Pakistan army ends days-long separatist assaults

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Pakistani troops have put an end to four days of assaults by separatists in Balochistan province, the army said Saturday, putting the final death toll at 20 militants and nine soldiers.

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Separatists have waged an insurgency in the vast southwestern province for years, fuelled by anger that its abundant reserves of natural resources are not relieving citizens from crushing poverty.

The days of fighting came as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was making an official visit to China, which has invested significantly in Balochistan, further stoking tensions.

Late Wednesday, militants from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) staged twin assaults on army posts in the province’s Naushki and Panjgur districts.

The Naushki assault was quashed on Thursday, but the attack in Panjgur was only quelled on Saturday, the army said.

Militants ultimately fled the Panjgur area, allowing the military to stage what it called a “clearance operation” to hunt them out in the vicinity.

“All encircled terrorists were killed in today’s operation as they failed to surrender,” the military said in a statement.

The BLA meanwhile claimed in a statement on Telegram to have killed 80 soldiers and successfully completed their objectives.

Baloch separatists frequently exaggerate their battlefield successes, while the Pakistan military’s public relations department also plays down losses, or delays reporting them.

Chinese investments in Balochistan are part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project linking China’s far-western Xinjiang region with the strategic port of Gwadar in Balochistan has sparked claims that the vast influx of investment does not benefit locals.

While the economic corridor offers a lucrative gateway for China to the Indian Ocean, the security of its workers has long been a concern.

Islamabad and Beijing have forged strong ties in recent years.

A Pakistani security official told AFP on Friday that the attacks were an attempt to derail Khan’s visit to China.

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