Thursday, 29 Oct 2020

Separatists Kill 14 in Attack on Oil Convoy in Restive Pakistani Province

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Militants attacked a convoy of Pakistan’s biggest oil and gas exploration company in restive Baluchistan Province on Thursday, killing at least 14 people, officials said.

The attack reflected an escalation of violence in the resource-rich province, where separatists have waged a low-intensity insurgency for decades and where the local population has long complained of getting an inequitable share of Baluchistan’s wealth of minerals, oil and natural gas.

The province’s strategic value has grown, too. China has invested heavily in a major seaport in the city of Gwadar in Baluchistan, and the province is a showcase for China’s Belt and Road development plan to create a lucrative transportation corridor to western China.

Chinese citizens have been among those coming under separatists’ attacks in recent years, particularly by the Baluchistan Liberation Army, which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States.

Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar, an alliance of several separatist groups including the B.L.A., claimed the responsibility for Thursday’s assault. Seven paramilitary soldiers and seven private security guards, all assigned to protect the convoy, were killed in the attack. No company workers or militants were reported killed.

Officials said a convoy of the exploration firm, the Oil and Gas Development Company, was heading from Gwadar to Karachi, about 150 miles to the west, when it was ambushed by a large number of militants around midday.

The separatist group, in claiming responsibility for the attack, said exploration and drilling in the province without the assent of the Baluch people was unacceptable.

Separatist groups have repeatedly clashed with military and security forces in the province. Baluch nationalists, for their part, complain that security forces have waged a campaign of enforced disappearances and targeted killings in the region, accusations the military denies.

The Pakistani government and military have recently made efforts to win over the Baluch population by offering jobs and economic incentives. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief, unveiled a “Prosperous Baluchistan” project in 2017, an effort to foster stability and development in the region.

The military has also tried to recruit more local residents into its ranks. Officials say there are currently 1,200 Baluch officers and at least 25,000 Baluch soldiers in the ranks of the Pakistan Army, which counts more than a half-million active duty personnel.

In a separate episode six army soldiers, including a captain, were killed by a roadside bomb near Razmak, in North Waziristan in the northwestern part of the country, the military said Thursday. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

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