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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 00:55 GMT
Eyewitness: Pakistan tribals speak out

By Haroon Rashid
BBC News, Balochistan

Bugti tribal members
Bugti tribals have a history of unrest
Not many people in Pakistan know the origins of the word Sui.

But everyone in Pakistan knows it's the place where their natural gas supplies come from.

The local people are from the Bugti tribe. For them, the gas installation in this small sandy settlement is the "sacred cow that gives them milk".

The start of the New Year did not augur well for Sui's 30,000 population. A rape was reported.

It might have merited a few lines in the local newspapers. But this was a reported gang rape of a female doctor working in the local hospital.

Dishonour anger

The news sparked one of the bloodiest conflicts in the gas plant's 52-year-old history.

Local Bugti tribesmen accuse an army captain and other soldiers from the Defence Security Group (DSG) - stationed in Sui to protect the gas plant - of the rape.

The doctor was reported to be popular among the Bugtis. Her dishonour sent shockwaves almost across the whole Bugti tribe. The result was five days of bloody clashes between the angry tribesmen and the DSG.

Eight people, including three soldiers, lost their lives.

"The rape angered us a lot. How can we allow rape and other wrongs in our midst? It is completely unacceptable," says white-bearded Haji Sabzal Khan of Sui.

"But we did not target the plant. This must be clear."

'Gas protectors'

The Bugtis are well aware of the importance of the gas installations for them and the rest of the country.

"Gas pipelines run hundreds of miles from our area to Karachi. We could easily target them. But we did not. We have been the protectors of the gas for the last 52 years," Haji Sabzal says, raising his voice.

Nawab Bugti
Nawab Bugti (l) denies gas supplies have been damaged by tribesmen

This then, has become something of a propaganda battle between the Bugti tribesmen and the federal authorities who say the tribes were trying to attack the gas plant.

"The official version is completely a pack of lies," says the chief of Bugti tribe, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

"It was never touched during three previous Baloch insurgencies so how can it be hit now," Nawab Bugti says, while sipping green tea in his residence, about 50km (30 miles) north of Sui in his native Dera Bugti town.

Hundreds of armed Bugti volunteers have thronged the Dera Bugti area since the start of conflict in Sui. They say they are there to protect their leader against any possible military operation.

There is hardly a Bugti you can find in Sui who has anything to say against their chief.

We demand only what is our right - nothing more, nothing less
Hafeezullah Haideri

A 45-minute drive from Dera Bugti to Sui on a metalled road takes you through a unique landscape, a mix of strange white, yellow and light brown mountains.

From here Pakistan's growing energy needs have been met through natural gas for the past five decades.

On the way, a number of newly-established paramilitary check posts indicate that all is not well. All vehicles are stopped and occupants thoroughly searched.

In Sui, the general feelings is that almost all Bugtis can easily be absorbed into the plant's labour force. People with a decent livelihood in transport, for example, are itching for better paid work at the plant.

One such character is 30-year-old driver Hafeezullah Haideri.

He owns a relatively new Toyota pickup: "I earn 800 or 900 rupees ($15) a day - sometimes not even that because of an accident or damage to the vehicle. I deserve work in the plant," he argues.

"You can see the landscape here - it's a completely dry, arid area. We can't do anything else here - no agriculture, nothing."

"It is a huge factory. It can employ 16,000 -17,000 people. We demand only what is our right. Nothing more, nothing less."

All complaining

Outside the main gate of the Sui plant are dozens of slum-like structures. These are protest camps set up by different groups of unemployed Bugtis.

The camps, as well as the main Sui market, were lying deserted when we visited the place a few days after the violent clashes.

Sui gas installation
The Sui gas field - an army garrison is to be set up here

"Most of the people left for safer places to avoid getting caught in the cross fire," local Ali Murad says.

With reports of more military reinforcements reaching the town, tension was still in the air. Alert paramilitary troops were out on the Sui streets, looking out for any potential trouble-makers.

In this small town, no one knew what awaits them. They were all complaining about their supply of drinking water from the Sui plant being cut off and labourers not being allowed to return to work.

Some said official reports that the plant had been damaged in the fighting were not true.

Haji Sabzal says the government was exaggerating the damage to the plant so that public opinion would be sympathetic to any military operation against the tribesmen.

The tight official control of the media over what could be seen of the plant damage has cast doubt over the episode.

All eyes in Sui are now focused on the official inquiry into the gang rape case.

But no one in Sui or Dera Bugti is ready to accept the impartiality of the investigations.

"We have little faith in DNA or other tests if carried out by the government. For us to be satisfied, the accused will have to take a walk on fire," says Wadera Mohammad Bakhsh.

That's a reference to the tribal judicial custom whereby accused walk on hot coals in bare feet. Their guilt is determined by the damage to their flesh.

However, there is little doubt that the reasons behind the violent clashes at Sui go further than the allegations of rape.

Years of economic deprivation, growing feelings against law enforcement agencies and tribal pride have all played their part.


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