Counter-Insurgency efforts in Balochistan gained momentum after the arrest of a key militant leader. Pakistan armed forces achieved a significant victory in an operation in Balochistan province against the militant insurgents. Intelligence forces apprehended the target who is a high-profile leader of militant organization, Gulzar Imam alias Shambay, head of Balochistan Nationalist Army notorious for targeting law enforcement agencies. ISPR released the statement that the target was arrested after an innovatively meticulous operation that was carried out after months of surveillance over various geographical locations. This arrest signifies a great development in counter-terrorism operations by the state.
The individual, Gulzar Imam Shambay, formed the group after the mergence of the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), and the United Baloch Army (UBA). Imam, a native of Balochistan’s Panjgur area, entered student politics through the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) in 2002. Imam was appointed president of the BSO’s Panjgur area around 2006 when multiple BSO factions joined to form the now-prohibited BSO-Azad, a BSO faction that openly supported the insurgency. Imam Gulzar, who was previously affiliated Baloch Republican Army, was expelled from the group over his differences with the group leader and later formed his own organization. Since then, BNA has been active in part of Makran where they have carried out deadly attacks against the security forces injuring and martyring various security personnel. BNA received recognition after their first deadly attack in January 2022. Imam was a veteran insurgent who had been active for 15 years and spearheaded many deadly plots against state institutions and security of the state. His arrest signifies a dent in the structure of the Baloch militant groups and success of Pakistan’s counter-insurgency operations.
Being the leader of a mainstream of militant group, Shambay’s arrest illustrate the triumph of security forces over the insurgent groups disrupting the internal security of the state. State agencies took months to prepare for the operations and used digital investigative tools to identify the secret network of the militants. Intelligence agents infiltrated the network via fake identities to get close on the inside informants of the militants and finding their financial network. Espionage operations revealed that Gulzar Shambay was affiliated with hostile agencies working against the state and even had been to India several times. His links were verified through modern cyber based intelligence investigation. After the forces had affirm the confirmation of his secret identity and affiliation with the militant group, the entangled web was close in on him and in April, 2023, Officials confirmed that he was apprehended by the state forces although the exact location was not revealed. This meticulously executed operation speaks volumes of the efforts and precision of intelligence agencies in carrying out counter-insurgent operations and protect the peace and security of the nation.
Imam Gulzar’s arrest can have far-reaching impact on the future of Balochistan. In a press conference in Quetta on Monday 22 May, 2023, Imam appeared before the mainstream media where he introduced himself, his affiliation and the time he had spent in the insurgency. He also expressed his remorse over his past actions and showed determination to turn over new leaf moving forward. He affirmed that solution to their problems is through political and constitutional process. He also said that state has promised to give him a second chance, to be a responsible citizen. This state pardoned indicates a soft approach towards a peaceful dispute resolution, if the insurgents willingly drop the arms and peacefully surrender to the state. This soft power gesture could prove useful, especially when the leader of a notorious militant organization also receives amnesty and cooperate with the institution. Imam also called out to other militants to drop arms and find a way to peacefully resolve the Balochistan’s problems. It is important to note that state has also previously shown willingness to find a reconciliation with insurgents. If they willingly surrender their arms and come in state custody, it could provide a more peaceful manner of resolution to the whole predicament.
It is remained to be seen that what further developments would ensue in the wake of this press conference and Gulzar’s willingness to cooperate with state apparatus. Nonetheless, this event signifies agencies commitment to protect the peace and security of the province, as well as hoping to find a more peaceful dispute resolution. Given that his actual arrest was sometimes between September of last year also indicates a serious level of information retrieval and the fact that a high-profile leader was caught alive. The arrest of Gulzar Imam is likely to have an influence on BNA’s militant actions because it is the most serious setback to the fledgling BNA. The future of the province is likely depended on whether or not state institutions can make use of Imam Gulzar to diffuse the tension with the insurgents and successfully bring them on the negotiation table.