Even as tensions among India and Pakistan remain on the rise, the elusive leader of a major rebel group fighting for independence in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province said he would welcome help from India.
The words of Allah Nazar Baloch, head of the ethnic Baluch group Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) are likely to alarm Islamabad which has been accusing India of stirring trouble there.
“We not only wish India should support the Baluch national struggle diplomatically and financially, but the whole world,” said Baloch, a doctor-turned-guerrilla believed to be about 50 said in his first video interview in five years
Baloch’s appeal for Indian help may deepen Pakistani suspicions that India has a hand in a decades-old insurgency in the vast southwestern province.
Historically fraught relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours deteriorated this month after 18 Indian soldiers in Kashmir were killed in an attack on an army base that India blames on Pakistan.
Baloch, leader of one of three main armed groups fighting for Baluchistan’s independence, said that while he wanted support from India, the BLF had not received funding from Modi’s government, or India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
“We welcome the statement that Narendra Modi gave to morally support the Baluch nation,” added Baloch, clad in a traditional beige shalwar kurta outfit, with an automatic rifle across his lap and ammunition hanging from his belt.
Pakistan’s military had no comment on Baloch’s interview.
Baloch is the only leader of a sizeable separatist group who is believed to be waging a guerrilla war from inside Baluchistan; the other two leaders are in exile in Europe.
Pakistan has long suspected India of stoking the Baluchistan rebellion. Those fears grew in March when Pakistan arrested a man it said was a RAW spy in Baluchistan, and accused him of “subversive activities”. India denied he was a spy.
Brahamdagh Bugti, the Switzerland-based leader of the Balochistan Republican Party, another major separatist outfit, last week told Indian media that he planned to seek “political asylum” in India.
The rebel chief also vowed further attacks on a Chinese economic corridor, parts of which run through the resource-rich province.
The planned $46 billion trade route is expected to link western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea via a network of roads, railways and energy pipelines.
China’s investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought fresh focus on Baluchistan, which is endowed with rich but largely unexploited reserves of copper and gold.
Several planned CPEC routes will snake across Baluchistan to its deep-sea port in Gwadar.
Chronic instability in the province, which has experienced waves of revolt by Baluch nationalists since it was formally incorporated into Pakistan in 1948, is a source of concern for China, which has appealed to Pakistan to improve security.
To allay Chinese fears, Pakistan is raising a force of 15,000 personnel, mainly serving army soldiers, to secure the corridor.
But risks remain. Frontier Works Organization, the army-run company building most of the CPEC roads in dangerous areas, said 44 workers had been killed and about 100 wounded in attacks on its CPEC sites over the past two years.
(With Reuters inputs)