Islamabad, Pakistan – At least six fighters and four security officials were killed in an overnight attack in Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan province.
Jan Achakzai, the provincial information minister, said on Tuesday that the attackers, belonging to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), targeted military and security installations with guns and rockets in the city from Mach, 65 km south of the capital of Balochistan, Quetta. .
Faced with resistance, the attackers moved to “less secure” areas, concentrating their assault on the Mach police station, an official told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.
“At the moment, a clean-up operation is underway in the city’s suburbs,” he said. “The terrain here is quite difficult, but we hope to be able to finish it by the end of the day.”
In a statement shared with Al Jazeera, the BLA claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its “freedom fighters” had carried out the operation.
BLA is a banned armed group that is part of a broader rebellion in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and least populated province, bordering Iran and Afghanistan. The province is also the poorest in the country, although it is rich in mineral resources and vast reserves of natural gas.
Shuja Kasi, Balochistan’s inspector general of prisons, said the attack caused minor damage to the police station and adjoining prison, where he said 800 inmates, including 90 on death row, were safe.
“Doors were damaged and windows were broken while some staff accommodation used by civil servants was slightly damaged,” he told Al Jazeera.
Iqbal Yousufzai, a resident of Mach, said a large explosion occurred around 9 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Monday, followed by gunfire that lasted nearly 12 hours.
“The explosion damaged the windows of my house. After that, the shooting started and continued intermittently until at least 8 a.m. Tuesday morning,” he said.
Balochistan’s decades-old rebel movement accuses the Pakistani government of neglecting its people and unfairly distributing resources.
The rebellion was marked by several attacks on Pakistani security forces and Chinese citizens working in the province on the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), triggering a forceful response from the Pakistani state.
Allegations of human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and disappearances of ethnic Baloch suspected of supporting the rebellion, were frequently leveled against security forces.
The attack occurred amid increased global attention to Balochistan following a Iranian airstrike and a month-long sit-in by Baloch people in the capital Islamabad.
Last month, Iranian forces struck inside Pakistani territory, killing at least two children on the outskirts of the town of Panjgur in Balochistan. Iran said its attack targeted another armed group, Jaish al-Adl, based in the province.
Pakistan launched a retaliatory attack two days later, killing at least nine people described by Iranian media as “non-Iranians”. Islamabad said its response was based on “credible intelligence” that some armed groups had been given sanctuary in Iran.
The Baloch protest in Islamabad followed the murder of a young man who authorities say was a rebel – an accusation his family denies. After their protests in Balochistan failed to meet their demands, Baloch protesters traveled to Islamabad in December for a week-long sit-in.
As Pakistan prepares for its general election On February 8, security analysts warned that Baloch separatists had already denounced the elections.
“Baloch secessionists remain the only faction that has continuously targeted election campaigns and party meetings, but the scope of these attacks has not extended beyond corner meetings and election offices,” the statement said. analyst Iftikhar Firdous at Al Jazeera.
Firdous, founding editor of The Khorasan Diary, a news and research portal that tracks and analyzes security issues in the region, said the timing of the attack is “the most interesting part of the optics” .
“The BLA attack in Pakistan seems to indicate that while countries will do their best to maintain diplomatic subtlety in their behavior, action at the borders will determine the future course of the conflict,” Firdous said.