A guerrilla fighter from the Marri tribe of the Baloch people communicates with a rebel observation post while monitoring Pakistani troop movements in Balochistan province
Balochistan is a region divided by Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan with a history marked by conflict.
The site is the site of a longrunning insurgency by Baloch nationalists against the Pakistani government, which has claimed thousands of victims on both sides.
The region has now become an epicenter of regional tensions. Iran and Pakistan accuse each other of harboring Baloch separatist “terrorists”.
On Thursday (January 18), the Pakistani government launched an unprecedented attack on socalled “terrorist hideouts” in the Iranian province of SistanBaluchistan the Iranian part of Balochistan in which nine people were killed.
Two days earlier, Iran attacked targets linked to a militant group in Pakistan's Balochistan.
According to Pakistani authorities, two children were killed and three others were injured in the attack.
These attacks are alarming the international community and increasing fears that a major armed conflict could break out in the region.
Although relations between Iran and Pakistan have historically been complicated, both countries have always maintained a certain level of cordiality.
The nations face similar problems in a border zone with intense activity by Baloch rebel fighters. Experts in the field describe the place as a “lawless land” where chaos reigns.
Balochistan, which accounts for 44% of Pakistan's area, has vast gold, copper and gas reserves that are among the most significant in Asia.
Yet, paradoxically, the place remains a remote and somewhat forgotten area.
It is the poorest and least developed province of Pakistan.
A rebellion that began after the partition of India
The residents of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, are trying to lead a normal life despite the threat of violence
The region is believed to have received its name from the Baloch tribes who have inhabited the area for several centuries.
It is likely that the site was previously known by a different name, as there are no records of this city in preIslamic sources.
Militant insurgencies by groups fighting for an independent state for the Baloch people began in 1948 after the partition of British India, which led to the creation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Since then, separatists have insisted that the Baloch people feel abandoned by the Pakistani government and that they have little representation in the state, despite being the country's largest region.
There, beneath the vast desert, more than two decades ago, the Pakistani government conducted the six tests that made the country the seventh country in the world to successfully develop and test nuclear weapons.
The tests were carried out in May 1998 in Chagai district under the direction of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and led to international condemnation and sanctions against the country.
“We never wanted to take part in this nuclear race,” Sharif said at the time. He claimed that the underground device tests were a response to India's recent nuclear tests.
Attacks on militants
The Karachi Stock Exchange was the scene of an attack by Balochistan militants in 2020
Iran claims that the attack last Tuesday (Jan 16) was aimed at “terrorists” from Jaish al Adl, a Baloch separatist group that is also fighting for the independence of SistanBalochistan, the Iranian part of the region.
The government in Tehran claims that the group's militants are hiding on Pakistani soil. Pakistan denies this.
On Thursday (January 18), Pakistan fired missiles into Iranian territory. Authorities argued that the target of the bombing was two fronts of militant separatist groups from Balochistan believed to be hiding in Iran.
The truth is that many militant groups operate in Balochistan, including Pakistani Taliban groups, the Sunni Muslim extremist group LashkareJhangvi and the separatist group known as the Balochistan Liberation Army, which was reportedly the target of the Pakistani attack.
In 2020, four men from the Balochistan Liberation Army raided the Karachi Stock Exchange, Pakistan's main stock exchange. Armed with shotguns and grenades, they killed two security guards and a police officer and injured seven other people before being killed.
An important region for China
The same group also carried out an attack on the Zaver PearlContinental hotel in the port city of Gwadar in southern Balochistan in 2019. The targets were Chinese investors and others who usually gather there.
The hotel complex is seen by some separatist groups as the operations center of the ChinaPakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a megaproject announced in April 2015.
With an estimated investment of around US$62 billion (R305 billion) a value that exceeds the GDP of some countries the aim of the initiative is to build a network of roads, railways and gas pipelines connecting the two allied countries connects.
Militants vehemently oppose Chinese investments, arguing that they do not benefit the local population.
“There are different types of nationalism in Balochistan. Some are against everything Pakistan does because they just want to become an independent country,” said Saqlain Imam, a journalist with the BBC’s Urdu service.
“Other groups believe that the country’s government is dominated by Punjab the country’s most populous province and second largest in area after Balochistan and does not give the Baloch people a say in projects.”
Reports of abuse and repression
The Balochistan Liberation Army is just one of six armed separatist groups in the region that have carried out attacks.
The US and UK classify the organization as a “terrorist”.
Balochistan is currently a difficult province for journalists and human rights groups to access.
However, several abuses and allegations of largescale repression by the Pakistani military have been documented over the years.
Local authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations.
In 2023, ten Pakistani soldiers and security personnel were killed in three separate attacks in Balochistan that were blamed on separatist fighters.
The attacks were reportedly led by groups conducting operations from Iran.
Experts and activists from human rights groups expect tensions between the governments of Pakistan and Iran with various Baloch separatist groups to continue until the parties reach an agreement.