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World News

Pakistan accuses India, Afghans, of Baluch meddling

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan accused on Wednesday Afghanistan and India of supporting ethnic Baluch separatists fighting in the resource-rich southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Pakistan has in the past accused old rival India of meddling in Baluchistan but Wednesday’s comments from Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik were the most explicit for years and come after a deterioration in ties over a militant attack in Mumbai.

“There is a conspiracy hatched against Pakistan to destabilize Pakistan,” Malik told parliament in a statement to explain the government’s position on the worsening security situation in the vast province.

There was no immediate comment from India which has in the past denied such accusations.

Baluch nationalists have for decades campaigned for greater autonomy and control of the province’s abundant natural gas and mineral resources, which they say are unfairly exploited to the benefit of other parts of the country.

Separatist guerrillas have also fought a low-level insurgency for decades.

Malik said Brahamdad Bugti, a son of a Baluch rebel leader who was killed in a military operation in late 2006, was living in Kabul and he had admitted in a television interview that he was getting support from India.

Pakistan had repeatedly requested Afghan government to stop helping Baluch militants but in vain, he said.

“According to our intelligence, there are between 4,000 to 5,000 of our Baluch brothers who are based in Afghanistan, there are a few training centers,” he said.

“We also request India to stop interfering in Baluchistan ... this is the time that we have to expose those hostile agencies, those hostile countries who are helping (the separatists),” he said.

Malik’s comments are likely to put further strain on relations with India. The nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars since 1947.

India put a tentative peace process with Pakistan on ice after Pakistan-based militants launched coordinated attacks on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai in November, killing 166 people. Pakistan denied any involvement by state agencies.

U.N. OFFICIAL

An American U.N. official, John Solecki, was kidnapped in Baluchistan in February on the orders of Baluch separatist leaders in Kabul, Malik said. Solecki was freed after two months in captivity.

Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and any increase in tension between Pakistan and its neighbors is likely to raise concern in the United States.

Afghanistan and India enjoy close relations and Pakistan worries about being surrounded by hostile powers on both its eastern and western borders.

Both India and Afghanistan have accused Pakistan of failing to act decisively against militants attacking them, or even of supporting those groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and separatists fighting Indian forces in disputed Kashmir.

Days of violent protests erupted in Baluchistan this month after three Baluch politicians were found shot dead. Their supporters said they had been abducted by security agents.

Malik denied that and said the government had ordered an inquiry into the killings.

Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani

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