The 16-seater Toyota Hiace was halted in its tracks at the entrance of the Confucius Institute at Karachi University, just a little distance from the IBA campus, due to the blast. Its front grille was mostly disintegrated and a portion of it was lying behind the vehicle. The doors were ajar and broken – only the metal frames of the seats were left. The foams, covers, and cushions were all gone. The window glasses were shattered and the pieces lay everywhere. The windowscreens also lay on the ground, one in the front of the vehicle and the other on the back near the motorcycle of the Rangers’ soldiers accompanying the van for security. The windowscreen was not shattered, but burnt black and stuck to the ground like a shiny layer of coal tar.
The impact of the blast also shattered all the windows of the nearby Department of Commerce which also houses the Confucius Institute on its second floor. The nearby K-Electric substation doors also flew open due to the blast. The sound of the explosion was heard across the university.
Four individuals who were killed in the attack were identified as Confucius Institute Director Huang Guiping, Ding Mupeng and Chen Sai. The fourth victim was the van’s driver, Khalid. Wang Yuqing and the security guards following the van were critically injured in the attack.
April 26th’s attack was aimed at the Chinese nationals teaching in the Confucius Institute. The Baloch Liberation Army, a Baloch “pro-independence” group fighting for the independence of Balochistan, claimed responsibility for the attack. In a media statement, BLA said that the attack was carried out by Shari Baloch, a 30-year-old female, who was a member of the Majeed Brigade, BLA’s elite unit specializing in the self-sacrificial attack. Many have that the attack marked history as it showed the world that the Baloch insurgency was not a male monopoly, but rather an inclusive struggle comprising both male and female sections of the Baloch society.
Shari Baloch was a mother, a teacher and a nationalist. She had done her B.Ed in 2014 and M.Ed in 2018. She completed her master’s in Zoology from the University of Balochistan and now she was enrolled in a postgraduate program at the Allama Iqbal Open University, Turbat campus. Shari was married to Haibtan Bashir Baloch, a dentist, and they had two children, five-year-old Mahroch and her younger brother Mir Hassan. She was a secondary science teacher in a local school in Turbat. She comes from a highly educated and well-settled family. Her uncle is a former professor, an author and a human rights campaigner. No one in her family has been involved in any kind of political or armed resistance, nor were her relatives victims of enforced disappearances. She remained a member of the Baloch Students Organization Azad (BSO-Azad) during her student life. From what we know so far, she was not a part of any nationalist political movement or any other student organization.
Shari makes an unusual profile for a suicide bomber. Since no one in her family was a part of the Baloch insurgency, nor were her family members victims of the alleged “state-sponsored brutalities”, the fact that she decided to partake in the Baloch independence movement is unsettling. Considering her background, one can be certain that she did not carry out the self-sacrificial attack out of revenge. So there must be some other profound reason. Why would a highly educated woman with a loving family, a stable job and a happy and prosperous future be a part of the Baloch armed struggle and carry out such an attack?
Shari’s husband, Mr Haibtan Bashir Baloch told The Balochistan Post that “Shari loved her land and its people, that is why wherever and whenever a Baloch was oppressed and wretched, Shari would feel it quite intensely. She used to tell me that there is nothing more painful for me than slavery, and we must put an end to it.” Haibtan said that Shari’s great love for her land and people brought her to this immense position.
You have two young children, didn’t you try to stop Shari for their sake? Do your children know that their mother has taken such a drastic step and she is no more in this world? The Balochistan Post asked Haibtan.
He quoted Shari Baloch saying “we have to go beyond personal interests and think of the collective interests of the Baloch nation and make sacrifices for it.” According to Haibtan, Shari said that “whenever I think of it, I think of the sacrifices of all the Baloch martyrs, their families and children — that gives me more strength and courage to stand on my decision.”
He said that his daughter Mahroch has the idea of these things, and her mother has given her a lot of courage in this regard and she too strongly feels the pain of her slavery, while the son Mir Hassan is still too young to understand. But I believe that when he grows up and finds out about all these things, he will be proud of his mother’s great sacrifice.
Haibtan also expressed pride in a twitter post, a few hours later the attack was carried out.
Baloch “pro-independence” groups have repeatedly warned China to refrain from investing in Balochistan. These groups argue that the Pakistani state has plundered Balochistan for several decades without giving anything in return to the locals, the owners of these resources. The natural gas, gold and copper, coal and countless other minerals extracted from the Baloch soil account for billions of dollars, but not a single penny makes it to the people. As elites in Punjab and Islamabad grow day by day, millions in Balochistan can barely eke out a meagre subsistence. Since 2015 when China officially launched the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to develop the Gwadar deep seaport, Baloch armed groups have issued countless warnings to China to roll back this expansionist project and not be a party to what they call the “exploitation of Balochistan.”
