Tensions between the Pakistani government and dissident tribesmen in the southwestern province of Baluchistan are raising the possibility of serious fighting. A parliamentary delegation has met with a key leader in the troubled province to seek a solution.
A 15-member delegation of both opposition and ruling party legislators held talks with a senior tribal leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, in Baluchistan Tuesday. The lawmakers were seeking ways of easing the low-level, but persistent conflict between Pakistan's government and heavily armed local tribesmen.
Clashes between the military and tribesman have been growing over the past several months. The government in Islamabad reported a skirmish last week in which eight soldiers and some 40 tribal fighters were killed.
In his talks with members of the delegation, Nawab Akbar Bugti accused government forces of committing a "massacre" of innocent civilians, including women and children. He also wanted judicial action on allegations that a military officer recently raped a local woman doctor.
A ruling party lawmaker, Mohammed Ali Durrani, who is in the delegation, says their meeting with the tribal leader will help both sides in finding a solution to the crisis.
"This is the policy of government to resolve all issues by dialogue and that's why this delegation was sent by the government. And I think that today's meeting was a good meeting and I hope this help in resolving this issue," he said.
After recent bloody clashes, armed tribesmen are reported to have surrounded a security post in the town of Dera Bugti. A senior government commander is reported as saying that the situation needs to be defused quickly to avert a major crisis.
Senate opposition leader Raza Rabbani, who was not on the trip to the area, says the tribesmen have legitimate complaints, which should be settled through peaceful means.
"It has to be dealt with as a political problem, that is through the process of dialogue and giving the rights that are being denied, and not by way of any form of operation by the security forces," he said.
Senator Rabbani says overly anxious military troops are responsible for some of the recent fighting.
"The government agencies do jump the gun, which brings about an unfortunate situation as we find these days in the province," he added.
He said there is a danger that the entire province could erupt into wide-scale fighting if actions are not taken to defuse the tensions.
Among other demands, tribesmen in the region call for the central government to share with them more of the revenue from the rich natural gas fields in their territory, and to end military deployments in the region.