By Shehryar Mazari in Karachi
Violence by tribal insurgents in the province of Balochistan has been setting alarm bells ringing in Pakistan.
Baloch tribesmen still fight with antiquated Soviet weaponry
The son of one of Balochistan's tribal leaders here sets out his fears for the future of the province.
Violence in Balochistan recently prompted tough-talking President Pervez Musharraf to warn Baloch tribesmen to stop fighting or "they will not know what hit them".
He was probably referring to his army's newly acquired hi-tech weaponry - such as night vision attack helicopters - given by the US to help eliminate Islamist militants on Pakistan's western border.
Gen Musharraf's threatening tirade, however, has had the opposite effect. Almost overnight, even the few pro-military urbanized Baloch have turned against the general's jingoistic philosophy.
The reason for this transformation lies deep within Baloch culture.
The Baloch speak a Western Iranian language related to Kurdish. Nomadic and warlike, they migrated from southern Iran to escape the depredations of Genghis Khan's Mongols sometime in the 13th century.
BALOCHISTAN'S MAIN TRIBES
Their preference for mountainous terrains and the resulting geographic isolation allowed them to maintain a distinct cultural identity and resist domination by a long succession of neighbouring rulers.
Even the British Raj sought amity with local tribes by granting autonomy and subsidies to the tribal chiefs.
Balochistan was forcibly amalgamated into Pakistan in 1948 and its inhabitants have taken up arms against Islamabad thrice since.
The last insurgency broke out in the mid-1970s and it took several army divisions and aerial bombardment to overwhelm the defiant members of the Marri tribe.
Valour, martial prowess and honour are key elements of Baloch tribalism. Ballads from the 15th century about the great war between two Baloch tribal blocs, respectively ruled by Chakar Rind and Gowaram Lashari, are still regarded as the ultimate in chivalric tradition.
As recent as the mid-1990s, the warring Mazari and Bugti tribes spawned a new generation of ballads extolling their bravery and paying homage to those that had died in the conflict.
Tribal pride can also play a destructive role.
In 1973 Islamabad engineered the dismissal of the first elected Balochistan government, then headed by the Marri and Mengal tribal chiefs. The chief of the Bugtis, who nursed a perceived insult from these rival sardars (tribal chiefs), agreed to become Islamabad's newly appointed provincial governor.
He then sent a discreet message to his rivals, the Marri and Mengal sardars, that he would reinstate their government provided they made peace by visiting him at his official governor's residence.
The ensuing negotiations eventually culminated in a major anti-Islamabad rebellion. It led to the death of hundreds of tribesmen at the hands of the army.
Since this last revolt Islamabad has ensured that Balochistan's provincial government remains faithful.
Having procured the political support of a host of minor Baloch sardars and Pathan mullahs, Gen Musharraf's regime has persistently ignored the provincial government's decades of massive corruption.
Many Balochis believe that up to 80% of provincial funds are continually pocketed by local politicians and bureaucrats.
People remain poor as billions are lost to corruption
Recently Islamabad announced two mega projects; the construction of a deep seaport at Gwadar and the Saindak copper mining project.
Gwadar has become a major controversy with Balochis claiming that 75% of their land has been acquired by serving military officers at throwaway prices. Most jobs at Gwadar and Saindak have been given to non-Balochistanis.
Worse still for the locals is the forecasted change in provincial demography.
It has been estimated that the new port city of Gwadar could have a non-Baloch/Pathan population running into millions. Local intelligentsia has already started talking about the possibility of "a Punjabi-speaking chief minister within 15 years."
This has led to serious discontent across the province.
The recent gang rape of a female doctor in the Bugti town of Sui allegedly by an army captain and his three subordinates has only added fuel to what looks like a rapidly growing fire.
Honour comes above everything for the Baloch
A woman's honour is sacrosanct among the Baloch and the army's refusal to let the local police interrogate the suspects has infuriated them. To the Baloch, it is just another example of the 'Punjabi' army's inherent immorality.
Many now believe that the 78 year-old Nawab of the Bugtis is not unhappy with the idea of dying in a blaze of immortal Baloch glory. If he should die in a clash with the army then tough-talking Gen Musharraf could be in deep trouble.
The writer is the co-author of Baloch leader Sherbaz Mazari's politicial memoirs, Journey to Disillusionment