Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar, an alliance of several separatist groups, has claimed responsibility for an attack on a convoy of a major Belt and Road project in Baluchistan province on Thursday, killing at least 14 people, The New York Times and Associated Press reported.
The attack on the Pakistan Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL), reflected an escalation of violence in the resource-rich region.
There were conflicting reports as to the identities of casualties.
According to intelligence sources, seven workers at the company were killed, along with eight members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps who were protecting the convoy.
However, other sources claimed that seven paramilitary soldiers and seven private security guards were killed in the attack.
Baluch 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, NYT reported.
According to one international assessment, Baluchistan has 6 billion barrels of oil in onshore/offshore and 19 trillion cubic feet gas reserves.
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 insurgent umbrella group, the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BRAS), which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States.
BRAS later claimed responsibility for the attack, and said in an English-language statement that it rejects all agreements Pakistan has signed with China and vowed to attack any “enemy” working to advance those deals with “iron fists,” AP reported.
Officials said the convoy was heading from Gwadar to Karachi, about 150 miles to the west, when it was ambushed by a large number of militants around midday, NYT reported.
The Chief Minister of Baluchistan Jam Kamal condemned the ambush, calling it a “cowardly terrorist attack,” AP reported.
The Pakistani government and military have recently made efforts to win over the Baluch population by offering jobs and economic incentives.
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, NYT reported.
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.
In June, four BRAS gunmen attacked the Pakistani stock exchange in Karachi, killing two guards and a policeman and wounding seven others before being shot dead.
They have also claimed attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel in Gwadar last year and the Chinese Consulate in Karachi.
— with files from The New York Times, Wikipedia and Associated Press