Pakistan Stock Exchange Attack— BLA’s Thwarted Attempt
Anurag Sharma, Research Associate, VIF

“You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. You know, eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
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- Hillary Rodham Clinton

The “snake” of terrorism has bitten its keeper. Believing in the doctrine of “bleeding India into thousand cuts” through a proxy of terrorism, Pakistan—a country which sponsors terrorism into its neighbouring country—India, has witnessed and averted a terrorist attack which could have turned into a catastrophic event in the recent history of Pakistan. In the morning of 29 June 2020, four terrorists of Baluchistan Liberation Army (hereafter BLA) attacked Pakistan’s financial establishment—Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE) in Karachi in Sindh province of Pakistan. The motive of the attack was to cause maximum damage along with the hostage situation. In a swift response, security forces killed all four terrorists before they entered the premises of the Pakistan Stock Exchange.2 In two months, it was the second attack claimed by the Baluchistan Liberation Army. On 08 May 2020, the BLA claimed an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attack on the convoy of Pakistan Army at Kallag in Tigran area of Kech district in Baluchistan province of Pakistan.3 The article attempts to analyse the event, discussing the perpetrators, including a brief profile of the group and further implications of the attack from various perspectives.

The “8 Minute” Game

At around 1000 hrs (PKT) on 29 June 2020, four terrorists of the Baluch/Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) targeted Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE/PSX)—one of the high-security area and Pakistan’s financial hub of several banks. The attackers—armed with automatic rifles and grenades arrived at the entrance gate of the PSE building and randomly opened fire. With a clear motive to enter the premises, one of the attackers threw a grenade which exploded nearby the entrance to the compound. According to the statement of the Director-General of Sindh Rangers Paramilitary force—Maj Gen Omer Ahmed Bokhari, all four terrorists were heavily armed with rifles and grenades. With plenty of ammunition, these terrorists were carrying abundant food and water with the motive of long-standoff and further to create a hostage situation. 4 Security forces personnel, already deployed at the location, retaliated and killed all four terrorists. However, in the gun-battle, a police official was martyred, along with four private security guards, and a stock-exchange employee was among casualties. Post attack, the security-level of all essential offices and trading centres across Karachi were elevated to high. Amid the clearing process post-attack, security forces recovered four bags (belonged to the attackers), four SMGs (Sub-Machine Guns), hand grenades, water-bottles, and dates. 5

The purpose of the attack was not only to create a hostage situation but to hugely and adversely affect Pakistan’s economy and Chinese investments in Pakistan. In the video released by the BLA-supported media wing—"Hakkal Media”, one of the attackers—Salman Hammal has said that “…..China, with its intrusion, has been plundering Baloch resources through Saindak, Gwadar, and other similar projects in Baluchistan”. 6 Along with other financial transactions and trade, the PSE had signed an agreement with Chinese Stock Exchanges, including Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SZSE), Shanghai Stock Exchanges (SSE) & Hong Kong Stock Exchanges (HKSE), for significant investments. After claiming the attack, in another statement, the BLA has stated that “the purpose of the attack was to target Pakistan’s economy simultaneously and to warn China on its involvement in Baluchistan”.7 Earlier on 23 November 2018, the attackers of BLA’s Majeed Brigade had carried-out an attack on Chinese consulate in Clifton area in Karachi in which seven people were killed; however no Chinese national was hurt in the attack. 8 In another attack on 11 May 2019, attackers of the same brigade attacked Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar town of Baluchistan, claiming the attack was to target Chinese and other foreign investors. 9 These incidents signify that BLA is unhappy with the Chinese presence in Pakistan, particularly in Baluchistan and the CPEC investment.

Furthermore, the incident brought some information which seems fictional but holds reality. The entire incident—beginning with the arrival of the attackers at the PSE and ending with the elimination of all four attackers, took merely 08 minutes. In a press conference held post-attack, Sindh Rangers Director-General Omer Ahmed Bukhari informed that the terrorists arrived at 1002 hrs and were killed by the security forces by 1010 hours. 10 Being the shortest counter-terrorism operation, this attack has raised several questions including, if the attackers were amateurs in the way they carried out this operation, or Pakistan’s security forces have demonstrated an instantaneous counter-terror response?

