News / Asia

Rebels, Islamists Form Dangerous Alliance in Pakistan's Unruly Southwest

FILE - Baluch rebels holding their weapons.
FILE - Baluch rebels holding their weapons.
Reuters
One is a band of separatists fighting for independence from Pakistan. The other is a feared group of Islamists bent on killing Shi'ite Muslims whom they see as infidels.
      
The two could not be more different in their goals and tactics, but in Pakistan's volatile, resource-rich province of Baluchistan, separatists have teamed up with radical Sunni Muslims in their fight against the Pakistani government.
         
The unlikely but dangerous alliance poses a new, unexpected challenge for Pakistan, already plagued by a growing Taliban insurgency on its western Afghan border.
      
“There is definitely coordination,” said Baluch Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti. “Both militant groups share the common goal of fighting against the state.”
      
The separatist rebels are considered less hardline than other groups, focusing primarily on their political goal of independence.
      
They do not use religion as a rallying cry but accuse the government of stealing the province's gas and mineral wealth to the benefit of richer, more powerful provinces. They also accuse security forces of widespread rights abuses and cracking down on any forms of dissent.
      
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), on the other hand, is a hardline group that specializes in attacks against minority Shi'ite Muslims. It believes Shi'ites deserve to die and should be exterminated.
      
“The two militant groups have been sharing tactical coordination in carrying out major attacks,” a senior security official in Baluchistan told Reuters, requesting anonymity.
      
He said the LeJ had been spotted recruiting fighters among ethnic Baluchs. It operates bases in the same area as the separatist rebels, an arrangement which has helped turn them into natural allies.
      
Baluch separatists have also adopted the LeJ tactic of deploying small children to infiltrate difficult targets and place bombs.
      
In a recent example of a coordinated attack, a bomb struck a security car on Jan. 10, creating a diversion for a subsequent blast in a Shi'ite enclave which killed more than 100 people.
      
“It's not a formal pact or alliance, but tactical cooperation,” the security official said. “They help each other to coordinate attacks and extend logistical support, for instance by providing cars to carry out explosions.”
      
Baluch pro-independence activists have dismissed any link to the LeJ as state propaganda designed to tarnish their image.
      
“No such evidence has ever been provided,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, an activist and journalist who now lives in Washington.
 
Little known conflict         
 
In Islamabad, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants to strike a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban to end years of fighting in the ethnic Pashtun belt on its northwest frontier with Afghanistan.
      
However, peace negotiations broke down last month, raising speculation that Sharif might opt for all-out military action against Taliban hideouts in the lawless North Waziristan region.
      
In Baluchistan, to the south of the Pakistani Taliban hot spots, sectarian and separatist violence remains largely unknown to the outside world.
      
A thinly populated land of deserts and mountains, Baluchistan borders Afghanistan and Iran and is virtually sealed off to foreigners. Getting reliable information is difficult and few officials speak on the record to reporters.
      
Rebels believe the rest of Pakistan treats them like a colony. They have fought for their own independent secular homeland for decades. In response, security forces have waged a lengthy counter-insurgency to try to quash them.
         
The last few months have seen a particularly sharp rise in coordinated attacks, causing hundreds of casualties among civilians and security forces, officials said.
          
“Both are feeding on poverty and extremism rampant in Baluchistan,” another security official said. “They may be divergent ideology-wise... but both are pitched against security forces.”

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs