ISLAMABAD - The United States on Tuesday designated a major anti-Pakistan militant organization conducting deadly attacks against local and foreign targets in the South Asian nation as a global terrorist.
Islamabad promptly welcomed the move, which prohibits U.S. citizens from engaging in any transactions with members of the so-called Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) and all of their property in the U.S. are blocked.
“BLA is an armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan,” according to a U.S. State Department announcement.
The militant group operates in Baluchistan, a southwestern province rich with natural resource and where China is investing billions of dollars to build major infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
The outlawed BLA is considered the largest and most effective of several Baluch militant groups fighting the Pakistani rule in the province. It has carried out terrorist attacks against local and Chinese nationals working in Baluchistan.
The militant group has waged an anti-government campaign in the mountainous province since 2000, claiming it is fighting for the rights and the greater regional autonomy of nearly seven million ethnic Baloches in southwestern Pakistan. Despite its rich mineral and natural gas reserves, Balochistan remains Pakistan's poorest province and is the site of a long-running rebellion by separatists who argue the state is taking over their lands.
BLA took credit for last May’s suicide attack on a luxury hotel near the Chinese-run strategic deep-water seaport of Gwadar. That raid killed four hotel employees and a Pakistani soldier before security forces gunned down the assailants.
The militant group said the attack was meant to force Beijing to halt its “exploitative projects in Baluchistan” and threatened more such raids.
In a rare attack last November, BLA gunmen stormed the Chinese consulate in Karachi, the capital of the southern province of Sindh, killing four people before they were gunned down by Pakistani forces. Foreign staff at the facility, however, escaped unharmed.
Pakistani authorities say BLA’s fugitive chief, Herbyar Murri, lives in Britain and directs the violence from there.
“It is hoped that this designation will ensure that BLA’s space to operate is minimized,” said Pakistani foreign ministry while welcoming the U.S. decision.
The move comes as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan prepares to undertake a visit to the U.S. later this month where he is scheduled to hold a meeting U.S. President Donald Trump, say officials in Islamabad.