10 Baloch militants were killed in a single operation on 23rd February 2022. It is unusual for the Baloch militants to incur such great loss in the almost impenetrable mountains of Balochistan in such a short span of time.
It has never occurred before. Even when, Previously, the Pakistan army had used sophisticated weapons, deployed thousands of personnel, and gunship Helicopters.
This is allegedly the first drone attack on Baloch militants and had already caused the second-highest number of militant deaths in a single operation in Balochistan conflict’s history. The dictator Musharraf´s bombing of veteran Baloch leader Akhbar Bugti´s camps in 2006 being the only one with higher casualties.
News from Balochistan is usually swept under the rug. However, the lack of usual terrorists eliminating victorious news from Pakistani TV and nationalist circles is astonishing. Especially, when the killed belonged to the group that a month ago carried out a bombing in central Lahore, killing 2 and injuring about 20. And at a time when the military needed to make some winning noises after the devastating twin attacks on the military camps of Panjgur and Noshki. The unusual silence from Pakistani side adds weight to the suspicion of armed Drones being involved in this strike.
Amidst Pakistan´s recent agreements to co-produce the Turkish Anka combat drone in Pakistan and having already acquired the Chinese Wing Loong II strike drone, the latest effortless killings of the Baloch militants has led many militants, including Gulzar Imam who spoke to this scribe, to believe it was a drone strike.
Gulzar Imam is head of the militant organization (BNA) Baloch National Army. The killed militants belonged to the BNA organization. According to his version of the story, the drone used 3 chemical bombs which killed some of their fighters and disabled the others from staging an effective fight or flight mechanism. The others were later killed in the ground attack which followed after approximately 15 minutes.
If true, it unveils two important aspects of the latest Pakistani counter-insurgency tactics against Baloch militancy: 1) use of armed drones, and 2) Pakistan is trying to keep it a secret.
“It was unlike the old drones which make a lot of noise, can be seen with the naked eyes and can´t fire missiles. “ he said.
I’m sure it was a drone, the survivors of the attack heard the missiles whizzing before they impacted,” Mr. Imam responded when asked more about the rumours.
The people from the area also see the Pakistani chief of army staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa´s two visits to Turbat during the last one month, the last time being on 02.03.2022, as parts of the plan to establish a drone command and control base focussed on Balochistan. They fear army soldiers proceeding with their killing rampages from their computer screens.
Even with a remote likelihood of the attack on the militants being carried out by drones, and Pakistan inserting the drone dilemma in Balochistan conflict, one has to question what implications it would have on Balochistan. Bearing in mind that Pakistan had been carrying out crimes against humanity like massacres, enforced disappearances, targeted killings, collective punishment and a kill and dump policy of civilians in Balochistan since 2001- all with complete impunity. With the acquirement of drones Pakistan´s ability and willingness to increase attacks increases and so does the threat to civilian lives.
With the burden of the ever-dragging conflict and the desperation to find a military solution to the political problem, such unchecked state crimes could raise to another level if these drones have been in fact put at the army´s disposal.
In case the Pakistani army has acquired the capabilities to kill with the click- things will take a worse turn for the already brutalized and impoverished civilians in Balochistan.