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Balochistan trouble concerns US, Saudi Arabia too

The trouble in Balochistan links up with the central theatres of concern to Saudi Arabia, France and the US, each one of whose leaders will be in India in the coming weeks.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2006 18:58 IST

The escalation of Pakistan military action in Balochistan brings the wheel full circle from the historic meeting in Acton Town Hall, off London, in September 2000, addressed by among others Sardar Ataullah Mengal, the Baloch leader and convener of the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM).

Others on the platform were Altaf Hussain (MQM), Mehmood Khan Achakzai (Chairman, Pakhtoon Khwa Milli Awam Party) and Sindhi leader (son of the late GM Shah) Syed Imdad Mohammad Shah.

The meeting, they declared in unison, was the "second burial of the two nation theory". Mengal added: "The first burial was the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971."

"Since independence (in 1947)," Mengal told me in an interview on the margins of the meeting, "we have been oppressed by a provincial (Punjabi) army". The time had come for a final settlement: "Give us equal rights or give us independence!"

All the speeches in Acton were in this vein.

The momentum generated at Acton weakened because exactly a year later 9/11 happened, altering all regional calculations.

The powerful heads of the Mengal, Bugti and Marri tribes watched from the sidelines the unfolding situation.

The trouble in Balochistan, between the tribals and the Pakistan Army, has been brewing since January 2003.

Just as the Acton meeting was pushed off the TV screens and newspapers by 9/11, the tribal-army clashes were obscured by the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. All the headline space was grabbed by Afghanistan and Iraq.

Indian viewers and readers first learnt of the deteriorating situation in Balochistan when helicopter gunship and artillery began to pound tribal strongholds, inviting a comment from India.

The Acton wheel comes full circle because Ataullah Megal, currently in Pakistan, has contacted MQM leaders in London to "revive the Acton platform".

The presence of the US in the region complicates matters further. US troops have been crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border for unilateral action against the rebels in Waziristan, aggravating resentment against the Pakistan Army and the US across contiguous provinces.

Tensions within Pakistan are rising at a time when India-Pakistan people-to-people diplomacy has acquired unprecedented momentum. What could be worrying for both sides, however, is the presence in Pakistan of the Indian cricket team.

First Published: Feb 09, 2006 21:18 IST