Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Balochistan reaches boiling point

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gwadar

Pakistani armed Bugti tribals keep vigil at the conflict area in the town of Dera Bugti in Pakistan's volatile southwestern Baluchistan province, 23 January 2006.
There has been an insurgency in Balochistan for more autonomy

The threats to Pakistan's future do not just come from the recent wave of militant attacks, but also from discontent in communities around the country.

Gwadar is almost as remote a town in Pakistan as you can get. On the coast of the country's largest province, Balochistan, close to the Iranian border, it is nearly 2,000km (1,250 miles) from the capital, Islamabad.

Down on the shabby beaches, people earn a living the way they have done for generations, fishing and boat-building.

It might, at first, feel like it is a world away from the violence elsewhere.

But trouble's simmering here too.

'Fight for rights'

In a small, dark, compound, we met members of various separatist groups - the Baloch National Front, Balochistan Republican Party and Balochistan Liberation Army.

The Pakistani government doesn't do anything for us... nobody cares
Gwadar fisherman

We hear their grievances, and their threats.

"What else do we have left," says Rehman Arif, of the BRP, "except our guns, and to fight for our rights?

"This region of Balochistan, which has seen civilisation for thousands of years, is being oppressed by Pakistan. We're ready to accept assistance from anyone in our fight. We appeal to India for help."

This public plea for help from the country's sworn enemy will alarm Pakistanis.


So too might the fact that almost everyone we came across in the town supported moves for their province to break away from Pakistan.

"The Pakistani government doesn't do anything for us," says Shaukat, a fisherman. "They only work for themselves. We just labour hard, but nobody cares," he says, before wading into the water and clambering onto his boat for another long day at sea.

Poverty here, and right across the province of Balochistan, is on the rise. It is, once again, stirring decades-old feelings of resentment towards the country's establishment.

Many Baloch feel they have been cheated, and that while Pakistan plunders their local resources, like natural gas, coal and copper, local people remain poor.

"We've got nothing," says Tariq Ashraf, a businessman in Gwadar's old quarter. "You can see all the children, look at them, look at the dirt, look at the houses. The politicians just give us promises."


The Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, has a new promise, and he has come to Gwadar to make it. He tells us his government will develop the port, and bring business and jobs here, for the people of Balochistan.

Haji Saleh Muhammed, crane operator
Haji Saleh Muhammed says jobs don't go to locals

"They were not given their rights for the last 62 years [since the creation of Pakistan], therefore we have launched a package with the title 'Aghaze Huqooq-i-Balochistan' [The beginning of the rights of the people of Balochistan]. That is why I am here."

And it is not just the prime minister. The entire cabinet flies in for, among other things, a meeting on a ship in Gwadar Port.

It was meant to provide a boost to the area, and help attract investment. However, the sight of huge government convoys and reports of the millions of rupees of expenditure on the cabinet meeting did not impress some. Many in Gwadar supported the separatist's call for a strike.

Even with new development projects there is resentment. Many here feel that any benefits that development brings will leave the area.

By chance, not far from the port, clutching a folder, we find Haji Saleh Muhammed.

"I am from Gwadar, I am a port crane operator," he says. He opens the file, that he says he always keeps with him, to show us his qualifications and certificates, received during 12 years working in Dubai.

"I came back to work in my city, but they have brought people from outside. Karachi people are working here, I am just sitting around.

"Gilani says jobs will come here, but most will go to outsiders."

On the beach, we even found a policeman who said the poverty and injustice had got so bad, he would lay down his life for Baloch independence.

Last chance

Prime Minister Gilani reiterated to us his assertion that there was considerable evidence that India is already supporting the Baloch separatists, but accepted that the region had been neglected by Pakistan in the past.

However, he also insisted that the general picture is much better than it appears.

"Balochs are patriotic, 99.9% support Pakistan. There are maybe a handful of people who are towing the foreign agenda of somebody else - we are negotiating with them," he says.

"The time will come when the people themselves will realise that we are on the right path, and they will start supporting us."

Mr Gilani's going to have to work fast here, because it feels like the last chance people are going to give the politicians to reduce poverty and inequality.

If they fail, Balochistan could quite easily become a focal point in Pakistan's destabilisation.

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