A six-year-old girl has died in a small village of Balochistan called Zarren Bug. On Thursday morning, Sangeen, daughter of Mohammad Umer, died all out of sudden. She didn’t have any medical history.
Five kilometers away from her small village, a fierce battle is raging between the Pakistan army and Baloch militant groups in the almost impenetrable Saheeji mountain, which form part of Makran’s coastal mountainous range extending thousands of miles and rising to around 1500 meters.
In the day, gunship helicopters keep dropping shells across the range and in the night they fire mortars. The militants use rockets and snipers to keep them at bay.
Although no casualties have been reported as of yet, locals believe the girl died of shock because of the uproarious fighting.
With at least 60 vehicles, the military has besieged the mouth of the Saheeji, called maat koh, or The Mother Mountain. They haven’t yet entered inside as Saheeji is so big and dubious that once you go there you can get lost forever. But the Baloch militants know their hills and Saheeji has been their safe refuge for years now. Nationalist poets call the mountain “the mother’s womb” for sarmachars, a euphemism for Baloch militants.
Some soldiers visit the nearby villages to collect ration and ask the locals to lead them to the militants’ hideouts.
“They asked me to lead them to Bilal and Mama Bugti,” a local pick-up driver said. “But how can I? They don’t understand Saheeji. Even I don’t know its tricky routes.”
Bilal and Mama Bugti are code names for two local commanders of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), respectively.
“We’ll wait them out until their food is finished and they are forced to surrender,” the soldiers told the pick-up driver.
The driver might not lead the soldiers to the impassable Saheeji mountain, but some surrendered Baloch militants can.
Before this well-planned operation was started on Wednesday, the military had already sat up check-posts in the area to limit the militants’ movements. At least, two dozen militants, surrounded by the check-posts, surrendered either because they had finished their food or for the fear of never being able to break the siege. They know how to enter Saheeji and how not to get lost there.
Saheeji is only one-hour drive to the port city of Gwadar, which is key to the success of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. And Saheeji is the place from where Baloch separatist militants, who oppose the CPEC as they think it would convert the Baloch into a minority on their own homeland, can impede the work on this multi-billion economic cooperation between China and Pakistan.
The military has stepped up operations against Baloch militants since the government has signed the deal with China on the CPEC under which china will invest over 40 billion dollars in the next 15 years on energy and road infrastructure. Pakistan considers the deal instrumental for the survival of its flagging economy.
China has allegedly been demanding assurances of a peaceful implementation of the deal, especially in Balochistan, where Gwadar’s deep sea port is located. Also the roads network linking the port to China passes hundreds of kilometers into the restive Balochistan.
Thus the military has to penetrate into Saheeji one way or the other. They have to get rid of the Baloch militants taking refuge there. They cannot afford to lose the best economic deal they have ever gotten from China or any foreign country.
But it’s curious why they selected the month of May for this full-fledged operation. The temperature rises above 40 and sometimes 50 degree centigrade in the area at this time of year.
On Thursday, 10 soldiers fainted due to the heatwave and were brought to a mosque in a nearby small village, Haor, where they were given first aid.
A local woman said they send tired soldiers in 10 vehicles on a daily basis to Gwadar or Turbat and bring back fresh ones from there.
“We don’t need an AC to sleep. We are used to this heat. But these bombs and gunshots have kept us awake for the last three days,” she complained.