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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March 2005, 18:03 GMT
Journalists find Balochistan 'war zone'
By Zaffar Abbas
BBC News, Dera Bugti

Nawab Akbar Bugti
Nawab Bugti says he has no solutions to offer the government
"They have killed 62 of my people. They may kill 200 or 400. They may even kill me," said the ageing Nawab.

"But they cannot kill the entire Baloch nation."

Tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti was angry, condescending and at times even humiliating - and not only towards the Pakistan governing party legislators in the parliamentary delegation.

The MPs had travelled to meet him in Balochistan Province to discuss ways of ending a tense standoff between troops and tribesmen seeking greater autonomy.

But the 15-strong delegation, which included opposition members, should have expected little else - given the potentially explosive situation in the remote town of Dera Bugti where hundreds of heavily armed tribesmen have surrounded 300 paramilitary troops.

The delegation was supposed to discuss with Mr Bugti possible solutions to the five-day stand-off, but was curtly told that the solution could only come from the government.

"It is my land. They have no right to be here," Mr Bugti said, referring to the increased presence of paramilitary troops since January this year.

The government moved additional troops to the Dera Bugti area following the rape of a doctor which triggered bloody clashes between Bugti tribesmen and paramilitary forces. Eight people were killed in those clashes and the area has remained tense since then.


A few of the opposition legislators tried to calm him down, saying they had nothing to do with the government and had agreed to be part of the delegation only to help the two sides reach some kind of compromise.

But Mr Bugti was in no mood to offer one.

He called Pakistan's parliament "impotent" and said President Musharraf, who also heads the army, was responsible for "the murder of my men".

"They [the military-backed government] were nothing but exploiters," he said. "Why should I talk to them."

The tension in Mr Bugti's tone was well reflected in the environment around him.

The town of Dera Bugti was completely deserted by civilians - all one could see were hundreds of heavily armed Bugti tribesmen.

Other than that, there were only signs of the heavy ordnance used - perhaps from both sides - in the shape of shrapnel and spent rocket shells.

All the shops were shut and if one could somehow erase the Bugti tribesmen from the scene, it would surely look like a ghost town. Or a war zone.

The Hindu residential locality that is close to Mr Bugti's fortress-like house was particularly badly hit. Mr Bugti says 32 Hindus were killed by firing from the government side in exchanges that followed an attack on a government convoy last Thursday.

Government officials acknowledge there might have been some collateral damage, but they are not willing to talk in terms of specific figures.

A denial would be impossible, given the heavy weapons in evidence.

Road blocks

Along the 60km (40-mile) road from the town of Sui to Dera Bugti, one could easily see hundreds of Baloch tribesmen armed with rocket launchers and machine guns on either side. Most were well dug in, looking more than ready for battle.

Pakistan security forces
Nawab Bugti wants the security forces out of "his land"
Pickets and road blocks set up by the Bugti tribesmen had been removed to let the visiting delegation through. They appeared to be conscious of the fact that this was an important moment and trying to stop the delegation was not going to help their case.

Earlier in Sui, a group of journalists accompanying the delegation was briefed by military spokesman Brig Salim Nawaz Khan and the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, Maj Gen Shujaat Zamir Dar.

The 17 March clash in which eight paramilitary troops died was started by Bugti tribesmen, they said.

The exact number of civilians who also lost their lives remains disputed.

The area has been under constant "aggressive patrolling" - a term used to explain patrols constituting large convoys - from both sides since the clashes in January this year. On 17 March, two such patrols from either side came face to face, leading to a harsh exchange of words.

It is perhaps more indicative of the tension prevalent in the area than anything else that the exchange instantly turned into a fire fight as someone - it is not clear from which side - fired. It will perhaps never be known how many died in the subsequent violence.

If one is to look for a glimmer of hope in such a desperate situation, one cannot ignore the fact that at least the Sui-Dera Bugti road is now back in use.

Not even the Frontier Corps personnel had been able to use that road over the last week.

Besides, a group of journalists representing the national and international media has managed to enter the Bugti area, perhaps for the first time in many months.

That may not be as insignificant as it seems, given how tense and desperate the situation is.

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