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With 43 dead militants to date, forces will continue until they've eliminated all threats, officials say.
By Abdul Ghani Kakar
QUETTA –Pakistani law enforcement agencies are focused on the militancy in Balochistan, and authorities say they won't stop until peace is restored to the region.
"We have decided to cleanse our region of militants. They are imposing their so-called agenda on our soil and disturbing peace for their own goals," Commandant FC Col. Maqbool Ahmad, told Central Asia Online. "The on-going targeted operation will continue until the elimination of the banned groups."
Police, Frontier Corps (FC), Anti-Terrorist Force, Levies, Balochistan Constabulary and other law enforcement agencies have been working together since July to re-establish law and order, officials said.
So far, authorities have killed at least 43 militants and arrested 177, officials told Central Asia Online September 5. Authorities also have seized arms and explosive materials during raids on militant hideouts. Two security personnel died, and seven others have suffered injuries.
"The targeted operation against banned groups was launched July 20 on the directives of the Federal Interior Ministry after a rise in terror attacks in the province," former Balochistan Secretary for Home and Tribal Affairs Akbar Hussain Durrani said.
Why militancy is a challenge in Balochistan
The militants' strategy makes their activity in Balochistan especially problematic.
"Militants are using populated areas as their cover, and in the past few weeks we have foiled a number of terrorists' plots," Maqbool said. "Banned organisations are spreading terror in Quetta, Khuzdar, Bolan, Mashkay, Turbat and Makran by carrying out bombings, kidnappings for ransom, target killings and other anti-state activities. The on-going operation aims to end violence and the militants' anti-peace campaign in the region."
"Balochistan has multi-dimensional problems that have been created by unrest in the political situation, targeted killings, sectarianism and extremism," senior defence analyst Lt. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood told Central Asia Online. "It is important that all groups including extremists come to the negotiating table."
"Our problems are political and economic," he said. "Both are related to each other; therefore, it is clear enough that the on-going war we are facing in Balochistan and the rest of the country is not ours. It was imposed on Pakistan. The whole nation will have to come together to get rid of this war."
As a response, Masood suggested that the federal government "promptly finalise its draft of the Anti-Terrorism Policy, because it is still facing uncertainty in terms of dealing with militants."
Baloch businesses welcome purge of militancy
Entrepreneurs expressed gratitude for the on-going effort.
"We are satisfied that the government is now taking serious measures for peace and harmony," Naseebullah Khan, leader of Traders Alliance Balochistan, told Central Asia Online. "The disturbed law-and-order situation has badly disrupted business in Quetta and the rest of the province. Bombings and targeted killings have caused heavy damages to our community, and no one is feeling himself secure."
He and others said the people want peace and stability and called for an eradication of terrorism.
"Peace is the primary demand," Muhammad Asad, owner of a trucking company that carries cargo between Quetta and Karachi, told Central Asia Online.
"Road transport in Balochistan – mainly in restive areas – is very insecure because of rebels' attacks," he said. "The government should deal with militants with an iron fist."
Militants under pressure
Authorities vow to keep up the pressure on the militants.
"Our government wants to settle all problems politically and has opened the doors for negotiations with the militants," Balochistan Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch said while addressing the Provincial Assembly last week.
"There is no denying that a great majority of the people of Balochistan are patriotic Pakistanis," he said, "and they cannot be estranged from the central decision-making process."
Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while acknowledging the intention to engage the militants in a peace dialogue, said that the "government will not compromise on its writ and peace."
"The angry Baloch leaders may have their grievances," he said but added that it would be erroneous to say that a situation of "anarchic disorder" would prevail in Balochistan. The government will continue to support law enforcement efforts, he said.
Nisar detailed some of the approaches being taken to wage the war against the militancy.
"The army will provide 5,000 SMGs [sub-machine guns] and special counter-terrorism training to the Balochistan Police, which will greatly enhance their progress," he said.
Pakistan is also working on the Anti-Terrorism Policy that Masood cited, Nisar said.