Four people were killed, including three Chinese Nationals, after a suicide bombing carried out by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) targted a Chinese learning center in the Pakistani city of Karache on Tuesday.
— Yusra Askari (@YusraSAskari) April 26, 2022
What is the BLA?
Balochistan Liberation Army is a ethnonationalist-separatist militant group primarily based in the Balochistan region of Pakistan. The group’s ideological roots are grounded in separatist and insurgency movements that have been ongoing in the region since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, which have called for greater autonomy for Baloch people. A key aspect of the group, which largely influenced its founding, is its opposition to economic and natural resource exploitation by Pakistan and other foreign actors. Unlike other militant groups in the region, their motivations are seeded on ethnic lines, not religious, and believe the Pakistani government and Punjabi ethnic majority are oppressing them and exploiting their lands. The BLA has been active since the early 2000s and have regularly targeted Pakistani security forces, foreign workers, and other ethnic minority groups in the region.
Why Target Chinese Nationals?
The Balochistan region is rich in natural resources, such as gold, oil, copper, and coal. China has significant business interests in the region due to the $60 billion+ China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which consists of vast infrastructure projects related to expanding roadways, power plants, and mining that runs right through Balochistan. The project also plays into China’s influence agenda over the country, which is to counter that of the United States, as Pakistan has sought to greatly expand investments in the country. The BLA has seen CPEC as a major exploitation of their region’s natural resources and has thus opposed it militantly by attacking said business interests.
The Attack: Who it Targeted and Who Carried it Out
On Tuesday, April 26, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest outside the Confucius Institute of the Karachi University, which provides Chinese language learning and cultural outreach programs. The blast came as a van was pulling into the facility, which killed the Institute’s director, two tutors, and a local driver. Another Chinese national who worked as a teacher was also wounded during the blast.
The bomber in this instance was a female, identified as 31 year old Shari Baloch, who was part of the Majeed Fidayeen Brigade. Founded in 2011, the Majeed Fidayeen Brigade is the BLA’s suicide bombing squad, named after a Pakistani body guard who attempted to assassinate Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto in 1975 after he called for military operations against Baloch militants. The group has carried out numerous attacks against Chinese targets, such as the consulate in Karachi and other targets related to CPEC.
While typically looked at as a rare occurrence, the utilization of female suicde bombers has been growing in recent years, largely with Boko Haram in Africa, but varies from group to group. Looking back at the history of terrorism or militant groups, there have been numerous instances of female suicide bomber use from the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Black Widows of Chechnya, and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Female suicde bombers have been shown to be just as effective, if not more effective, at causing mass casualties due to their greater ability to access targets since females are not typically percieved to be less of a threat and stopped by security forces. As stated before, the group is not religious based, so the motivation for carrying out the attack is similar to that of the Tamil Tigers in the sense that its dying for the cause, rather than acceptance to a greater afterlife that we see in jihadist groups.
Following the attack, the BLA threatened that “Hundreds of highly trained male and female members of the Baloch Liberation Army’s Majeed Brigade are ready to carry out deadly attacks in any part of Balochistan and Pakistan” unless Chinese “exploitation projects” cease.