Renegade Baluch tribal leader, dozens others, killed in southwestern Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan – Security forces Saturday killed an anti-government Baluch tribal leader and at least 24 suspected rebel supporters in a blow to a long-running ethnic resistance movement, government and security officials said. At least five security forces also died.Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said Nawab Akbar Bugti, the most prominent leader in the rebellion by Baluch tribesmen, was killed in an operation in the area of Kohlu in the southwestern provinces of Baluchistan.A top security official, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said at least 24 militants were killed. Other intelligence sources said as many as 37 militants had died.The security official said at least 16 security forces, including four officers, were killed. Other intelligence officials gave a similar toll. But army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan confirmed only that four army officers and one soldier had died.Bugti’s son-in-law Agha Shahaid Bugti told The Associated Press that he had had no contact with his father-in-law and said he learned through media that Bugti had been killed by government forces.Bugti, 79, a former senator and governor of Baluchistan, was an articulate spokesman for the Baluch cause for decades. He turned against the government amid disputes over distribution of revenues for natural gas extracted from tribal territories in the province, Pakistan’s largest and poorest.The silver-haired tribal leader, educated at the exclusive Aitchison College in Lahore, had dubbed Pakistani army forces “invaders and occupiers” for expanding military garrisons in the region. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Bugti tribesmen have been fighting under his uncompromising leadership.The security official said the operation that killed Bugti was launched after a land mine blew up a vehicle carrying security forces in Kohlu. Four security personnel were wounded in the blast.Between 50 and 80 of Bugti’s supporters were then located at a cave in mountains at Karmu Wadh in the district of Kohlu on Saturday evening, following the intercept of a satellite phone call, the official said.Security forces surrounded the cave. In the gunbattle that followed, militants fired rockets and guns and the military used helicopter gunships, the official said.While several government spokesmen confirmed Bugti’s death in the fighting, none would say whether his body had been recovered from the cave. The security official said close relatives of Bugti were among those killed.The Baluch rebellion has been running off-and-on for decades, but hostilities escalated in December, when militants fired rockets that landed about 300 yards from President Gen. Pervez Musharraf while he was visiting the town of Kohlu.The government launched an offensive against the Bugti and Marri tribes, whose leaders control swaths of Baluchistan. There is also wider resentment among other ethnic Baluch across the province over the allocation of state revenues and widespread poverty.The army put down another tribal rebellion here in 1974, reportedly leaving about 3,000 dead.Bugti was not always an anti-establishment figure. In 1973 he was briefly appointed governor of Baluchistan, but resigned after a few months after disagreeing with federal government policies.In 1989, Bugti was elected the province’s chief minister but resigned little more than a year later. On other occasions he was elected as lawmaker.Bugti accused the central government of pillaging Baluchistan’s natural resources while locals live in poverty. His tribal domain lay only 35 miles away from the country’s main gas field, and for years he received state revenues for the lease of property used for extracting gas.His death could fuel resentment in Baluchistan, where ethnic rebels routinely blow up gas pipelines and bomb government targets.Abdul Hai Baluch, a prominent Baluch politician, condemned the killing of Bugti. “It should have not happened,” he said.—–Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Matthew Pennington in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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