The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) was on Tuesday listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US State Department, which also imposed economic sanctions on the group and anyone affiliated with it.
“BLA is an armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan,” the State Department said in a statement, citing a number of attacks, including against Chinese engineers in August 2018 and the Chinese consulate in Karachi in November 2018.
Pakistan has been battling the BLA, which fights for independence for Balochistan province, for more than a decade.
“BLA remains a proscribed entity in Pakistan since 2006 and in recent times has carried out several terrorist attacks in the country,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday following the announcement.
“It is important that the perpetrators, organisers, financers [financiers] and external sponsors including those glorifying these acts of terror against Pakistan are held accountable and brought to justice.”
The BLA accuses Pakistan of rights abuses in Balochistan and of extracting the province’s wealth without providing basic services to its people.
Balochistan is a key route of China’s multibillion-dollar project called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The project aims to connect China’s Xinjiang province to Balochistan’s Gwadar port through roads, railways, transport cargo and several other development projects.
“We are fighting to defend our land and people and to restore the lost independence of our nation state. This is a right enshrined in international laws and principles,” Bashir Zeb Baloch, head of BLA, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The BLA leader urged the US and the European Union “to analyse Pakistani brutalities against Baloch civilians and the expansionist and militaristic designs of China to find out who is the real terrorist in the region”.
“We are a proud nation and will continue our war of independence till the last bullet against the international terrorist Pakistan and its religious proxies.”
In May, the BLA claimed an attack on the only five-star hotel in Gwadar that killed five people, including a soldier.
In a statement released after the attack, the armed group had warned China to stop its “exploitative projects in Balochistan” threatening further attacks.
Pakistan accuses India of supporting the BLA, a claim denied by New Delhi.
Washington has previously expressed concerns over the BRI, accusing China of debt traps on developing countries.