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Old 07-08-2019, 02:42 PM
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Arrow The Baloch Liberation Armyís New US Terrorist Designation: Why Now?

The Baloch Liberation Armyís New US Terrorist Designation: Why Now?
By: Umair Jamal - The Diplomat - 7-9-19

Why has the U.S. Department of State declared the Baloch Liberation Army a terrorist group?

In an unprecedented development, the U.S. Department of State has declared the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) a militant organization under the countryís Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) listing. The BLA is a separatist group that primarily operates in Pakistanís Balochistan province. According to the State Departmentís listing, the ďarmed separatist group targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan.Ē

A few months ago, Washington was threatening Islamabad with sanctions. What has changed concerning the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship that the bilateral relationship is back on track?

Certainly, the move is the result of a number of steps taken in the bilateral realm between the two countries.

Given that cooperation and confrontation between the two remains on the issue of Afghanistanís peace process, itís possible that the nature of collaboration between the two countries has changed concerning the continuing Afghan issue. On the other hand, itís also possible that Washington is offering Islamabad an olive branch to gain the latterís cooperation to prepare for the impending withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

Provided that both states have come to an agreement on the Afghan issue, the development related to the BLAís listing as a terrorist organization shows Pakistanís sensitivity towards the groupís activities in Baluchistan province. From Pakistanís perspective, the listing of the BLA as a terrorist group means that the county has international legitimacy to go after the group domestically. Pakistan should be expected to ramp up its counter terrorism operations against the group in the country and elsewhere.

Clearly, Pakistan sees the issue of Baloch separatists finding support in Afghanistan and elsewhere an effort aimed at not only destabilizing Baluchistan but also an attempt to undermine the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a China funded development and infrastructure project in Pakistan.

Recently, a terrorist attack claimed by the BLA in Balochistan, resulted in the death of at least 14 security personals. Pakistan blamed the attack on Iran as the country believes that the group has established sanctuaries there. Following the attack, Pakistanís foreign office criticized Iran for not doing enough to contain the groupís activity, which reflects that Islamabad takes the issue of cross border terrorism in Baluchistan very seriously.

Another recent attack in Gwadar has left a number of lessons for Pakistan concerning the threat of Baloch separatists. First, the fact that militants belonging to the BLA were able to breach a high level of security structure raises questions on the growing ability of militants. Second, the attack in Gwadar shows that there is a concerted effort on the part of the BLA to undermine China lead economic projects in Baluchistan. For Pakistan, this requires a concrete reaction which extends beyond Baluchistanís borders.

Moreover, itís interesting to note that some of the militants involved in the Gwadar attack were listed as missing persons. Their resurgence as militantís underscores Pakistanís position that BLA and other militants have not only established sanctuaries regionally but may also be collaborating with other militant groups. In Afghanistan, one group which stands to gain by working with the BLA is the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). TTP is a militant organization group which remains held up in Afghanistan after Pakistanís recent counterterrorism efforts. Therefore, a potential collaboration between the TTP and BLA against Pakistan cannot be ignored.

Thus, itís not a surprise that designating the group a militant group is one of the first thins which Pakistan has sought from the U.S. after the recent rapprochement with Washington. Itís likely that any potential peace agreement which the U.S. is going to sign with the Afghan Taliban and other regional stakeholders is expected to take up the issue of Baloch militant groups sanctuaries and support base in the region. Already, the RAND Corporation has prepared a potential peace agreement for Afghanistan which reportedly mentions an understanding on the issue of Baloch militants to assuage Pakistanís security concerns.

Certainly, Washingtonís listing of BLA as a terrorist organization is a major victory for Pakistanís diplomacy and an indication of Islamabadís improving relationship with Washington. The development will definitely help in bridging the existing trust deficit between the two countries.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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