The Perpetrator

In the attack on 29 June, all four BLA terrorists were swiftly eliminated by the security forces. Based on their biometric identifications (fingerprints), three out of four terrorists have been identified as Shehzad Baloch aka Cobra, Salman Hammal aka Notak, Tasleem Baloch aka Muslim and Siraj Kungur aka Yaagi—residents of Baluchistan’s Kech area. 11 In a statement given by police surgeon—Dr Qarar Ahmed Abbasi, all terrorists belong to the age group between 20 to 30 years. Later, the Baluchistan Liberation Army claimed the responsibility of the attack and released the images of all four attackers (referring to image 1) of its “Majeed Brigade”—wearing camouflage outfits holding guns12.

However, as a known trait, Pakistan government blamed India for the attack. In his address to the parliament on 30 June, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that “for the last two months my Cabinet knew about the attack and I [Imran Khan] had informed my minister. All our agencies were on high alert. There are no doubts that India is behind the attack”. 13 While condemning the terrorist attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange, India rejected Pakistan’s absurd and false statement blaming India for the attack. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)’s Spokesperson—Anurag Srivastava said that “Pakistan cannot shift the blame on India for its [Pakistan] domestic issues”. India has no hesitation in condemning any form of terrorism anywhere. 14 Earlier, Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan described the US’ operation—"Operation Neptune Spear” as an “embarrassment for Pakistan” and labelled former al-Qaeda leader and global terrorist as a “martyr”.15

Pakistan has always blamed India for supporting and financing the BLA; however, Hyrbyair Marri has always rejected Pakistan’s claim on BLA’s connection with India. Hyrbyair is an alleged leader of the BLA and brother of the former leader Mir Balaach Marri, has been living in self-exile in London, the United Kingdom since 2000. In an interview given to the BBC Urdu in 2015, Hyrbyair Marri has said that “the majority of Baluch people do not want to live with Pakistan. We [Baluch people] are not in favour of seeking assistance in any form from India to gain independence. I have never sought any help from India, nor will I in the future”. 16

Baluchistan Liberation Army- A Profile

As a long-running struggle, the ethnic Baluch/Baloch groups in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province have been struggling for a separate homeland. Headed by tribal leaders in the past, Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) is an Afghanistan-based Baluch ethnic-nationalist terrorist organisation in the fight against Pakistan regime. Formed in 2000, BLA aims for independence from Pakistan and establishing a sovereign nation of Greater Baluchistan. On 22 July 2000, the BLA carried out its first attack with a bomb explosion in Jinnah market in Quetta, Baluchistan, in which 07 people were killed, and 25 others were injured. 17 Among other Baluch-centric terrorist organisations, BLA is the oldest with the leadership mostly drawn from Marri or Bugti tribes. 18

Since its formation, BLA continued to target Pakistan’s security forces with the series of mortar attacks on military establishments; however, these attacks were undocumented for unknown reasons. In 2004, the BLA killed two Chinese workers involved in a Pakistan-China jointly sponsored “mega-project”. The attack successfully attracted western media’s and Pakistan government’s attention on the group’s willingness to attack foreign nationals. In response, the Pakistan Army deployed 20,000 additional troops in Baluchistan province. 19 Despite the excessive military presence in the province, BLA continued to coordinated terrorist attacks on the Pakistan security forces, mainly army and paramilitary.

On 14 December 2005, during the visit of Pakistan’s then-President and Chief of Army (Gen) Parvez Musharraf, to a paramilitary camp in Kohlu district in Baluchistan province, the BLA terrorists launched eight rockets at the camp. In the attack, no casualties were reported. 20 Soon after the attack, Mirak Baloch—then-Spokesperson of the BLA telephoned the Press Club in Quetta and claimed that his group was responsible for the attack. The military establishment took this opportunity to label BLA as a terrorist organisation and began several operations to target the BLA and its leadership. In the next two years, Pakistan establishment had managed to eliminate two prominent and most influential figures in BLA and Baluchistan—Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balaach Marri. On 26 August 2006, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in a “mysterious” manner in a cave in which he was hiding has collapsed. According to the statement released by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the security forces were ordered to arrest and not to kill Bugti. As soon, the soldiers entered the cave, an undetermined explosion took place and caused the cave to collapse due to which all occupants were killed, including security forces personnel. 21 A year later, in operation in Afghanistan on 21 November 2007, the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) airstrike killed Mir Balaach Marri. Balaach Marri had sought refuge in Afghanistan following the crackdown by Pakistan military in the Marri and Bugti areas of Baluchistan, after the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006. 22

