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Pakistan Vows to Protect Its Energy Assets

  • Ayaz Gul

Pakistan's cabinet has vowed to use "all means" to prevent future attacks on the country's largest gas field in troubled Baluchistan Province, which borders Iran.

The special cabinet meeting was held to discuss the crisis in southwestern Baluchistan Province, where government forces and tribesmen are reportedly preparing for a showdown.

After the meeting Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said the government would take all steps to protect the country's main Sui gas field.

"We will protect Sui at any cost," he promised.

Earlier this month, rebel tribesmen seeking greater political and economic autonomy carried out a major attack on the Sui gas field, disrupting supplies to millions of consumers. The attacks triggered clashes between the tribal fighters and government forces that left as many as 15 people dead.

Eyewitnesses say that in a show of solidarity, armed tribesmen from other parts of the province have begun converging on the tribal stronghold of Dera Bugti, about 50 kilometers north of the Sui region, where government troops are dug into bunkers. But the Pakistani information minister declined to comment on reports that the government is planning a major military action against the tribes.

Speaking by telephone from the region, a top tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti told VOA his fighters are determined to resist any government action.

"They are launching a military operation on us and the only thing we can do is to defend ourselves, and to oppose it and to resist it," he said.

Exploitation of gas resources by the Pakistani government has long been opposed by ethnic-Baluch tribes who argue that they are not benefiting.

Mr. Bugti says the latest trouble erupted in Sui after a woman doctor working at the gas company's hospital was allegedly gang-raped by security men early this month.

"Now if these guards or the security people themselves indulge in such rape and all that those people they are supposed to guard, then what can one do," asked Mr. Bugti. "And they then they tried to suppress it. And when it came to light people reacted very strongly because this is against our traditions and customs and people give their lives for the honor of the females."

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao says that the tribal leaders are using the incident to pressure the government into accepting their demands. He says a high-level judicial commission is investigating the alleged rape incident.

"Let the inquiry be completed. I assure you that action would be taken against those people who are involved in that case," Said Mr. Sherpao.

The attacks on the gas installations in Baluchistan Province are seen as a blow to Pakistan's efforts to attract foreign investment in the oil and gas exploration sector. They have also called into question Pakistan's security guarantees for a proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India that would run through Baluchistan.

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