Pakistan’s Gwadar port attacked, eight armed fighters killed

Security forces fought for two hours before the attackers were killed, at a facility that is a showpiece project and is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Gwadar Port is part of the $62bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project [Nadeem Khawer/EPA]By Abid HussainPublished On 20 Mar 202420 Mar 2024

Islamabad, Pakistan — Pakistan’s security forces foiled a major attack in Gwadar, a port city in the southwestern province of Balochistan, when eight armed fighters were killed on Wednesday when they tried to enter the Gwadar Port Authority complex.

The facility is a centrepiece of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan’s most ambitious infrastructure and investment project in recent years.

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Saeed Ahmed Umrani, a senior government official, confirmed that the port complex was attacked, and said the security forces were engaged in nearly two hours of fighting with the attackers before they were killed.

“At least two men from security forces were injured in the fighting. The operation has been completed but clearance of the area is still ongoing,” he told Al Jazeera.

Chief Minister of Balochistan Sarfraz Bugti said in a message on X: “Whosoever chooses to use violence will see no mercy from the state. Kudos to all law enforcement bravehearts who fought bravely today for Pakistan.”

The attack was claimed by Majeed Brigade, the armed wing of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group that demands secession of the province from Pakistan.

In a statement, the BLA said that the offices of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies inside the complex were targeted. “BLA accepts responsibility for the attack and further details will be released to the media,” the statement said.

One eyewitness in Gwadar city told Al Jazeera that the attack started around 4pm local time.

“First there were two major explosions, which were followed by loud, long bursts of firing which continued for more than hour,” the Gwadar resident told Al Jazeera on the phone, requesting anonymity.

He further said that the complex where the attack unfolded was partly a residential area where mostly staff working on the port lived, but it also had some other government offices.

This was not the first time that Gwadar has been attacked. The city is home to many Chinese citizens who are working on the construction of the port.

In August last year, two gunmen targeted a convoy of 23 Chinese engineers in Gwadar, but they were killed by security forces. That attack was also claimed by the Majeed Brigade of the BLA.

There was another major attack in Gwadar five years ago in 2019, when three attackers launched an audacious charge at the only luxury hotel in the city, situated on top of a hill on the coastline.

The attack, which was also claimed by the BLA, led to the killing of five people, including one Pakistan Navy officer.

Gwadar is a town on Pakistan’s southwestern coast and is undergoing developmental projects carried out with help from Chinese engineers and financed by the Chinese government. It is home to the country’s only deep-sea port.

The projects are part of the CPEC, a $62bn trade corridor that links southwestern China to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan, including major roads and the port in strategically important Balochistan province.

Home to about 15 million of Pakistan’s estimated 240 million people, according to the 2023 census, Balochistan is also the country’s poorest province, despite being rich in natural resources, including oil, coal, gold, copper and gas reserves.

Baloch secessionist groups such as the BLA initially wanted a share of provincial resources, but later initiated a movement for complete independence. Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, and has had a long history of marginalisation. The province was annexed by Pakistan in 1948, soon after partition from India, and there has been a separatist movement ever since.

Source: Al Jazeera