Balochistan braces for expected terror plots

Abdul Ghani Kakar

Pakistani forces on guard on December 9 in the Quetta cantonment. Security went on high alert in Quetta after intelligence issued a statement that possible suicide attacks were imminent. [Abdul Ghani Kakar]

Pakistani forces on guard on December 9 in the Quetta cantonment. Security went on high alert in Quetta after intelligence issued a statement that possible suicide attacks were imminent. [Abdul Ghani Kakar]

QUETTA -- Security agencies in Balochistan Province are working closely together to thwart expected terror plots in Quetta, revealed in a threat alert issued last week by a top Pakistani intelligence agency, officials said.

"Security in Quetta has been put on high alert," Quetta-based intelligence officer Saad Khan told Pakistan Forward. "Additional security personnel have been deployed in all sensitive areas."

Suicide bombers are expected

The alert revealed that a banned militant group had readied six suicide bombers who may try to disguise themselves as law enforcement, he said.

The terror plan stems from a desire for revenge, he said, adding, "[The militants] are seeking revenge for five militant commanders killed in a shoot-out with security forces on December 5 ... in Pashin District."

The slain militants in that battle included Jahangir Badin, "mastermind of the August 8 suicide bombing [at Quetta Civil Hospital]", Balochistan Home and Tribal Affairs Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti told Pakistan Forward.

That bombing killed more than 70 assembled lawyers and reporters.

The militants killed in the December 5 shoot-out were "linked to the Jamatul Ahrar faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] and to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami", Bugti said, adding that they were also behind two high-profile assassinations in Quetta in June and August.

ISIL tries to gain foothold

Balochistan, already beset by multiple insurgent groups, is also facing attempted inroads by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), Islamabad-based Pakistani Interior Ministry official Bilal Durrani told Pakistan Forward. "ISIL is trying to build its network in Balochistan. Some local militant groups are providing it with logistical and other support."

"Our border is not secure enough to eliminate cross-border terrorism," he said. "[That weakness] enabled militants to enter our country. Our border forces are doing their best to protect the border."

The local insurgent groups serving as ISIL offshoots in Pakistan reportedly are "Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and Jundullah", he said, adding, "They carried out several co-ordinated attacks in Pakistan."

"Radical elements are trying to form a joint strategy against the state," he added.

Keeping the pressure on

Balochistan has seen some success against militants, but danger remains present, officials say.

"In Balochistan we broke the backbone of militants through the National Action Plan [NAP]," Inspector General of Police for Balochistan Ahsan Mehboob said at a Quetta news conference on December 5, referring to the counter-terrorism strategy that took effect in December 2014. "Now our focus is on depriving militants of the support of local inhabitants."

To keep the pressure on militants, "we are providing special counter-terrorism training to our personnel", Mehboob said. "So far more than 1,400 police officers have completed that training."

Professor Hassan Askari Rizvi, a senior defence analyst from Islamabad, also sees some room for optimism.

"I think increased domestic security has made it harder for militants to achieve their goals," he told Pakistan Forward.

"The militant leadership based in Balochistan and in other parts of the country has largely been decimated or pushed back to Afghanistan during security operations," he said, referring to the legacy of the NAP and Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which began in June 2014.

"The government must handle all militant groups equally," he said. "It is necessary for the government and the military establishment to gain the trust of the masses in fighting militant groups."

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