Zubaida Bibi, 60, holds her shawl firmly over her face as she speaks. The thin, threadbare piece of brown cloth seems to act as her defence against a hostile world. "No one has come to help us,” she says, seated under a flimsy canvas shelter.
Eight months after Zubaida was displaced from her home, the death of Bugti tribal leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in an army operation on Saturday, has triggered further unrest in Pakistan’s westernmost province of Balochistan.
Riots and strikes have affected the province’s major cities and town all week, with hundreds of protestors blocking the main highway, cutting Balochistan off from the rest of Pakistan.
Zubaida, her husband, their son and his family, fled their home in Naseerabad District, after military attacks and bombing raids left them fearing for their lives. Not long after the fighting started last December, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) visited the district’s town of Dera Bugti, saying 90 per cent of its inhabitants had left as a result.
Unrest is nothing new in Balochistan and the first revolt in the 1970s was ruthlessly put down by the Pakistani army. Today Baloch tribesmen and Pakistan’s military continue to fight over the area’s vast energy resources – something they have done since the country gained its independence in 1947.
|Energy-rich Balochistan is Pakistan's largest, but least developed province
Despite its vast mineral wealth, including natural gas and oil, Balochistan remains the country’s poorest, a fact which has long fueled resentment amongst the province’s 7 million inhabitants.
Bugti, who had demanded greater autonomy for the province, had also long demanded a greater share of the province’s gas and mineral wealth and attacks by Baloch rebels on pipelines had become increasingly common in recent months.
HRCP estimates that in all, 100,000 people were displaced in the Dera Bugti and Kohlu districts alone. Abdul Samad Lasi, Dera Bugti's district coordination officer, says law and order have since been restored, with thousands of people returning.
However, several thousand people, like Zubaida, continue to live in temporary settlements with no provisions for water, sanitation, food, schooling or health care.
Ahmar Baloch, Zubaida's son, says they are "too frightened" to go back. Zubaida says her grandchildren have been out of school for almost a year. "How can we send them when there is gunfire, bombings and rocket attacks all around?" she asked.
Last month, the Hong Kong-based Asian Commission for Human Rights issued an urgent appeal for military operations in the province to be stopped. It estimates fighting has killed 300 people in the area since last December.
The commission has sought help for at least 20,000 displaced people who, it says, are living in "extremely grim conditions", carrying water from up to 3 km away and suffering from dysentery and malaria.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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