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  • The body of an insurgent who, according to Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR), who has been been killed by Pakistani security forces along with other two millitants after storming a luxury hotel in the port city of Gwadar,Pakistan May 12, 2019.

    The body of an insurgent who, according to Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR), who has been been killed by Pakistani security forces along with other two millitants after storming a luxury hotel in the port city of Gwadar,Pakistan May 12, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 May 2019
Opinion

Gunmen attacked a luxury hotel in Pakistan's western province of Balochistan which is demanding its fair share of resources and freedom from the country. 

Gunmen stormed Saturday a luxury hotel in Pakistan's southwestern port city of Gwadar, Balochistan, ​​​​​​killing at least one guard and battling security forces inside, officials and the army said.

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According to local media, the fighters stormed the Pearl Continental hotel in Gwadar just before 5:00 pm local time and shootings continued till at least 8 pm.

The Balochistan Liberation Organization, a group fighting for greater autonomy in Pakistan's poorest province whose resources it says are exploited for outside interests, claimed responsibility in an emailed statement that said the attack was aimed at "Chinese and other foreign investors.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement condemning the attack. "Such attempts, especially in Balochistan are an effort to sabotage our economic projects and prosperity," he said.

Gwadar is a strategic port on the Arabian Sea that is being developed as part of the US$60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is itself part of China's Belt and Road infrastructure project. This is a joint China-Pakistan venture which would link southwestern China to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan.

The Pearl Continental Hotel, on a hillside near the port, is used by foreign guests, including Chinese project staff.

The city of Gwadar is fortified with a heavy army presence. It is one of the main cities of the Balochistan Province which has been demanding its independence from Pakistan since the 1950s.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. | Source: Council on Foreign Relations

History of Balochistan

The westernmost province of Pakistan is bordered by Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, and the Arabian sea to the south.

The entire Balochistan, named after Baloch people, is mainly split between Pakistan's province and Iran’s Sisten-Balochistan province.

The Baloch people entered the region in the 14th Century and have been ruled by various Persian and Indian empires along with sporadic periods of local kingdoms. Later, it was colonized by the British as part of its Indian Empire.

Before the partition of India and Pakistan, Balochistan consisted of four princely states, namely, Kalat, Lasbela, Kharan, and Makran. Kalat was the main governing state.

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Three months before Pakistan was founded in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governer-General, negotiated the Balochistan independence from the British. After a series of discussions, it was decided in August 1947 that Kalat would be an independent sovereign state.

Jinnah, however, was not ready to recognize Kalat as independent and wanted its leader to sign the instrument of accession. The Khan (leader) of Kalat did not accept Jinnah’s suggestion but he was ready to concede on matters of defense, foreign affairs, and communications.

After a series of back and forth between Jinnah and the Khan, in 1948 the Pakistani army was ordered to march into Balochistan. It was under gunpoint that Kalat was merged into Pakistan by the Khan of Kalat.

Later Balochistan became one of the five provinces of Pakistan with Quetta as its capital city.

Baloch people feel they have been illegally occupied by Pakistan which resulted in an independence movement.

The Western province of Balochistan demanding its freedom from Pakistan. | Source: UNOCHA

Since then Balochis have been subjected to torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial executions, mass graves, the killing of journalists, according to local and international human rights organizations. 

In the initial stages of the insurgency, Balochis wanted Afghanistan’s help in fighting Pakistan but Afghanistan, instead of supporting an independent Balochistan, wanted the territory for themselves. Hence, the insurgency did not receive any help from them despite Pakistan’s accusation of the same.

Apart from freedom, the Baloch are also angry at the exploitation of their resources. The region is rich in resources but the population is one of the poorest in Pakistan. Many believe that their resources are pillaged by foreigners like China who is “developing” the region.

The area remains highly unstable. The presence of the Taliban also made the zone much more violent and pushed the freedom struggle into darkness.

Despite such geopolitical reality, Balochis continue to fight for their independence amidst army crackdown and Islamist extremist violence.

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