Quetta (Pakistan): Pakistan has arrested a Taliban militant leader authorities describe as the "mastermind" behind three major attacks in Balochistan, a spokesman for the government of the restive southwestern province said on Wednesday.
Militant and separatist violence has long riven Balochistan, which has rich reserves of natural gas, copper and gold, and is at the heart of a $57-billion Chinese-funded "Belt and Road" trade and development initiative.
Pakistan blames neighbours for fomenting an ethnic insurgency in the province, besides aiding the Pakistani Taliban, a movement separate from, but allied with, the Afghan Taliban aiming to topple the Afghan government.
The arrested man, Saeed Ahmed Badani, was among the planners of three attacks in 2016 that killed more than 180 people, the spokesman, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, told Reuters.
"He was involved with a team in all the attacks, but I can describe him as a mastermind, because he was the lynchpin in providing targets and facilitating suicide bombers," he said.
During interrogation, Badani confessed to receiving funding from foreign intelligence agencies, the province's home minister, Safraz Bugti, told a news briefing on Tuesday.
The arrested militant leader had also encouraged an attack by a suicide bomber last year on a provincial hospital that killed at least 70 people, Kakar added.
"He encouraged and convinced the suicide bomber in the lawyers' attacks because he was his madrassa mate, he knew him since childhood," Kakar added, referring to a religious school the two attended.
A large portion of Balochistan's small legal community was wiped out in the attack that targeted a hospital treating the president of the Balochistan Bar Association after he was shot the same morning.
A senior commander of a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who surrendered to the military last month, also claimed to have received support from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan's neighbours.
Names of accomplices Badani revealed will not be made public to avoid compromising police investigations, Kakar said, pinning responsibility on Badani for more than 20 killings in Quetta, the provincial capital, after he joined the Taliban in 2014.
A suicide bombing this month that targeted the deputy chairman of Pakistan's Senate killed 25 people in Balochistan, and separatists gunned down more than 10 labourers working on Chinese-funded projects they see as taking over their lands.