Separatists Kill 10 Pakistani Soldiers in Attack on Outpost

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The assault on a military post in a remote southwestern district lasted for several hours. Dozens of attackers, belonging to a Baluch separatist group, heavily armed with rocket launchers and sophisticated weapons, outnumbered the Pakistani soldiers. A heavy gunfight killed 10 Pakistani soldiers and one attacker, and the rest managed to escape, officials said.

The ambush, on Tuesday evening, was one of the deadliest on Pakistani soldiers in recent years and comes at a time of heightened unrest. The country’s security forces were already in a state of alert after a string of terrorist attacks this month — and officials said they are bracing for more attacks in the coming months as militant groups extend their reach and scale of attacks.

The Pakistani military officially confirmed the Baluchistan attack Thursday evening, a day after it tried to downplay the incident and restricted the local news media from reporting on it. Military officials stressed that they were still trying to get details of the attack, which happened in Kech, a remote mountainous district of southwestern Baluchistan, a natural gas and mineral-rich province where an insurgency has simmered for decades.

In a statement, the military said that three people had been arrested in a clearing operation, and it was still looking for other attackers. “Armed forces are determined to eliminate terrorists from our soil no matter what the cost,” the military said.

On Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attack. “We are resolute in our commitment to rid Pakistan of all forms of terrorism,” Mr. Khan said on Twitter.

The surge in violence reflects the formidable challenge Pakistan faces in curbing not only the Baluch insurgency but also the resurgent Taliban in the country’s northwest. Officials say the Pakistani Taliban have now unilaterally scrapped a cease-fire announced earlier in November, and attempts to pressure the Afghan Taliban to influence the Pakistani movement to give up arms have remained futile.

Balochistan Liberation Front, a separatist group, claimed the responsibility soon after the attack Tuesday evening and vowed that it would continue the attacks against the Pakistani military. The group released pictures of its killed member and video footage of the assault; the attackers slowly moving in on the military post, as explosions echoed and flashes of fire emanated from soldiers holed up in a bunker.

Pakistani security officials said there were at least 35 attackers, who conducted the ambush on the post in a coordinated manner from different directions. The military post — at Sibdan, a remote, barren location in Kech district — was being used primarily for surveillance purposes.

The assault on the military post came shortly after a bombing rocked a busy shopping district in the eastern city of Lahore, considered to be the cultural and political capital of Pakistan. On Jan. 20, three people were killed while at least 25 others were wounded in the explosion, which officials said was caused by a timed device attached to a motorcycle. A newly formed Baluch separatist group claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack.

While the two attacks might be coincidental, the spike in violence comes amid warnings by Baluch separatists that Chinese investments are not safe in Pakistan. Pakistan has been a showcase for China’s huge international development program, the Belt and Road Initiative, in recent years. China is estimated to have spent some $62 billion on those projects in Pakistan, mostly to build a transportation corridor through Balochistan to a new Chinese-operated deepwater port in the Pakistani town of Gwadar.

Analysts said that while the recent attacks targeted security forces and others, the real aim was elsewhere.

“CPEC remains the target,” said Saleem Qamar Butt, a retired senior military officer, and Islamabad-based defense analyst, referring to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. “The hostile intelligence agencies have started pumping money to boost Baloch proxies,” he said.

The army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa met with Mr. Khan Wednesday and his senior commanders a day later as the military mulls reprisals amid growing calls from action against the insurgents.

Security officials say they will step up their pursuit of the insurgents, and intelligence-based operations against the facilitators in the region have already started.

Pakistani officials have long maintained that India funds and supports the Baloch insurgency, which India denies. The Baluch separatists are also believed to have bases inside Iran, which neighbors Baluchistan Province.

“BLF, for years, has used Iran’s soil for mounting attacks in southwest Balochistan,” Ejaz Haider, a defense and political analyst, said on Twitter, referring to the Baluchistan Liberation Front. “Why are we afraid of that discussion?” he added.

“Afghanistan and Iran soils both serve as the launchpads for the terrorists,” Mr. Butt, the defense analyst, said, adding that government dithering could further embolden the separatist groups.

“We need to strike them in their bases, both at home and abroad,” he said.

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad.

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