Karachi | Unidentified militants in military uniform shot dead at least 22 passengers after storming two Karachi-bound buses in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, triggering widespread protests from Pashtuns.
Suspected to be Baloch separatists, 20-25 militants stopped the buses ferrying over 30 passengers, mostly Pashtuns, in southwestern Mastung district last night when they were heading to Karachi from Quetta and Pishin. According to a survivor, the gunmen asked the passengers to come out and they obeyed the instructions, thinking they were military personnel.
The gunmen kidnapped about 30 passengers and later killed at least 22 of them, officials and media reports said. At least two of the militants were today killed in a massive operation mounted by the Frontier Corps (FC) and Levies personnel in the Khadkochay area of the Mastung district to hunt down the gunmen and had recovered six passengers from the mountains, an FC official said.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti told PTI that unidentified gunmen around 20 to 25 in number came in heavy vehicles and stopped the buses. They got the passengers out of the buses and kidnapped around 30 of them releasing five of them later on but started killing the rest after the (military) operation began, he said.
The gunmen fled into the mountains, leaving the bodies behind which were recovered by security forces and rescue teams, Bugti said, adding that a search for the rest was on. No particular group has claimed responsibility for the attack but security forces suspect Baloch separatists were involved.
A survivor told a TV channel that militants verified the ethnicity of kidnapped men through national identity cards and killed the Pashtun passengers while sparing the Baloch. Relatives of those killed and kidnapped in yesterday’s incident staged a sit-in outside the Governor House in Quetta, demanding justice and a military operation in the province.
They placed 16 coffins with the bodies of their dead and refused to bury their dead until the government guaranteed their protection, a media report said. Meanwhile, Bugti also alleged that India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was involved in the killings.
Bugti said the designs of the enemy would be foiled as both the ethnic groups of the province understand the real intention behind the killing. Pakistani officials and the army have recently blamed RAW several times for allegedly supporting groups creating instability in the country.
They have alleged that it was part of efforts to derail the Chinese investment in Pakistan. Last week, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that enemies of Pakistan were trying to harm the USD 45 billion China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In today’s military operation, more than 200 FC soldiers were taking part, according to the official.
They have aerial support of gunship helicopters, he added. Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch announced three-day mourning in the province. He asked the political parties to support the government to deal with law and order in the province. Soon after the news of the kidnapping of passengers surfaced, Sharif expressed concern and issued immediate directives to ensure the safe and quick recovery of the passengers.
Mastung is one of the most troubled areas of the Balochistan province which has been regularly hit by violence sparked by separatist militants and sectarian killings. Insurgents and militants have in the past targeted passenger buses and last month they shot dead 20 labourers from outside the province working on a dam project near Sibi.