Graph 1 highlights the trend of terrorist incidents targeting Pakistan security forces (including Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps and other Paramilitary personnel) & civilians (including politicians, government employees—non-military employees, and Chinese nationals) which are claimed by the BLA terror group. As mentioned earlier, BLA carried out its first attack in the year 2000, but the group’s activities caught attention in the 2004 attack in which two Chinese national employed on a project were targeted and killed.

In the last ten years (2010-2020), BLA has claimed 80 terrorist attacks in which 109 Pakistan security forces personnel were martyred and 191 civilians lost their lives. There was a single terrorist attack on security forces in 2012 that gave a spike in the trend; however, BLA kept a steady rise in the number of attacks against security forces from 2012-2016. It was the year 2013 when Pakistan and China jointly established several infrastructure projects under the umbrella of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Observing the graph 1, it is clear that BLA targeted civilian population in equal or more than equal counts to security forces. Out of total attacks claimed by BLA, 68 per cent attacks were carried out, and out of 191 civilian fatalities, 75 per cent were killed in four years, i.e. 2013-2017. The civilian fatalities were mostly consisting of the construction labour, Chinese workers, and others linked with CPEC projects. Other civilians have been targeted on suspicion of being informants of Pakistan military and intelligence fraternity. Post-2017, there has been a decline in the number of terrorist attacks. However, it would be too early to assume that the BLA would get discouraged from its recently foiled terrorist attack. On the contrary, the group may attempt another terrorist attack to cause maximum damage to the economy of Pakistan and disrupt China’s intervention into the Baluchistan province through its on-going and future projects.

BLA—an Internationally Designated Terrorist Organisation ?

Post-December 2005 terrorist attack on Pakistan’s former President (Gen) Parvez Musharraf gave Pakistan establishment a golden opportunity to strike against the ethno-nationalist terror group—Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) and its leadership. Along with carrying out an extensive military campaign against the BLA, the government of Pakistan proscribed BLA as a terrorist organisation under various sections of their Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In a notification gazette on 07 April 2006, Pakistan enlisted Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a terrorist organisation under section 11-B of Schedule-1 of their Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997. 23 In subsequent months, in July 2006, Pakistan’ government directed its Ministry of Finance to freeze the bank accounts of 45 members of the BLA, including women. 24 However, it was never clarified as to how Pakistan’s government got the list of 45 people associated with the BLA.

In 2009, sportsman-turned-politician and current Prime Minister of Pakistan—Imran Khan had supported the terrorist activities of the BLA in a terror-trial against two of its operatives that took place in London, the United Kingdom. In his statement, PM Imran Khan informed the Court that-25

“He would have been willing to use violence against the Pakistan government if he had been from the country’s poorest province of Baluchistan, where the army had killed and kidnapped citizens, made 75,000 homeless, rigged elections and controlled the courts.”

It is obvious that at the time of his statement supporting the BLA, PM Imran Khan was on the opposite side of the table of the politics of Pakistan. Singing the tunes of Pakistan, the United Kingdom (UK) in July 2006, proscribed BLA as a terrorist organisation under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000. 26 In response to impose a ban on the BLA, along with other three extremist organisations, UK’s then-Home Secretary said that these groups had been disseminating provocative extremist and radical Islamic messages, mainly through the Internet. However, the BLA has not been enlisted or designated as the terrorist organisation in the Schedule to the United Nations (UN) Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism (Implementation of Security Council Resolutions) Order, 2007 made under section 2 of the United Nations (Security Council) Act, 1947.

