APRIL 11, 2015
|A Pakistani government photograph, showing officials
carrying the body of a victim |
of an attack in Baluchistan on Saturday. Credit Pid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 20 workers were killed by gunmen early Saturday in southwestern Pakistan, officials said, in an attack claimed by separatists in Baluchistan Province.
The killings took place in the Turbat district of Baluchistan, where a separatist movement has operated for decades. Baluchistan is the country’s largest province by area — about 44 percent of Pakistan’s total area — and is rich with mineral resources and natural gas deposits.
“The laborers were working on a bridge that links Turbat to a national highway,” Imran Qureshi, the top police official in Turbat, said by phone.
The gunmen attacked the workers’ camp before dawn and overpowered the security guards. “Then, they opened fire on the laborers, most of whom were sleeping,” Mr. Qureshi said.
Three more laborers were wounded.
“All killed were from Sindh Province,” Mr. Qureshi said, referring to an adjacent province and quoting the contractor in charge of the site. But another local official said 16 of the victims were from Punjab Province and four were from Sindh.
President Mamnoon Hussain strongly condemned the killings in an official statement. Expressing sorrow, he said that the nation is united against terrorism.
Mr. Qureshi said the attack took place in the tribal regions of the province where the police do not exercise authority. Instead, a paramilitary force provides security in these areas.
The Baluchistan Liberation Front, a shadowy militant separatist group, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday, according to Agence France-Presse.
“We will continue our fight against Pakistani occupation,” said Goran Baluch, a spokesman for the group, the news agency reported.
Abdul Malik Baloch, the chief minister of Baluchistan Province, said a high-level team would investigate the killings. He also claimed that other countries, including India, were trying to destabilize the province, local news media reported.
Since the mid-2000s, a Baluch separatist movement has gained momentum, gradually moving away from nationalist calls for greater autonomy and a share of the province’s natural resources.
Baluch separatists and activists have long accused the security forces of carrying out secret detentions and unlawful killings.
The Pakistani military and some politicians accuse neighboring countries — Iran and, especially, India — of fueling unrest in the vast region. Both countries deny meddling in the province.
Separatists say that thousands of people have been killed by the security forces, a claim denied by Pakistani officials.
Earlier in the week, Lahore University of Management Sciences, a liberal private college in the eastern city of Lahore, claimed that a seminar on Baluchistan, which was to be attended by some high-profile activists and critics of the military, was canceled on the orders of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the country’s powerful spy agency.
On Saturday, Abbas Nasir, a columnist for the newspaper Dawn, wrote, “The state should begin by at least allowing its citizens, no matter how uncomfortable it is with their views, to speak.”
But some say that right activists and liberal columnists often look the other way when it comes to violence by Baluch separatists.
“There is too much one-sided propaganda,” said Fawad Chaudhry, a politician.
“Baluchistan is a governance issue, not a political issue,” he said. “Corruption and governance failings are exploited by Iran and India.”