Pakistan Invites Rebels from Gas-Rich Baluchistan for Talks

Islamabad, Pakistan- Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani invited insurgents in the country’s oil- and gas- rich southwest Baluchistan province for talks as he announced in Parliament a new package to end the fighting.

“The government hopes the proposed economic, political and constitutional reforms package will end deprivation of the people of the province,” Gilani said in the capital, Islamabad. He asked lawmakers to debate and approve the proposals soon.

Pakistan’s government says the insurgency in Baluchistan, which accounts for 44 percent of the country’s area, is backed and fueled by neighboring India and groups in Afghanistan. India denies the charge. The province produces a quarter of Pakistan’s natural gas output.

The Baluch group of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a tribal leader killed in an operation by security forces in 2006, says it’s fighting for rights for local people, including royalties from the minerals and fuels discovered in the province.

Insurgents have attacked and bombed key oil and gas installations, pipelines and government buildings in the province. They have also attacked security forces.

The proposed package includes inviting exiled leaders to return to Pakistan, and withdrawing politically motivated court cases, Raza Rabbani, a senior leader of Gilani’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, told lawmakers. He said royalties for oil, gas and minerals extracted from the province would be rationalized.

The deal will “assuage the hurt feelings of the people of Baluchistan,” according to an earlier statement by the office of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan’s top opposition leader and twice former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this month sought a public debate on the package.

As reported by Khalid Qayum in Islamabad for Bloomberg.com

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