Unlike, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, the United States have not enlisted the BLA in its US Department of State’s “Designated Foreign Terrorist Organisations”. Nevertheless, on 02 July 2019, the US Department of Treasury, the State Department has designated the Baluchistan/Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) under the Executive Order 13224 or under “Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) And Blocked Persons List (BPL)”. The Executive Order 13224 is a powerful tool to hinder terrorist funding and is an essential part of the US commitment against terrorism, signed by then-US President George W Bush on 23 September 2001. 27 On the enlisting of BLA under the US Executive Order 13224, the Spokesperson of the BLA—Jiyand Baloch has said that the US’ decision is unjustified. BLA is a secular and armed defence organisation which protects its Motherland against the foreign intruders [referring to China’s presence in Pakistan]. 28

Another Angle

The attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange has an angle pointing towards the opposition of the BLA against Chinese presence on their land. In December 2016, the Pakistan Stock Exchange sold out 40 per cent of strategic shares to a Chinese financial consortium. The whole deal was valued at USD 85 million, and through this, China had also made its first acquisition in such type of a venture outside China. 29

Post-attack, the BLA has claimed the responsibility of the attack; however, as a twist in the developments on the attack, the so-called “official” Twitter handle of the Baloch/Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) has tweeted on 01 July 2020, that “Baloch Liberation Army has nothing to do with the attack on Karachi Stock Exchange. Those, who used the name of the Baloch Liberation Army, were expelled from the organisation. - undersigned Spokesperson Azad Baloch”.30 On social media, there is a speculation that the attack was carried out by the separatist group called—"The BRAS/BRASS” which is an armed coalition run under the auspices of the Iranian intelligence agency. 31 However, no such claim has been made either officially or in mainstream media. If this Twitter post has some modicum of truth then it would raise several questions on the credibility of the statements released by the BLA. In the absence of ‘visible’ leadership, is the BLA on the edge of breaking down?

