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Musharraf offers dialogue in Balochistan

The Pakistan President offered to resume a political dialogue with Baloch rebels, hours after their leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2006 14:25 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf offered to resume a political dialogue with Baloch rebels, hours after their tallest leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed, even as he justified the military action.

Two people were killed and several injured Sunday as violent incidents raged across Balochistan, the country's largest province, in the wake of Bugti's dramatic killing.

Protestors targeted government property, including telephone exchanges, while the police fired tear gas in many educational institutions.

Opposition parties have condemned the killing of Bugti, who had been leading the Baloch nationalist movement for long.

Nearly 40 Baloch rebels were also killed in the fighting that claimed his life.

Taking a tough stance at a high-level meeting, Musharraf said the government would take punitive action against anyone who challenged the Pakistani military action.

Denying by implication the Opposition charge that he had failed to hold a political dialogue on the issue, Musharraf said: "Neither we closed these channels in the past nor will we do in future. However, we cannot let anyone attack security forces. If someone does this, we will take punitive action against them."

A high security alert was issued as per hisorders atthe meeting. Though Pakistan Railways denied cancelling trains bound for Quetta, the Balochistan capital, Sindh and other adjoining provinces sealed their borders with Balochistan.

A complete strike was observed in Quetta and other Baloch-dominated areas including Khuzdar, Turbat, Naushki, Kalat, Mastung, Gwadar, Hub, Dalbandin, Awaran, Kharan, Panjgur, Dera Murad Jamali, Dera Allahyar and Pasni.

A surviving son of Nawab Bugti and leaders of Baloch parties have demanded custody of the body. The government said the bodies of Nawab and at least 16 other rebels would be handed over to their kin.

"We are prepared to take the opposition into confidence about the circumstances (of his killing).... The government is ready to discuss any subject of national interest with the opposition," Minister for Information and Broadcasting Muhammad Ali Durrani said.

Officially, Bugti's death was attributed to "collapse of a cave" in a remote area of Balochistan. There is no mention of the air raid that apparently followed an intelligence tip off from rebels captured earlier.

Durrani said no missile was used to hit Bugti. He also termed reports of tracking him through satellite phone as incorrect. "These are mere fiction," The News International quoted him as saying.

Giving the government's version of Saturday's operation, Durrani said the victims were present in a cave skilfully dug between two hills. The area around the cave had been mined.

Security agencies started their operation on August 23 when two army helicopters were fired at from the ground.

A helicopter was damaged to a great extent. Security forces started combing the area. In the two following days the helicopters were again fired at from the ground.

On Saturday, when security personnel reached the heavily fortified cave, it suddenly collapsed, killing everybody inside, including four officers and one soldier of the security agencies, Durrani added.

"It could be due to the explosion of mines planted around the cave or it could be the result of an explosion that might have occurred inside the cave since ammunition and weapons were stocked in it," Durrani said.

Justifying the operation, Durrani said: "You cannot be a silent spectator when railway lines, gas pipelines and public properties are sabotage. No civilised government could tolerate such things."

He said it would take time before the bodies were dug out from the cave. "We will have to clear the mines and explosives first to enter it."

Newspapers that generally call the rebels "miscreants" Monday praised Bugti and severely criticised the government for resorting to the military option.

Editorials cautioned that in the absence of a political dialogue and a serious look into genuine grievances of the Baloch people, violence would fester and political instability would persist.

Leaders of the Four Parties Baloch Alliance, a conglomerate of Baloch nationalist parties, said Bugti's killing had whipped up sentiments against the Pakistan Army.

Leaders of national parties, including the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), attacked the government for not heeding to the political grievances of the Baloch people.

First Published: Aug 28, 2006 12:19 IST