Planners of gas-pipelines through the region need to put democracy and provincial reconciliation high on their checklists
A group calling itself the Balochistan Liberation Army attacked Pakistani security forces in Khuzdar, Balochistan’s second city, yesterday, killing 5 soldiers.
The paramilitary Frontier Constabulary has launched a major low-profile operation in Balochistan to suppress the Baloch tribesmen and nationalist opposed to General Musharraf. Popular sentiment in the restive province sees Balochistan as getting a raw deal from the Pakistani federation, and attacks on gas pipelines and in the Gwadar region are commonplace. But in what looks like the beginning of a repeat of its brutal suppression of a Baloch rebellion in the 1970s, the Pakistani army launched its operation without the approval of federal or provincial legislatures.
While Musharraf is likely to portray the operation as targeting al Qaeda interests, the Baloch groups that attacked the Pakistani security forces have identified themselves as Balochi nationalists rather than Islamic extremists. Balochistan borders Iran and Afghanistan, and al Qaeda is likely to exploit the Baloch disaffection to further its own interests – but the root-cause, to use Musharraf’s own choice phrase, is the democratic deficit. Pakistan lacks the democratic safety-valves that are necessary to manage ethnic and regional diversity. Instead of providing the security that oil & gas companies need, Musharraf’s planned military cantonments and helicopter gunships will only deepen existing rifts.
Update: Balochistan’s chief minister survives assassination attempt.