Pakistan announced Saturday it had killed 20 separatists to end a bloody 72-hour siege at two army bases in southwestern Baluchistan province.
At least nine soldiers, including two officers, were also killed while six others were wounded in the standoff that erupted on Wednesday night in remote Nushki and Panjgur districts of the violence-hit province.
“Security forces have completed the clearance operation today (Saturday),” the military’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement, adding that both attacks were successfully repulsed.
An outlawed, armed separatist group, known as the Baluch Liberation Army, or BLA, took responsibility for staging the simultaneous assaults on the two bases of the Pakistani paramilitary Frontier Corps.
Officials said the ensuing shootout in Nushki lasted almost 24 hours before all nine heavily armed assailants were killed while security forces lost four personnel.
But the standoff in Panjgur, which claimed five personnel, continued into Saturday as four surviving attackers had fled and taken positions in a building near the base before being encircled by Pakistan security forces, according to the ISPR statement.
“All encircled terrorists were killed in today’s operation as they failed to surrender,” said the statement. It confirmed that beyond the eight assailants killed in Panjgur, three others “linked to the attacks, including 'two high-value targets,'” were killed in the nearby Kech district on Friday “in a follow up clearance operation conducted on a makeshift terrorist hideout.”
Authorities imposed a curfew and suspended all telecommunication services in Nushki and Panjgur hours after the violence erupted, leaving residents trapped for several days.
Attackers well armed
Military officials said the attackers were heavily armed with sophisticated weapons, including rocket launchers and hand grenades, apparently intending to storm the bases to take hostages. They also rejected as “absolutely rubbish” BLA claims of killing dozens of Pakistani soldiers in the attacks.
Baluchistan, rich with natural gas and minerals, has for years experienced insurgent attacks, but the violence has surged dramatically in recent months.
Last week, dozens of heavily armed men linked to another outlawed separatist outfit, known as the Baluchistan Liberation Front, assaulted a military post in the province’s Kech district, killing 10 Pakistani soldiers while one attacker was also killed in retaliatory fire.
Ethnic Baluch insurgents claim they are fighting for independence of the poverty-stricken province and accuse Pakistan of depriving the local population of its natural resources with the help of China.
Pakistani officials allege the insurgency receives support and funding from rival India, charges Indian officials deny. Baluch militants are believed to have established bases in neighboring Iran and Afghanistan for mounting attacks in Baluchistan.
Khan visits China
Wednesday’s coordinated assaults on the army bases started hours before Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan left for Beijing for Friday’s opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics and holding bilateral talks with Chinese leaders on deepening economic ties between the two countries.
A senior security official told VOA the attacks were aimed at derailing Khan’s visit and sending a message to China that Pakistan is a not safe for foreign investments.
“Our security forces stand firm and resolutely committed to eliminating the menace of terrorism from our soil no matter what the cost,” the Pakistan army reiterated in its statement Saturday.
China has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure projects in Baluchistan and elsewhere in Pakistan as part of Beijing’s global Belt and Road Initiative.
Officials in both countries say the increase in militant violence is aimed at undermining the multibillion-dollar mega-project known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which includes roads, power plants and ports in the South Asian nation.
CPEC aims to eventually link the Chinese-operated Pakistani deep-water Gwadar Sea Port to China’s landlocked western Xinjiang border region.
BLA, designated as a global terrorist organization by the United States, has in recent years also carried out attacks against Chinese nationals working on CPEC projects and the Chinese consulate in Karachi.