2018 that targeted Chinese engineers in Balochistan, a November 2018 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi and a May 2019 attack against a luxury hotel in Gwadar," the State Department said.

Pakistan's Foreign Office welcomed the move.

"It is hoped that this designation will ensure that BLA's space to operate is minimised," the Foreign Office said in a statement July 2.

"It is important that the perpetrators, organisers, financiers and external sponsors, including those glorifying these acts of terror against Pakistan, are held accountable and brought to justice," the statement said.

Neutralising terrorist groups a top priority

"The BLA terror listing has a massive significance for Pakistan, and it will extensively benefit our narrative that external elements are sponsoring BLA-linked militants to spread terrorism on our soil," said Talat Shabir, director of the Pakistan China Study Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.

"This US decision was warmly welcomed in all our quarters," he said.

"Pakistan believes in lasting peace," he said. "Neutralising terrorist groups operating on our soil is a top priority of our national security policy."

Pakistan is looking forward to "a thoughtful decision" by countries that have received asylum applications by BLA leaders, Shabir said.

"It is a big development and success of Pakistani foreign policy that our key ally in the war against terror, the United States, has now recognised the BLA as a terrorist organisation," said Mir Khuda Bukhsh Marri, vice chairman of the organisation Pakistani Baloch Unity.

"This decision will restore the public's trust in US commitment to Pakistan's national security interests," Marri said.

"Branding the BLA a terrorist organisation is warmly welcomed in the rest of the country, and residents of Balochistan laud the decision as the BLA has caused heavy damage to the Baloch nation," he said.

Militants fighting under the umbrella of the BLA are mass murderers who have killed hundreds of innocent Pakistanis during their so-called war for rights, he said.

"Those running and sponsoring the BLA are enemies of peace in the region," Marri said.

"The BLA is compromising our national integrity and extensively involved in anti-peace activities in the rest of the country," he added. "This militant group is a proxy of our enemies; therefore, it is largely used against foreign investment in Balochistan."

Improving Pakistan-US relations

The decision to designate the BLA a global terrorist group will play a key role in improving relations between Pakistan and the United States ahead of peace efforts in the region, officials say.

"Branding the BLA a global terrorist organisation is an important breakthrough in our ties with the United States," said Muzamil Qazi, a senior Islamabad-based defence official. "It will surely prove a result-oriented step in countering the militancy of the BLA in the region."

"The main target of the BLA in Balochistan is foreign investment ... and this group has carried out several attacks in the country against foreign investments in the past," he said.

"This listing will pave the way for foreign investment and will play a key role in curbing anti-Pakistan support from abroad to the BLA and other militant groups," he said.

"The US support for Pakistan's narrative in the war against terror will eradicate the trust deficit in Pak-US ties," he said.

"The BLA terror listing is a big setback for those elements running an anti-peace agenda under the cover of their so-called rights," Qazi said.

Seeking peace in the region

"The anti-Pakistan Baloch militants tried their best to make their armed movement as a legal move, but they failed to justify their militancy," said Senator Anwar ul Haq of Islamabad.

"It is basically a recognition of our stance that the enemy is waging war on our soil from abroad," he said. "The BLA is a mass killer outfit, and Pakistan has taken all efforts to counter the militancy of this terror group."

Better understanding between Pakistan and the United States will "benefit the goal of lasting peace in the region", he said. "It is high time to form a joint strategy against terrorist groups that are destroying regional peace."

"We are in a state of war, and despite all hurdles, Pakistan has always taken concrete steps for the elimination of terrorism," he said. "The menace of terrorism is badly affecting the development process in our region."

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