Tribal leader’s killing sparks widespread violence in southwest Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan – Mobs burned shops, banks and buses in a second day of rioting over the killing of a top tribal chief by Pakistani troops, raising fears that a decades-old conflict in the country’s volatile southwest could widen.Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told Pakistani television that Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death Saturday was “the darkest chapter in Pakistan’s history.”Police arrested 450 people for rioting, but the violence spread from Baluchistan province into neighboring Sindh province, where ethnic Baluchis burned tires in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.Political leaders and analysts feared the killing of 79-year-old Bugti, a champion of greater rights for ethnic Baluch tribespeople, could influence more young Pakistanis to take up militancy.Talaat Masood, a former army general, described Bugti’s death as a “great tragedy” that will further divide ordinary Pakistanis from the military, led by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has allied his government with Washington over strong opposition from many Pakistanis.”It is very dangerous when we are already fighting (al-Qaida) terrorists in Pakistan to bring about another reason for radicalizing the youth,” Masood said.Anti-government sentiment reached fever pitch on Quetta’s streets.”The government has killed the Baluch leader. We will take revenge,” said Ghulam Mohiuddin, a 27-year-old Quetta college student.In northern Quetta, nine policemen suffered minor wounds in a clash with dozens of protesters, some firing pistols, who tried to loot a bank and several shops, police said. A bomb blast damaged a government building and arsonists set fire to a telephone exchange in Kalat, a town 155 miles south of Quetta, police said.Quetta Police Chief Suleman Sayed said early Sunday that a round-the-clock curfew had been imposed. But Pakistan’s Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani and Quetta’s mayor denied the curfew claim.An alliance of four Baluch nationalist groups announced 15 days of mourning for Bugti’s death and vowed to continue protests throughout the region.”The government has pushed Baluchistan into a never-ending war,” said Hasil Bizinjo, a senior figure on Baluch Yakjehti, or the Baluch Solidarity alliance.The secretary-general of Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League, Mushahid Hussein Sayed, called for a “political solution to long-standing problems of neglect and injustice” in Baluchistan.The region, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has been wracked by decades of low-level conflict that periodically flare into large-scale clashes. Baluchis led by Bugti have pressed the government for an increased share of wealth from natural resources extracted from the province, including natural gas, oil and coal.Bugti, a former senator, interior minister and provincial governor, had described Pakistan’s army as “invaders and occupiers” for expanding military garrisons in Baluchistan.The government launched an offensive against the Bugti and Marri tribes, whose leaders control areas of Baluchistan, and the army put down a tribal rebellion in 1974, reportedly leaving about 3,000 dead.Bugti went into hiding in late 2005 after an attempt was made on the Pakistani president’s life. The government also accused him of ordering attacks on government installations, including oil refineries, the electricity grid and train lines.He died when Pakistani troops, backed by helicopters, attacked his cave hide-out in the Kohlu area, about 140 miles east of Quetta, officials said. Authorities say the cave’s roof collapsed, killing Bugti and at least 24 of his fighters.Tariq Azeem Khan, minister of state for information, tried to distance Pakistani troops from Bugti’s killing, saying land mines placed by the tribal leader around his hide-out exploded during the raid and destroyed the cave. He also claimed soldiers didn’t know Bugti was there, saying the troops attacked the hide-out only after being shot at.Bugti’s son-in-law, Shahid Bugti, a senator in Pakistan’s parliament, denounced the killing and demanded the government return the chief’s body to his family for burial.”This is a very tragic affair for the whole family, the tribe and the people of the whole region,” Shahid Bugti said. “We consider him a martyr. He led a very graceful life and he had a graceful death, going out while fighting for his people’s rights.”—Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Paul Garwood in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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