Balochistan Liberation Army

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    BLA flag.png

    Flag of the Balochistan Liberation Army

    Status: Active
    AKA: BLA, Baloch Liberation Army, Boluchistan Liberation Army
    Formed: 1999
    Areas of Operation: Pakistan; Balochistan Province, Afghanistan
    Headquarters: Balochistan, Pakistan
    Ideology: Nationalist (Baloch)
    Group: 500 members
    Leader: Brahamdagh Bugti
    Affiliates: Balochistan Republican Army (BRA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Lashkar-e-Balochistan
    RSS:
    Map:

    Organizational History

    The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is fighting for an independent Balochistan.  The group claims a long line of grievances, including the lack of economic development in the province despite the relative wealth of its gas fields, the continuing failure of the Pakistan government to give royalties to the Baloch tribal administration for using the province’s resources, the employment of non-Balochis in the province as opposed to native inhabitants for large-scale projects, and the construction of military training facilities in the region which upsets tribal life and freedom of movement.

    Balochi Nationalism is nothing new in Pakistan despite the recent emergence of violence in opposition to the Pakistani government. Though over a century old, the current crisis can be traced back to 1973, when an ethnic insurgency erupted in Balochistan that lasted over four years. [1]  The Independent Balochistan Movement was aimed at establishing an independent state of Balochistan comprising all the Balochi areas of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Balochi Nationalists were vastly outnumbered by the Pakistani military in a conflict that claimed the lives of 5,300 Balochi guerrillas and 3,300 soldiers. The conflict only came to a tentative truce after the fall of the Bhutto government in 1977; the truce eventually turned into a lasting peace for more than two decades, but many of the problems causing Balochi Nationalism to ignite in the first place, were never fixed. The military coup of 1999 stirred extreme nationalist tendencies once again. Pushed by a poor economy and increasing antagonism with neighboring countries, the Pakistani government believed that Balochistan’s vast natural resources held some hope of restoring the country’s economy. [2]  These desperate moves were a catalyst for one of Pakistan’s most serious terrorist threats, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which began actively attacking police personnel and some civilians, namely journalists, in 2003. Pakistan officially declared the BLA a terrorist organization in April 2006, and they became the chief insurgent organization fighting for an independent Balochistan.  According to the Frontier Corps’ Major Gen. Saleem Nawaz, the current leader of the BLA is also controlling the insurgent group, Baloch Republican Army (BRA) from Afghanistan.

    Structure

    Like many guerrilla and terrorist groups, the BLA has a structure comprised of both paramilitary and cellular components. The majority of the organization is composed of various units assigned to different training camps under various leaders, but some are assigned to urban cells and are responsible for the planting of explosives and reconnoitering targets. Some of the cells are ad hoc and once a BLA member has completed a mission, he may return to his paramilitary unit.

    Arsenal

    There is no shortage of weapons in Balochistan available to the militants; many are left over from previous conflicts in Afghanistan.  Common weapons in the region include Russian Kalashnikovs, RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), and various types of land mines.

    Funding

    There is wide approval for Baloch autonomy or independence in the region and it is estimated that a large part of the BLA’s finances come from donations.  It has also been widely asserted that an “outside hand” is playing a role in the Baloch insurgency, though conclusive determinations are difficult to come by. One of the most widely cited examples of outside aid occurred in 1973 when Pakistan authorities entered the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad and uncovered a small arsenal of weapons, including 300 submachine guns and 48,000 rounds of ammunition. The government claimed that the arms were destined for Balochistan; these accusations were never proven. [3]

    Recruitment

    The BLA is not believed to have an organized recruitment effort in place; rather, the group is capitalizing on popular sentiment in the province and giving Balochis with nationalist tendencies a way to fight back at the government. The chief means of attracting poor, uneducated Balochi youths are the dozens of training camps believed to be in operation in the province.

    Tactics

    The group’s targeting and tactics are designed to reduce the economic incentive for the central government’s presence in the province.  Accordingly, sites where natural resources are harvested by the government are the most common target; these include natural gas pipelines and oil fields.  Soldiers and civilians working in government capacities in Quetta are also prominent targets, in addition to journalists.  The BLA has shown equal proficiency with both bombings and armed assault, though it appears that members prefer the use of RPGs as opposed to planted explosives, some of which appear to have been planted by younger members with little or no insurgency experience.

    Gallery

    Baloch fighters.jpg

    Armed Balochistan Liberation Army rebels. [4]

    Balochistan Tribals.jpg

    A Baluch youth armed with an assault rifle. [5]

    BLA attack.jpg

    A failed 2010 bomb attack by the BLA on the Pakistani governor of Balochistan. [6]

    Bugti.jpg

    Former leader, and grandfather of current BLA leader Brahamdagh Bugti, Nawab Akbar Bugti. [7]

    Brahamdagh Bugti.jpg

    Current leader of the BLA, Brahamdagh Bugti. [8]

    Baloch Tribesmen.jpg

    Baluch tribesmen inspecting spent shells. [9]

    References

    1. Titus, P. (1997). Marginality and modernity: ethnicity and change in post-colonial Balochistan. London: Oxford University Press.
    2. Khan, A. (2003). Baloch ethnic nationalism in Pakistan: from guerrilla war to nowhere? Asian Ethnicity, 4(2), 281-293.
    3. Harrison, S. S. (1981). In Afghanistan’s shadow: Baluch nationalism and Soviet temptations. New York: Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
    4. Pakistan says India fuels tensions in Baluchistan. (2009, July 19). Press TV. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from [1]
    5. Baabar, M. (2006, April 24). Got The Bla- Hs. OutlookIndia.com. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from [2]
    6. Balochistan governor escapes bomb attack. (2010, December 1). Dawn.com. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from [3]
    7. Subramanian, N. (2006). Balochistan blaze. Frontline. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from [4]
    8. Brahamdagh may not get asylum in Switzerland. (2011, March 31). The Capital Post. Retrieved June 8, 2011 from [5]
    9. Rashid, A. (2005, February 4). Explosive mix in Pakistan's gas province. BBC News. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from [6]

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    BLA insurgents
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    A Baloch fighter
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    Claimed BLA attack in Quetta, Pakistan
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    BLA flag
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