Baluchistan Update

David Montero, correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, talks about unrest in Pakistan over the killing of a nationalist leader in the province of Baluchistan.

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And now, the killing of a rebel tribal leader over the weekend sparks violence in Pakistan. Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti dominated politics in southern Pakistani province of Baluchistan for many years. He fought the Pakistani army, pushed for greater autonomy in the province, used to be its governor. On Saturday, Pakistan's military killed Bugti during a fierce three-day battle. After the news broke, violent protests erupted through the area and the government took steps to ease tensions.

David Montero, correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. He was in Baluchistan yesterday and joins us now from Islamabad in Pakistan. Good to have you on the program today.

Mr. DAVID MONTERO (Christian Science Monitor): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: David, tell us a little bit more about this man who was killed and why it was such an important development for an armed rebel leader in open opposition, in open rebellion to the government, to be killed.

Mr. MONTERO: Well, Bugti was more than just an armed rebel. He was a senior politician. He had dominated the political scene in Baluchistan, basically since the creation of the Pakistani site. He was a former governor. He was a former chief minister. He was a former member of the national assembly. So he led sort of a dual life.

On the one hand he was a tribal leader who was fighting an insurgency against the government, but he was a revered political leader as well. He was educated at Cambridge. He was very respected in political circles. So his death really symbolized, in a lot of people's eyes, the willingness of the Musharraf government to eliminate an enemy through military means. And a very revered enemy, at that.

CONAN: After news of his death emerged there was, in fact, great pains taken to explain that he hadn't been killed on purpose, they weren't after him.

Mr. MONTERO: Yeah, that's right. I mean, the government has said that what happened was, during the battle, a mine placed at the entrance to a cave where Bugti had been hiding, exploded during the gun battle and that he wasn't purposely targeted. That they didn't even know he was in the cave.

I think a lot of people are skeptical of this claim. It's long been known that the Musharraf government wanted to eliminate the - you know, Musharraf had basically said in so many words, Bugti and the other tribal chiefs who are leading this insurgency, you know, are going to get what's coming to them. So I think there is, you know, a lot of skepticism about the government's official stance on this.

CONAN: Well, what was it that convinced this elderly man to abandon politics and take his rifle and go off in the hills with the rebels?

Mr. MONTERO: I think, basically, he had gotten tired of negotiating, you know. Baluchistan is experiencing a big push in development in the last few years, and I think many Baluch leaders, Bugti chief among them, felt that the government wasn't giving the people of Baluchistan their due share.

And I think he basically just felt like he was backed into a corner and the only thing left to do was take up arms. But also remember, Bugti and the Baluch in general, have been fighting against the government for, you know, more than 40 years in various waves of violence.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit about these people and how different they are from the majority people there in Pakistan.

Mr. MONTERO: Well, there they live by a tribal code, a tribal code which, it's important to say, does not forgive and forget. I mean revenge vendettas are a central part of their ethos, so this is not likely to boil over any time soon. You know, the believed that Nawab Bugti was a god basically on earth, so they have a very strong sense of loyalty to their tribal leaders. But at the same time the interesting thing about the Baluch is that in an area where extremism is feared to be growing and the Taliban are said to be growing in power, the Baluch are known as being fiercely secular, fiercely opposed to extremism and very progressive.

CONAN: There has also been the discovery of considerable natural gas resources in the province over the past few years, and the people there, the Baluch, feel they're not getting their fair share.

Mr. MONTERO: Yeah, that's right. I mean natural gas was discovered in Baluchistan in 1952. There are parts of Baluchistan that still don't have gas, still have not been granted gas, because most of it has been pumped over the years to Islamabad, the capital, or other parts of Punjab, particularly military bases, military installations, and Karachi, the main commercial center. So, you know, there's a sense again - this is the centerpiece of this argument is that there is all this natural wealth, but it's not really being given to the Baluch, and the Baluch are not really reaping the benefits as far as revenue from sales and things like that.

CONAN: In a poor country, this is the poorest part.

Mr. MONTERO: Exactly. I mean this is an area that is the largest and most impoverished province in Pakistan.

CONAN: Now what are the ramifications likely to be if this god-honor that has been killed by the government - at least that's how people there are likely to see it because that, in fact, is what happened - is this likely to escalate what had been a sort of back-burner insurgency into a full rebellion?

Mr. MONTERO: That's the feeling in a lot of people's minds. I think there's a sense that this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Certainly, as I said, the Baluch do not forgive and forget. I think that there is, you know, speculation that this militancy, the insurgency is going to definitely spike in the coming days. And, you know, there are some people who are now talking about threats to the integrity of the Pakistani state.

There are regional implications. India has stepped in and said that Pakistan was wrong to take this action. You know, we should keep in mind that there are Baluchis living in Iran and Afghanistan, millions of them who, you know, while separated by miles of border and land are, you know - share sympathies with what's happening in Pakistan. So who know what their reaction might be.

CONAN: And indeed you mentioned India. India has been accused by the Pakistanis of having a hand in fomenting this unrest in Baluchistan by, well, making trouble for - the enemy of my enemy is my friend might be their theory.

Mr. MONTERO: Yeah. I mean Pakistan has long been saying that India and other foreign hands, as they like to say, have been involved in organizing, providing logistical support and particularly weapons to the Baluch. And the Baluch are said to have - the Baluch insurgents are said to have pretty sophisticated weapons, so there has been a lot of talk from the Pakistani state as to where they've gotten those weapons, and they've either pointed the finger at India or other foreign hands.

CONAN: And at the moment, what is the government doing to try to alleviate the problem?

Mr. MONTERO: Well, I think that they - you know, as you said, they've distanced themselves from saying this is a direct military strike. I think that they've called some nationwide meetings. They are trying to return the body of Bugti to his family as quick as possible to show - you know, so that he can be given a proper burial as the political figure that he was.

CONAN: Okay. David Montero, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

Mr. MONTERO: Thank you.

CONAN: David Montero is a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, and he joined us on the line from Islamabad in Pakistan. When we come back from a break, The New York Times has a new critic.

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