China did not pay heed to these warnings, perhaps thinking that a group of guerrilla fighters could do little to no damage to the project. But these rosy illusions were soon shattered when the Baloch insurgents started targeting Chinese instalments and nationals in Balochistan and beyond. The first such blow came in August 2018 when BLA’s Majeed Brigade carried out a suicide attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers and nationals in Dalbandin. The attack was carried out by Rehan Aslam Baloch, the eldest son of Aslam Baloch, the founder of Majeed Brigade and then chief of the Baloch Liberation Army. The same year in November, Majeed Brigade’s three fidayeen carried out a self-sacrificial attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi. BLA struck once again in 2019, this time targeting the Pearl Continental Hotel, the touchstone of Chinese investment, in Gwadar. In June 2020, the Brigade targeted the Pakistan Stock Exchange in which the Chinese have significant investments. BLA also targeted Chinese engineers in Gwadar in 2021.
Analysts argue that after all these attacks, Beijing should have realized that it underestimated the Baloch insurgency. The Baloch were ready to do anything it takes to oust the foreigners from their land. If it ever came to it, the Baloch would not hesitate to sacrifice their own lives. Baloch history is filled with examples of outsiders trying to establish themselves at the helm in Balochistan and terribly failing at it. Time and again, the Baloch have proven themselves to be the true heirs of this land, and the current situation is not so different. The Baloch are once again embroiled in a war, this time against a much stronger enemy. But the Baloch have adapted and resorted to guerrilla tactics. Unlike the past where the tribal chieftains used to lead their men into battle and make decisions on their behalf, the current Baloch insurgency is mostly decentralized. True, it has got leaders like Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, Bashir Zeb Baloch and Gulzar Imam Baloch, but the insurgency is mainly shouldered by the educated youth. Students and women are participating in the insurgency at increasing rates and this trend is only accelerating. The only problem was, China did not know that when it came to Balochistan.
Historians believe that an attack on a nation’s sovereignty and pride does not often end well, and China’s “expansionist” project is an example of it. China is investing billions of dollars in development projects in Balochistan because it knows that when the project is completed, it can mooch this money out in no time. The Gwadar Seaport itself is a treasure trove – a conduit between Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, which together comprise the largest market for Chinese goods. Experts argue that the Chinese presence in Balochistan is not tolerable to the locals who know that foreign investments in their land will not benefit them in any way. If anything, the locals are being converted into a minority. Punjabis and Chinese nationals have a greater presence in Gwadar than at any other time. And they do not come alone; with them come the Pakistani security forces which are often blamed for destroying the peace and instability of Balochistan and allegedly hurt the locals beyond measure.
With all consequences in mind, one can understand why the Baloch would be angry at China for its projects in Balochistan. Tuesday’s attack on Chinese tutors in the Confucius Institute at Karachi University was a loud and clear message for China to roll back all of its projects in Balochistan, pack its bags and leave. BLA has said that if China once again decides to ignore this, then it will see harsher attacks in the future. Such attacks have also benefited the Baloch insurgency in other ways. China is a big name in the world, and it has been under the radar for quite some time for its expansionist designs abroad and negligence of human rights at home. Such an attack on Chinese nationals was sure to gain the attention of the national and international media, and it did. Balochistan has been under a media blackout for years and the plight of the locals has been hidden from the outside world. But Tuesday’s attack in Karachi once again sparked a conversation on Balochistan and made the world aware that in some far off corner of Asia, a group of people – the Baloch – are fighting a guerrilla war against two powerful enemies – Pakistan and China.
Why the Confucius Institute?
Naysayers on social media and in the press were confused as to why the Baloch Liberation Army would target Chinese tutors? The Chinese nationals were professors at the Confucius Institute who were teaching the Pakistani students about the Chinese, culture, language and way of life. They had nothing to do with the CPEC or any other China-sponsored projects in Balochistan. So why were they targeted? the critics inquire.
The Confucius Institute is a Chinese government-run global education programme which aims to “deepen international understanding of Chinese language and culture, and promote people-to-people exchanges between China and Pakistan.” Since its inception in 2013, the faculty members – mostly Chinese nationals – had faced life threats and therefore had to follow strict security protocols. They were escorted by a security detail to and from the institute every day and even to their classrooms. The students were frisked and thoroughly searched before being allowed to enter the classes.
The Confucius Institute is seen as a way to exercise “soft power”, with China spending approximately $10 billion on the Confucius Institute and related programmes. The institutes operate in cooperation with affiliate colleges and universities around the world. The close relationship between these institutions and the Chinese government has sparked debates over issues like political influence and academic freedom, especially over topics like the semi-autonomous Taiwan, Tibet and the Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang. In 2020, the United States declared the Confucius Institute a foreign propaganda mission, saying it was “owned and effectively controlled” by the Chinese government. There are also reports that the faculty members of the Confucius Institute were members of the Chinese Communist Party who were fomenting the state-run agitprop – they were essentially the mouthpiece of CCP, the gears of China’s propaganda machinery. It is, therefore, understandable why the Baloch Liberation Army decided to attack the Confucius Institute – it was tantamount to a blow at the heart of the Chinese Communist Party.
