Show caption Security personnel stand beside a destroyed security post after attacks by militants in the Naushki district of Balochistan province. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Pakistan At least 21 dead after Pakistan army clashes with militants for third day Official says separatists’ assault timed to ‘sabotage’ prime minister Imran Khan’s visit to China Shah Meer Baloch in Karachi Fri 4 Feb 2022 19.59 GMT Share on Facebook
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Pakistani troops battled separatist militants for a third day on Friday in the troubled province of Balochistan, where hundreds of residents in a town near the Iranian border remained trapped by shellfire and heavy fighting.
The violence erupted on Wednesday when insurgents from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) launched twin assaults on bases of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the Naushki and Panjgur districts, leading to the deaths of at least 12 soldiers and nine militants.
The fighting in Noshki lasted 16 hours before all the assailants were killed, and one explosion was so powerful it broke windows in a civilian hospital and government buildings nearby.
But combat in Panjgur continued late into Friday night, with locals describing intense shelling and gunfire. Video posted on social media showed what was described as a military drone being shot down by the militants, but the report could not immediately be verified.
“Today was the worst day, with bombardment and shelling on the camp. We have seen the dust coming out of the camp. Gunship helicopters have been hovering over our heads all day and night,” one local told the Guardian, adding that the militants were still attacking the camp. “It is 10pm and we are hearing huge blasts and crossfire.”
A security official denied that the militants had besieged the camp, saying that some of the insurgents were in a building near and troops were attempting to “normalise” the situation.
“Final clearance is going on. We are using Cobra and other helicopters as the insurgents are on a run,” he said.
Civilians trapped in the fighting were scared and running out of food, the resident said, adding that at least two civilians were thought to have been killed in the crossfire.
But information on the situation remained scarce: a curfew has been imposed on Panjgur since Thursday, and mobile phone services were suspended. One local journalist complained that officials were not releasing information.
The BLA said it has killed 170 Pakistan soldiers in the twin assaults, a claim authorities dismissed as “totally false”.
The attacks were an unprecedented challenge to state forces in one of the most militarized regions of the country. Senator Syed Mushahid Hussain described the assaults as an “unacceptable breach of security”.
Balochistan, the most impoverished province of Pakistan, has been a hotbed of a separatist insurgency for decades. The separatist militants have opposed Chinese investment in Gwadar and other parts of Pakistan and called it the colonisation and exploitation of the province by China and Pakistan.
The two attacks started hours before the prime minister, Imran Khan, arrived in China, and one security official said that they were designed to send a message to China and derail prime minister’s visit.
“The attacks were very well coordinated and they are linked with Chinese interests in Pakistan. It was to show Pakistan is not a safe country,” the official said
China has pumped billions of dollar through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in recent years in infrastructure and energy projects linking China’s far-western Xinjiang region with the strategic port of Gwadar in Balochistan.
The BLA and other militant groups accuse Chinese of exploiting Balochistan’s mineral resources, and has previously attacked Chinese nationals and the Chinese consulate in Karachi.