• Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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Pakistan army battles separatist militants for third day

Security personnel (L) stand beside a destroyed security post following overnight attacks by militants on security camps in Naushki district of Balochistan province on February 3, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

By: Sarwar Alam

Pakistan troops battled separatists in Balochistan province for a third day Friday, with a security official saying militants timed their assaults to derail prime minister Imran Khan’s visit to China.

Islamabad and Beijing have forged strong ties in recent years, centred on infrastructure projects along an economic corridor linking China’s far-western Xinjiang region with the strategic port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

Separatists have waged an insurgency in the vast southwestern province for years, fuelled by anger that its abundant reserves of natural resources are not relieving citizens from crushing poverty.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project has inflamed grievances, with claims the vast influx of investment does not benefit locals.

Baloch separatists have frequently targeted Chinese interests, and while the economic corridor offers a lucrative gateway for China to the Indian Ocean, the security of its workers has long been a concern.

Late Wednesday militants from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) staged twin assaults on army posts in the Naushki and Panjgur districts of Balochistan, killing seven troops, according to the Pakistan military.

The Naushki assault was quashed on Thursday, but a senior security official said Friday an operation is still underway in Panjgur.

At least 13 separatist militants have been killed so far.

He said the attacks were timed to “malign Pakistan” during the premier’s ongoing visit to China for the Winter Olympic Games.

Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to discuss CPEC during his visit and the attack was carried out to raise questions “about the security situation”, the official said.

“The attacks were aimed at sabotaging the visit,” he added.

The BLA says it has killed 170 Pakistan soldiers in the twin assaults, a claim authorities dismissed as “totally false”.

Baloch separatists frequently exaggerate their battlefield successes, while the Pakistan military’s public relations department also plays down losses, or delays reporting them.

On Friday the BLA said it still held a security camp in Panjgur, 40 hours after the initial assault.

But the Pakistan security official insisted the situation was “well under control”, and that the ongoing operation was only “to hunt down the remnants” from the attack.

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