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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 June 2006, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Balochistan: Resource-rich and volatile
Pakistani security forces in Balochistan are fighting armed tribal separatists who say the province's natural wealth is being plundered. The BBC's Barbara Plett visits the scene of recent fierce fighting.


Colonel Furqan Uddin points his baton at each neatly stacked row and reels off the inventory: rockets, landmines, explosives.

The road to Dera Bugti is mostly used by the Pakistani military

And dozens of rifles - from antique colonial pieces to the 75mm recoilless variety.

He stops before a pile of twisted shrapnel.

"This scrap was used to fire on my fort from all directions," he says grimly.

These are weapons seized from the tribal town of Dera Bugti, the latest site of a largely unseen war in Balochistan in south-western Pakistan.

At stake, says the colonel, are the government's plans to develop the country's biggest and poorest province.

Mountain hideout

Deserted market stalls and ruptured mud brick walls speak silently of fierce fighting in recent months. Most of the people have fled after pitched battles between tribesmen and state security forces.

The military is declaring victory. Dera Bugti's powerful tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti has retreated to a mountain hideout from where he directs a guerrilla war.

Akhtar Mengal, leader of Balochistan National Party
We want more autonomy
Akhtar Mengal, head of Balochistan National Party

"This used to be known as the White House," chuckles Col Furqan as he wanders through the abandoned fort of his adversary.

"We weren't allowed to come near this place because Akbar Bugti controlled everything on this side of town."

Once a government ally, Mr Bugti now claims to be a nationalist struggling for Baloch rights. Balochistan's governor Owais Ahmed Ghani says he is standing in the way of progress.

"There are two or three tribal chiefs who are trying to protect their political turf," he says. "They basically belong to the older feudal tribal system.

"They still want to have total control of the people. They have prevented development and education in their area."

The government says residents are returning. A trickle of people can be seen drifting past tea shops in the centre of Dera Bugti. But most of the classrooms in the local school hold only a handful of students.

'Systematic focus'

Akbar Bugti is "not completely finished", concedes Col Furqan. "The day he's completely neutralised, 100% of the population will be back."

Just down the road in Sui lie what many believe is the real cause of the fighting - Pakistan's largest gas fields.

Paramilitary training in Dera Bugti
The authorities say they are determined to crush any insurgency

Balochistan has great natural wealth. And the Baloch people have long accused the central government of taking most of it, neglecting the province.

"That first 50 years of Pakistan yes, Balochistan didn't get the fair amount of attention," admits Governor Ghani. "But since the new policy [under the current government] there's been a systematic focus on Balochistan."

In the desert around Dera Bugti workers are replacing an electricity network destroyed by the tribal rebels. But there are much grander plans.

The government is pumping millions of dollars into the province. The idea is to turn Balochistan into a regional economic and energy hub, a land corridor between South-East and Central Asia.

It is also building military garrisons to secure the investments. These will bring development to the people, says Abdul Samad Lasi, administrator of Dera Bugti district.

"In this district there is no socio-economic infrastructure, people are still marching towards tribal antiquity," he says. "The construction of the cantonment will provide people a safe atmosphere, hospital facilities and a social order will come out."

But many Baloch resent the growing presence of the armed forces, seen as imposing Islamabad's agenda. Central domination has triggered violent uprisings in the past.

Putting up electricity poles
The authorities say they are investing in the infrastructure

"The government has a colonial approach," says Kachkol Ali, leader of the opposition in the provincial assembly. "It doesn't need the people of Balochistan, it just wants the resources.

"But the Baloch people want to control their natural wealth. This is a national struggle. The tribal leaders are nationalists, and the Baloch people support them."

That support is increasing.

In Nushki, far to the west of Dera Bugti, a rally is being held by the Balochistan National Party, one of several nationalist parties protesting against Islamabad's rule.

Warning

The crowd includes not only tribesmen but shopkeepers, school teachers and students - Balochistan's educated middle class.

They believe the new development projects have been set up to marginalise them, and the garrisons to suppress them.

They sympathise with the tribal revolt, and say without the redress of Baloch grievances, it should be read as a warning.

The BBC's Barbara Plett (left) is shown arms captured by the military
The area is awash with arms

"We want more autonomy," says Akhtar Mengal, head of the party. "But if the government treats us like it treats those who've taken up arms, we'll have no choice but to join them and fight for independence."

The government understands its ambitious plans for Balochistan would be scuppered by a guerrilla war. It appears determined to crush the rebels by force, as in Dera Bugti.

But with each military action the voice of Baloch nationalism grows louder, says ex-Minister Taher Mohammed Khan.

"The Baloch nationalist movement cannot be killed by killing tribal leaders or some of their loyalists," he says. The movement "has devolved to the people and people have taken charge of it".


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