When the Pakistan government decided to ban the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) last fortnight, it was tacitly admitting to the situation having gone completely awry in the
province of Balochistan. For 17 months now, the BLA's engaged the battle-hardened Pakistani army, with alarming successes. Every now and then, BLA activists slip through the security cordon the army has thrown around sensitive installations to blow up bridges, rail tracks, electricity towers, and worse, gas pipelines.
The BLA's firepower, and its ability to undertake terrorist attacks with impunity, had months earlier raised the spectre of a foreign power assisting the militant group. Though several officials privately claimed that the Indian hand was fanning the discontent in Balochistan, they desisted from naming it publicly.
Such diplomatic niceties were cast aside in December when New Delhi accused the Pak army of large-scale human rights abuses in Balochistan. Not only did Islamabad ask New Delhi to douse the fire of insurgency in its own backyard, President Pervez Musharraf even told a TV channel that India was pumping funds into Balochistan to create mischief there. New Delhi maintained a stony silence.
In late February, Musharraf presented Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on his visit here, documents detailing how India was using bases in Afghanistan to foment trouble in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Till date, Afghanistan hasn't rebutted the charges.
Yet, as Islamabad battles insurgents, it is simultaneously under American pressure to improve ties with India and Afghanistan. As one senior foreign official told Outlook, "Matters are improving and we are talking to the Afghans and Indians all the time. We in no way want to put roadblocks in the composite dialogue with India and do not want to annoy the Afghans and give them an excuse to run to New Delhi." This geopolitical compulsion is why no Pakistani minister or official is willing to go on record about India's destabilising manoeuvres in Pakistan.
Some feel that the BLA and tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, whose Bugti tribe is at the vanguard of the armed movement, haven't been weaned away from the path of violence only because India has stoked their aspirations—and helped augment their stockpile of weapons. They say the BLA's demands are what most independent states encounter in their history. These include greater autonomy, a better share in the revenue accruing from the resources of the province, and a check on development projects which threaten to alienate the tribals from their land. In an attempt to establish the state's writ, the army is searching for Akbar Bugti, who has gone underground.
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