The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced Gulzar Imam’s arrest on Friday, calling it a significant achievement in counterterrorism against the separatist insurgency in the volatile province and putting to rest months of speculation regarding his whereabouts.
In a statement, the military’s media wing said, “Gulzar Imam alias Shambay was apprehended after an innovatively conceived, carefully planned, and meticulously executed operation, spanning over months over various geographical locations.”
The location from which Imam was taken into custody was not, however, mentioned in the statement. It also referred to the group led by Imam as the Baloch National Army (BNA) rather than BNA.
By the middle of September, intelligence and Baloch insurgent circles had begun receiving reports of Imam’s arrest. Two months on, the BNA, through its true channel ‘Baask’, had asserted that Imam had been captured, guaranteeing that he was in the authority of Pakistan’s knowledge organizations. The gathering, in its report, didn’t uncover where, when, and how Imam was captured.
Security officials in off-the-record conversations had acknowledged that Imam had been arrested and that intelligence gleaned from him had helped in the crackdown on separatist groups in the Makran region of Balochistan. However, Pakistan’s security agencies had neither officially confirmed nor denied his arrest prior to Friday.
Who is Imam Gulzar?
Imam, a Baloch student from the Panjgur district, entered student politics in 2002 through the Baloch Students Organization (BSO).
Imam was elevated to the position of president of the Panjgur region around 2006 when several BSO factions merged to form the now-proscribed BSO-Azad, a BSO faction openly supporting the insurgency. Both Allah Nazar Baloch and Bashir Zaib, who are currently in charge of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Liberation Army, were also in charge of the BSO-Azad while they were still students.
Understand more: Balochistan: middle-class rebellion Following the crackdown on BSO-Azad, Imam went underground and joined the banned separatist Baloch Republican Army (BRA), led by Brahumdagh Bugti. Political activists and journalists in Panjgur claim that he quickly advanced to become the operational commander of the group.
The Hyrbyair Marri-led Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Brahamdagh Bugti-led Baloch Republican Army (BRA), and the Mehran Marri-led United Baloch Army (UBA) were three major Baloch separatist groups that began to develop internal divisions between 2016 and 2018.
According to security analyst Fahad Nabeel of Geopolitical Insights, an Islamabad-based research company, “the fragmentation in these groups began when their field commanders from the lower-middle classes challenged the heads of the groups, who are wealthy traditional Baloch tribal chieftains living in self-exile in Europe.”
Inside the BRA’s positions, which is again restricted by the Public authority of Pakistan, Imam created contrasts with the BRA boss Brahumdagh Bugti north of a few issues, especially his initiative style. ” Nabeel, who has done a lot of research on the Baloch insurgency, said, “Imam, who was managing the group’s operational command, was not happy with it. Switzerland-based Bugti was trying to exert more control in the overall affairs of the BRA.”
One more purpose for the distinctions that arose among Imam and Bugti was the way that the last option was more disposed toward exchanges with Pakistani specialists, said Nabeel.
Imam was kicked out of the group by the BRA in a statement in October 2018 due to his alleged involvement in extortion and extrajudicial killings. Starting there onwards, the BRA was partitioned into two groups. In the Makran region and other Balochistani urban areas, Imam is said to have more influence over the group, while the Brahumdagh Bugti-supporting faction has strongholds in Dera Bugti and nearby districts.
Understand more: According to Nabeel, “In BLA too, Aslam Achu and Bashir Zaib revolted against Hyrbyair Marri and formed their own faction of BLA on the ground.” A reorganization of the insurgency was carried out.
The formation of the BNA Imam and Sarfaraz Bangalzai, a field commander of the banned United Baloch Army (UBA), a separate separatist organization, merged their factions on January 11, 2022, to create the BNA. The BNA also joined the Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), a separatist group’s operational alliance, at the same time.
The BNA claimed responsibility for the January 20, 2022, bombing of a crowded market in the Anarkali neighborhood of Lahore, nearly nine days after its formation. That attack resulted in at least three fatalities and dozens of injuries.
A senior security official from Quetta, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, stated, “Imam was in fact closely working with the BLA in Makran region” due to his close ties to Bashir Zaib from their student life at the BSO-Azad’s platform.
In fact, Nasir Imam, Imam’s brother, was one of the banned BLA militants killed by security forces in two attacks on paramilitary posts in Panjgur at the beginning of February of last year.
Implications of Gulzar Imam’s arrest Officials and security experts have hailed Imam’s arrest as a significant accomplishment for law enforcement agencies. According to a statement released by the ISPR on Friday, “The arrest of Imam is a serious blow to the BNA as well as other militant groups, which have been attempting to destabilize the hard-earned peace in Balochistan.”
“The capability and resolve of the law enforcement agencies to uproot the menace of terrorism as well as speak volumes about the successes gained through supreme sacrifices of unsung heroes” was added to the statement.
According to Abdul Basit, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Imam is without a doubt one of the three most influential commanders of the Baloch separatist insurgency. The other two commanders are the chief of the BLA, Bashir Zaib, and the chief of the BLF, Allah Nazar. He also played a significant role in the formation of BRAS.
“Imam’s capture is an extraordinary accomplishment at the strategic level for the Pakistani security organizations, which can assist them with killing BNA’s organization in Balochistan with the assistance of the data got from him through cross examination,” Basit told Dawn.com.
According to the group’s statements and background interviews with journalists and law enforcers in Balochistan, the BNA has already begun to face an internal rift.
Zrumbesh, a pro-insurgency website, reported on October 17 that the BNA announced in October that its members, Razzaq Baloch alias Polain and Hameed Baloch alias Mir Jan, had escaped after killing the regional commander of the group, Babar Yousaf, and kidnapping another leader.
Anwar alias Chakar, one of the BNA’s key leaders, was suspended last month after it appeared that he had left the organization. Additionally, it pleaded with other separatist groups not to provide him with shelter.
“Imam’s capture has obliterated the BNA’s organization as well as impacted the BLA,” a security official in Quetta, who mentioned secrecy since he isn’t approved to address media, told Dawn.com.
The group’s current leader is probably Sarfraz Bangulzai, the BNA’s co-founder. Notwithstanding, the eventual fate of the gathering lies in what strategy Gulzar’s replacement takes,” said Nabeel.
However, experts are skeptic about the extent to which the arrest or assassination of a few leaders would affect the Baloch insurgency as a whole. Nabeel cited the case of the BLA, which grew even stronger after its head, Aslam Achu, was killed in a December 2018 suicide bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“Aslam Achu’s replacement, Bashir Zaib extended the BLA’s lethality with incessant use of Majeed Unit self destruction aircraft and imagined involving ladies as self destruction planes,” he made sense of.
Basit stated, “The militants associated with the current wave of insurgency are ideologically motivated, not tribally.”