Operation not to weaken struggle, says BNP chief
By Amanullah Kasi
QUETTA, April 2: Balochistan National Party Chairman Akhtar Mengal has said the Baloch people will continue to struggle till the recognition of their right of ownership of the resources of the province. Speaking at a public meeting organised by his party at Mannan Chowk here on Sunday, he said the military operation or arrests of political workers would neither weaken the struggle for national rights nor force them to compromise the principle of sovereignty.
Thousands of BNP workers from different parts of Balochistan had earlier gathered in the suburban area of Sariab from where they marched to the venue of the meeting.
“The Baloch people, and not President Musharraf, have the right to take decisions about development projects in the province,” Mr Mengal said.
He said that the struggle was not aimed at securing privileges for three Sardars, as was being alleged by the government, but for liberating the Baloch people.
He said the country had become a prison for the Baloch people and the way out of the prison was paved with trials and tribulations. Therefore, the masses had to be prepared for sacrifices and an organised struggle to achieve victory, he added.
Saying the development projects were not for the sons of soil, he asked if the development of Gwadar was in the interest of the Baloch people, why had the people observed a shutter-down in the town during a recent visit by President Musharraf.
National Party chief Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, JWP leader Amanullah Kanrani, PMAP secretary-general Akram Shah, PPP leader Nawab Aslam Raisani and Awami National Party leader Arbab Zahir Kasi also addressed the meeting.
RESOLUTIONS: A resolution, adopted at the meeting, appealed to the United Nations, European Union and international human rights organisations to take notice of the military operation, human rights and usurpation of resources in Balochistan.
The resolution said the Baloch people would not abide by agreements signed with foreign countries about the resources and Gwadar port as the accords were made without the consent of the Baloch leadership.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
BNP protest rally against political arrests
By Our Correspondent
QUETTA, Nov 28: The Balochistan National Party (Mengal) organized a rally on Monday to protest against arrests of political workers and to demand that the government should stop harassing activists of political parties. BNP-M vice president Sajid Tareen and information secretary Senator Sana Baloch led the rally and addressed the protesters in the front of press club.
Speakers said that the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court has also taken notice of a police raid on the premises of the court and asked the authorities concerned to submit a report.
They said that not only Aslam Guagrani and Master Saeed were arrested illegally from the court premises, but hundreds of other nationalists were behind bars.
The BNP leaders said that the government had adopted a two-pronged strategy that is to create panic by arresting political activists and at the same time preparing for a military operation in Dera Bugti.
They said that the people of Balochistan would not give up the struggle for their rights.
They claimed that protest meetings and demonstrations were also organized in other parts of the province.