Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Three months after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the situation in Balochistan province continues to simmer with near-daily militant attacks and political unrest that refuses to fizzle out.

A man was killed and three were injured on Saturday when a bomb exploded in Naushki, a town 140 km west of the provincial capital Quetta. The bomb was planted under an electricity transformer near the headquarters of a paramilitary force. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Over the last week, police arrested hundreds of workers of the Balochistan National Party including all of its top leadership as they planned to set out on a protest march across the province.

The march was to begin on Thursday at Gwadar, where an upcoming port is a symbol of pride for the Federal Government but which the Baloch people see as a symbol of their oppression. The march was to culminate in Quetta on December 11.

But the BNP had to abandon the march after its leadership, including president Akhtar Mengal, vice-president Jehanzaib Jamaldini and secretary-general Habib Jalib Baloch were all put under house arrest and between 400 to 600 other activists jailed.

In response to the arrests, the BNP and its allies including the Baloch Students' Organisation called a "shutter-down" strike throughout the province on Saturday, which evoked mixed response, and a vehicle strike on Sunday.

Baloch nationalist parties had planned the 700-km march, called Laskhar-e-Baloch, through the province to protest against the Federal Government's policies, including the killing of Nawab Bugti in a military operation in August, the setting up of military cantonments in the Balochistan and against "mega-projects" like Gwadar port which they see as holding little benefits for the local people.

"We are a democratic party, but those who want to show their strength through peaceful methods are discouraged. Democracy in Pakistan is only for those who support the military," Mr. Mengal told local journalists over telephone from his home, where he is under detention.

Alongside the political unrest, militants have been at it with unfailing regularity.

The protests and the government action come ahead of a planned visit by President Musharraf to the province early next week. Mr. Mengal said his party and its supporters would ensure an "unwelcome" for the President.

When Gen. Musharraf visited Balochistan on November 16 and 17, there was a province-wide shutdown.