Why a woman fidayee?
This attack was unusual but not unanticipated. What puzzled most people was why would BLA allow a woman to carry out such an attack. Baloch nationalists argue that the Baloch struggle is not male-dominated. Male and female members of the Baloch society have an equal roles to play. Where men pick up guns and go to the mountains to fight a guerrilla war, the women choose the path of passive resistance and organize protests, demonstrations, rallies and seminars to highlight the issue plaguing the Baloch nation. But that does not mean that the women cannot resort to armed resistance. When the time and necessity comes, the Baloch women can pick up guns and fight a guerrilla war standing shoulder to shoulder with their male compatriots, and Shari Baloch was living proof of that. Nationalists argue that she was not motivated by political vendetta, nor did she have any religious reasons for carrying out such an attack. She was a highly educated and well-settled woman with a loving family and a happy future. She did not need to fight an armed resistance, but she did because she knew she had to. She had seen the plight of the Baloch nation unfold before her eyes. She knew what was at stake and she did not hesitate when it came for her to play her due part in this struggle. She saw her purpose embraced with open arms, thus setting an example for the Baloch women to emulate.
The Baloch pride themselves on being a secular nation. Baloch historians argue that unlike other nations in the region, Baloch never let religion be a defining feature of their society. For them, religion was always a personal matter. Furthermore, the Baloch society was not strictly patriarchal either, especially before mingling with other cultures. Baloch folklores are filled with stories of brave women standing side by side with their male counterparts in every situation. They have proven themselves to be equally strong, determined and capable. Analysts say that countless Baloch women are leading a fight against “oppression and violence.” They are female human rights activists, political workers and now insurgents. Nationalists argue that some powerful women are sitting in the Pakistani parliament. Allegedly brought up and raised to power by Pakistan’s mighty establishment or their local protégé, these women have tried their best to demean the Baloch struggle and dissuade other women from being a part of it. One such example came only a few days ago when some Baloch women said during a press conference that Shari Baloch was “mentally unstable” and “not in her senses” when she carried out the attack. Nationalists say that the majority of Baloch know that these women are only “puppets” who were raised to power for the sole purpose of disparaging the Baloch armed struggle. “As long as Shari Baloch, Karima Baloch, Mahrang Baloch and Sammi Deen Baloch are in our midst, the likes of Zubaida Jalal and Bushra Rind cannot succeed”, one political activist said.
About the comments of aforementioned parliamentarians, The Balochistan Post asked the views of Haibtan Baloch, Shari’s husband. He said: “these are all enemy propagandas, joining the Majeed Brigade and getting ready for sacrifice and achieving success by going to the target is a great test of patience and a great challenge. Majeed Brigade is not an ordinary wing where anyone under pressure can join it. Those who join Majeed Brigade are very conscious and keeping all the challenges in mind and then they come to this decision.”
When asked about Shari’s personality, Haibtan said that Shari was a very loving and caring person. “Whenever she felt that she has made a mistake or even unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings, she would get very depressed. She wanted to understand life and the truth of life by reading more and more books. Sometimes she used to write her thoughts about life. Shari loved those who fought for truth and justice. Shari loved those who fought against oppression and tyranny, Haibtan told TBP.
April 26th’s attack should alarm the Pakistani and Chinese authorities that the Baloch women are also a formidable force. They are standing shoulder to shoulder with their male compatriots in this struggle for independence. Baloch Liberation Army also warned China and Pakistan to end their presence in Balochistan or hundreds of highly trained Baloch male and female fidayeen will not hesitate to give their lives to that end. It must be observed that how the numbers of “self-sacrificers” have increased after the first fidayee attack by Rehan Aslam from August 2018 to April 2022. In between these years, more than 2 dozen Baloch fighters have carried out massive attacks on prominent targets of Chinese and Pakistani interests—including Pakistan military headquarters and camps.
In her last video message to the Baloch nation, Shari said:” . . . I have taken this decision also to show that men and women of the Baloch nation are not less than each other on ideological levels, intellectual strength, decision making power and the extent of giving sacrifice or bravery.”
“We women can do politics, lead protests, attain education and sit on roads for the recovery of our loved ones then we also have the capability to take part in the war of liberation. Therefore, the Baloch women should stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers in this struggle. I have a strong belief that after my this act Baloch women will join their male counterparts in this war. Women involvement can be in any form whether it is in form of fidayee attacks or playing any other role in this resistance. I am sure that more Baloch women will join this war of liberation after me.”