The separatist insurgency that has been shaking Paksitan’s Baluchistan province–strategically bordering Afghanistan–since the beginning of the year seemed to have come out of nowhere. Finally, a Jan. 29 account in the BBC sheds some light. It seems the natural gas field at Sui lies at the heart of the unrest. Typically, it is a source of much of Pakistan’s national wealth, yet little of it returns to the local peoples.The facility is surrounded by shantytowns, long-term protest encampments established by local unemployed Bugti tribespeople who were expropriated of their lands for the gasworks. The Pakistani army’s Defense Security Group (DSG)–an elite unit charged with protecting the gasworks–is accused of abusing the local population. The apparent New Years Day gang-rape of a popular Bugti doctor at a local hospital by a captain and several soldiers from the DSG pushed the situation over the edge into open war. Five days of fierce fighting at the start of the year left eight dead, including three soldiers. The encampments were also cleared out by troops in the violence. No wonder the insurgents have made a point of targetting the gasworks in the guerilla campaign they have carried out since the New Years fighting–although Bugti chief Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti actually calls this a government lie, denying reports that tribesmen blew up the pipeline. In any case, armed Bugti volunteers are converging on Dera Bugti, the regional capital, and more military reinforcements are also on the way. A showdown is almost certainly in the works.
Too bad it was Michael Jackson, rather than Baluchistan, that was on the front page of today’s New York Times.
See our last post on Baluchistan.