Four Pakistani soldiers and at least 15 militants were killed in clashes in restive Balochistan province, the country’s interior minister said Thursday, while separatists claimed dozens more had died in fighting that was still ongoing.
Baloch separatists have stepped up attacks against Pakistan forces in recent weeks — including with a deadly bomb blast in the eastern megacity of Lahore last month.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said Pakistan forces came under attack late Wednesday in the Naushki and Panjgur districts of Balochistan, an oil- and gas-rich province bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
He said four soldiers “embraced martyrdom” in Naushki while a total of 15 assailants were killed in the twin assaults.
But in a statement on their Telegram channel, the Baloch Liberation Army claimed to have killed dozens of Pakistani troops and said separatist forces still held military posts they had captured.
“A large part of the military camps at Panjgur and Naushki are still under the control of the martyrs of the Majid Brigade of the Baloch Liberation Army,” the group said.
“Baloch martyrs have so far killed more than 100 occupying troops and destroyed the interior of the camp.”
Baloch separatists frequently exaggerate their battlefield successes, while the Pakistan military’s public relations department also plays down losses, or delays reporting them.
The interior minister’s video statement said a group of six militants were “surrounded” by troops and would be defeated.
“This is a great victory which the army has, as usual, achieved in its fight against terrorism,” he added.
Balochistan is the largest, least populous, and poorest province in Pakistan.
It has abundant natural resources, but locals have long harbored resentment, claiming they do not receive a fair share of its riches.
Tensions have been stoked further by a flood of Chinese investment under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which locals say has not reached them.
China is investing in the area under a $54-billion project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, upgrading infrastructure, power, and transport links between its far-western Xinjiang region and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
Pakistani forces in Balochistan also face attacks from the domestic chapter of the Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.