US and India accused of backing militants in province Denied the wealth drawn from their own natural resources, the tribal warlords of Pakistan's southwest province of Baluchistan have for several years been attacking infrastructure in the region - and China's interests in the region are being put at risk. The Baloch people want greater control over the mineral wealth, putting them in direct confrontation with the national government - and increasingly they have been taking aim at China. Chinese investment in ports, a submarine base and hydroelectric projects have raised the ire of the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA). And the insurgency in the province bordering Afghanistan and Iran is also stirring international political rivalries Last week, 32 people travelling to a wedding on a tractor and trailer were killed by a roadside landmine. Although the government and BLA blame each other for laying the mine, its Chinese manufacture added to local mistrust of Beijing's growing influence in the province as the Pakistan army is known to use Chinese mines. Political analysts say the insurgency is set to move its focus beyond the Pakistani army to foreign interests. The insurgents may also be attracting illicit support from India and the United States. 'Pakistan's situation does have domestic roots, but there are also links between these roots and external forces intent on creating instability here,' said Shireen Mazari, director-general of the Islamabad-based Institute of Strategic Studies. 'The US wants to isolate Iran and contain China. And so it cannot go along with development work in Baluchistan that would bring a Chinese presence there and increase overland trade and the energy pipelines involving Iran,' Dr Mazari said. Other political scientists share her views. 'The real threat for the US and other countries is the increasing influence of China in the province and they don't want a Chinese hold in the region,' said Moonis Ahmer, professor of international relations at Karachi University. On May 4, 2004, an attack at Gwadar, an isolated port town on the Arabian Sea, was the first against Chinese in Pakistan, which has seen a series of recent terrorist attacks against westerners. Most of the 480 Chinese in Gwadar were employed by the Chinese Harbour Engineering Company, the main contractor of the deep-sea project designed to turn Pakistan's third port into a trading gateway to Central Asia. 'This port is the real problem for the US and other regional stakeholders who do not want to see it developed because of its strategic location,' Dr Ahmer said. The first phase of the mega deep-sea port has been completed at a cost of US$250 million, and if the vision of Pakistan's leaders and the Chinese builders is realised it will be transformed into a modern gateway for trade to landlocked Central Asia. Gwadar will be the shortest route for proposed east and westbound oil exports from Central Asia if the port works. Goods shipped into Gwadar will be taken by road to Afghanistan and then to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. China will be a chief beneficiary of the project as western provinces would prefer to export from Gwadar, as it is closer than the eastern coastal ports of China. The Pakistani government accuses India of backing the Baloch insurgents. 'India is supporting the miscreants in Baluchistan,' Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said earlier this month. 'The supporters of BLA have a lot of money and weapons. A Baloch Liberation Front in Iranian Baluchistan is funded from outside, and it takes little to guess who the provider may be,' Dr Mazari said. In the most recent attacks, on February 15, unidentified gunmen on motorcycles killed three Chinese engineers helping build a cement factory in a town of the volatile province not far from Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. An embarrassed President Pervez Musharraf told leaders in Beijing shortly after the attack that terrorists were trying to hurt bilateral relations. Ghulam Ahmed, chief of the Baloch National Movement, a party claiming provincial autonomy, said: 'Chinese are equally responsible for what Islamabad is doing with Balochs in our province and we will not allow any exploitative force to marginalise us in the name of development.'