Endnotes :
  1. FP Staff. “You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour: Clinton”, FirstPost, 21 October 2011, Available from: https://www.firstpost.com/world/clinton-continues-to-talk-tough-with-pakistan-113492.html; Quote by Hillary Rodham Clinton: “You can't keep snakes in .... https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6493813-you-can-t-keep-snakes-in-your-backyard-and-expect-them
  2. Afzal Nadeem Dogar and Kashif Mushtaq. “Security forces foil terrorist bid to take over Pakistan Stock Exchange in gun and grenade attack”, Geo News, 29 June 2020, Available from: https://www.geo.tv/latest/295362-karachi-police-officers-injured-in-grenade-attack-outside-pakistan-stock-exchange-office
  3. ANI. “BLA claims responsibility for killing 6 Pakistan Army personnel, including army Major”, ANI News, 08 May 2020, Available from: https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/bla-claims-responsibility-for-killing-6-pakistan-army-personnel-including-army-major20200508230532/
  4. Salman Masood. “Gunmen wage deadly battle at Pakistan Stock Exchange”, The New York Times, 29 June 2020, Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/29/world/asia/pakistan-stock-exchange-shooting.html
  5. Saud Bin Murtaza and Roohan Ahmed. “Karachi Stock Exchange attack: Sindh Rangers say four terrorists killed”, Samaa, 29 June 2020, Available from: https://www.samaa.tv/news/pakistan/2020/06/pakistan-stock-exchange-karachi-attack/
  6. Hakkal_BLA. 2020. “BLA Majeed Brigade – operation Pakistan stock exchange”, uploaded on 04 July 2020. Vimeo, 12.34 min. Available from: https://vimeo.com/435256645
  7. Baqir Sajjad Syed. “Analysis: BLA out to bleed Pakistan economy, Chinese interests”, Dawn, 30 June 2020, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/1566053/analysis-bla-out-to-bleed-pakistan-economy-chinese-interests
  8. Imtiaz Ali. “Attack on Chinese consulate in Karachi foiled, militants killed”, Dawn, 24 November 2018, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/1447349/attack-on-chinese-consulate-in-karachi-foiled-militants-killed
  9. Michael Safi and Shah Meer Baloch. “Armed militants storm luxury hotel in Pakistan attack”, The Guardian, 11 May 2019, Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/11/armed-militants-storm-luxury-hotel-in-gwadar-pakistan
  10. Imtiaz Ali and Naveed Siddiqui. “All 4 terrorists killed in attempt to storm Pakistan Stock Exchange compound in Karachi: Rangers”, Dawn, 29 June 2020, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/1565922/all-4-terrorists-killed-in-attempt-to-storm-pakistan-stock-exchange-compound-in-karachi-rangers
  11. Ibid.
  12. Baqir Sajjad Syed. “Analysis: BLA out to bleed Pakistan economy, Chinese interests”, Dawn, 30 June 2020, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/1566053/analysis-bla-out-to-bleed-pakistan-economy-chinese-interests
  13. “Pakistan’s Imran Khan blames India for Stock exchange attack”, Deutsche Welle, 30 June 2020, Available from: https://www.dw.com/en/pakistans-imran-khan-blames-india-for-stock-exchange-attack/a-53998863
  14. Tribune News Service. “Pakistan cannot shift blame on India for its domestic problems: MEA”, The Tribune, 02 July 2020, Available from: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/pakistan-cannot-shift-blame-on-india-for-its-domestic-problems-mea-107617
  15. “Imran Khan criticized after calling Osama Bin Laden a ‘martyr’”, BBC News, 26 June 2020, Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53190199
  16. “Will never seek help from India: Hyrbyair Marri”, Dawn, 10 October 2015, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/1212164 ; “’آزادی کے لیے بھارت سے کبھی مدد مانگی نہ مانگیں گے‘”, BBC Urdu, 10 October 2015, Available from: https://www.bbc.com/urdu/pakistan/2015/10/151009_harbiyar_mari_baloch_india_help_zs
  17. “Incident GTD ID #200007220002”, Global Terrorism Database, Available from: https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/IncidentSummary.aspx?gtdid=200007220002
  18. Malik Siraj Akbar. “The end of Pakistan’s Baloch insurgency?”, Huffington Post, 03 January 2015, Available from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-end-of-pakistans-balo_b_6090920
  19. Srijan Shukla. “Baloch Liberation Army, the insurgent group behind the Karachi Stock Exchange attack”, ThePrint, 29 June 2020, Available from: https://theprint.in/world/baloch-liberation-army-the-insurgent-group-behind-karachi-stock-exchange-attack/450960/
  20. Azhar Masood & Agencies. “Separatists fire rockets as Musharraf visits Balochistan”, Arab News, 15 December 2005, Available from: https://www.arabnews.com/node/277390
  21. Syed Irfan Raza. “Mysterious blast caused collapse of cave: ISPR”, Dawn, 30 August 2006, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/208178
  22. Saleem Shahid. “Balach Marri killed: Violence in Quetta, schools closed”, Dawn, 22 November 2007, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/277009/balach-marri-killed-violence-in-quetta-schools-closed
  23. Government of Pakistan. “76 organisations proscribed by Ministry of Interior”, National Counter Terrorism Authority, Available from: https://nacta.gov.pk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Proscribed-OrganizationsEng-2.pdf
  24. “UK declares BLA terrorist organization”, Dawn, 18 July 2006, Available from: https://www.dawn.com/news/201997
  25. John Twomey. “I’d do the same as terror suspects, says Imran Khan”, The Express, 09 Jan 2009, Available from: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/79107/I-d-do-the-same-as-terror-suspects-says-Imran-Khan
  26. The United Kingdom. “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations”, The Home Office- the United Kingdom, Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/869496/20200228_Proscription.pdf
  27. US Government. “Executive Order 13224”, US Department of State, Available from: https://www.state.gov/executive-order-13224/
  28. Kallol Bhattacherjee. “Inclusion in US terror list unjustified: Baloch Liberation Army”, The Hindu, 03 July 2019, Available from: https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/inclusion-in-us-terror-list-unjustified-baloch-liberation-army/article28270090.ece
  29. Nirupama Subramaniam. “Why Balochistan Liberation Army, which targets Chinese interests in Pakistan, may have attacked Karachi stock exchange”, The Indian Express, 01 July 2020, Available from: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/pakistan-stock-exchange-attack-karachi-balochistan-liberation-army-6481916/
  30. @BalochArmy__. 2020. “Baloch Liberation Army has nothing………from the organization”, Twitter, 01 July 2020, 02:16 AM, Available from: https://twitter.com/BalochArmy__/status/1278067518440169472
  31. Mahtab Khan (@mahtab2010). 2020. “The Baloch Liberation Army…..attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange”, Twitter, 02 July 2020, Available from: https://twitter.com/mahtab2010/status/1278601455121903616

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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