Swelling gripe

Tuesday 15 February 2005

In Pakistan's troubled Balochistan province

The rape fuelled piling grieva a tense situation prevails in Pakistan's Balochistan province following a recent attack by locals on the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited's (sngpl's ) gas installation at Sui in Dera Bugti district. The sngpl's purification plant was damaged, forcing it to cut off gas supply to the country's fertiliser and power sectors. The move led to load shedding of gas in Punjab and North West Frontier Province. Balochistan accounts for 40 per cent of Pakistan's natural gas production.

The public outcry was triggered by the alleged gang rape of a woman doctor on the night of January 2-3, 2005. It led to deployment of the army in the province, according to claims. Infuriated tribals allege that Pakistan Petroleum Limited (for which the victim worked) and the government tried to hush up the matter. Widespread resentment also exists in the province in connection to exploitation of its natural resources. The people feel they don't get their due share of benefits. Sana Baloch, a local leader, points out that the province uses only two per cent of the country's natural gas, while Punjab, which accounts for only six per cent of the production, consumes 39 per cent.

Tension in the area increased on January 11, 2005, when Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf told a private television channel that unlike the 1970s, this time the rebels will not even know what had hit them. He was apparently referring to the military operation in Balochistan in early 1970, after the province's elected government was dismissed by the government of prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. "The situation was triggered after the gang rape of a lady doctor in an official colony. The news leaked after four-five days and local people reacted just as they would have reacted in any other part of the country. A law and order situation was created in an specific area that did not warrant army deployment," said Sardar Ataullah Mengal, the Balochistan chief minister ousted in 1970. But Pakistan's information minister Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed denies any army operation in Balochistan. However, Mengal says 25,000 people have been displaced from Dera Bugti after para-military forces started searching every house.

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