General strike shuts down Baluchistan

From India’s Zee News, Sept. 5:

Baluchistan on strike over tribal chief’s killing
QUETTA — Parts of the troubled southwest Pakistani province of Baluchistan were paralysed today by a strike called by opposition parties to protest the killing of a rebel tribal chief.

Schools and shopping centres were closed and public transport ground to a halt in the provincial capital Quetta and several other towns, but there were no immediate reports of violence.

“There is complete strike in Baluchistan to protest the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation,” secretary general of the Baluchistan National Party, Habib Jablib Baloch told a news agency.

“We will continue our protest until people of Baluchistan get their due rights,” Baloch said.

Bugti, who died in a cave hideout during an army operation, was buried in haste on Friday as a strike crippled Baluchistan.

His death sparked nationwide protests and deadly violence in Baluchistan where 10 people have died in bomb blasts, attacks and clashes with police in the past week.

Officials said security had been stepped up in the province to prevent violence.

“It’s opposition’s right to protest, but a strike every other day does not serve their cause as the public faces numerous troubles,” provincial government spokesman Raziq Bugti told reporters.

“There is a strike in some parts of Quetta but it is peaceful so far and there are no reports about unrest or road blocks across the province,” Raziq said.

Musharraf’s government should be grateful its just a strike, and not the insurgent warfare that was erupting throughout Baluchistan in the days after Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing.

A Jan. 17, 2005 BBC account, presciently titled “Pakistan risks a new battlefront,” noted Islamabad’s strategic interests in Baluchistan—not only for securing the border with Afghanistan, but as an artery for free trade and resource exploitation. In an all too familiar story, Baluchistan is a key source of Pakistan’s natural gas, yet is mired in poverty—inevitably fueling the ethno-nationalist rage of the Baluchistan National Army (BLA).

Doorway to Central Asia

One of the BLA’s immediate targets is the city of Gwadar, once a tiny town on the Makran coastline that constitutes the southern boundary of Balochistan.

The federal government intends to turn it into a major international route for sea traffic in the region, projecting it as the world’s doorway to Central Asia.

“Fifty years ago, Karachi had half a million people, all of them locals,” says Sardar Ataullah Mengal, one of the three major tribal chiefs in Balochistan who recently ended his 18-year exile in London and is now living outside Balochistan in Karachi.

“Today, Karachi has 14 million people, 90% of them outsiders.”

Mr Mengal says that the government is trying to turn Gwadar into another Karachi.

“Balochistan has a population of about five million. If they turn it into another Karachi, the Baloch will become a minority in their own province.”

Such fears are compounded by the Pakistan army’s plans for establishing new garrisons in the province. Senior military officials in Islamabad say that the garrisons, or cantonments, are necessary because of the increased security needs of the area…

“They have had a cantonment in Quetta [the provincial capital] since before partition,” counters Ghizain Baloch, a leader of the Baloch Students’ Organisation, which is sympathetic to the BLA’s agenda.

“But Quetta was the last major Pakistani city to be connected to the national Sui gas grid.”

Indeed, Balochistan’s development record is not something that any Pakistani government can be proud of.

Covering nearly 350,000 square kilometres, it is by far the largest province in the country but houses less than 7% of Pakistan’s population.

Basic quality of life indicators are abysmal.

Tapped drinking water is available to less than 5% of the population. The female literacy rate is under 15%.

Over the decades, consistent degradation of the province’s water supply system has turned Balochistan into an arid wasteland, adding to local resentment…

The Balochistan legislative assembly is by far the most fragmented house amongst the four provincial assemblies in the country.

What this means, say analysts, is that an entire population of young men, who have no jobs and no hope of a better future, is running around leaderless and directionless.

And it is these people who have decided to take on what they call “Punjabi domination”. The army is generally seen as a Punjabi-dominated institution in Pakistan’s smaller provinces.

Way back in the mid-1970s, an armed uprising in Balochistan was brutally quelled by the army with help from the Iranian military. Some 30 years later, many fear that the province seems poised to repeat its past.

See our last posts on Baluchistan and Pakistan.