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A rebel's killing roils Pakistan

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For years, Nawab Mohammed Akbar Khan Bugti battled the Pakistan Army. The 80-year-old renegade hidden in the mountains of Balochistan became a legend in his fight for greater autonomy against what he saw as colonial brutality.

Bugti was both hated and revered. But as a former federal minister and governor, he symbolized a political as well as a violent struggle. And his death this weekend, during a fierce three-day battle that left more than 30 dead, could prove a serious blow to Pakistan's stability.

It could also close a door to a group seen as a counterweight to extremism represented in the region by a resurgent Taliban, analysts say.

"This is not a good sign," says Samina Ahmed, South Asia director of the International Crisis Group. "Just a few years ago [Nawab Bugti] was talking to the government. Keeping that door open was the way to go. Now that door has been slammed shut."

Bugti's death could also reverberate in the region, some analysts say. The Balochis are spread across several countries, with millions living in parts of Iran and Afghanistan that border Pakistan.

"They will provide sanctuary to Baloch militants. There will be a lot of sympathy," says Lt. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood, a defense analyst in Islamabad.

In recent weeks, the volley of attacks in Balochistan had increased, pitting thousands of Pakistani troops – the number is not disclosed – against a loosely organized but formidable federation of separatist militants.

On Friday, the day before Bugti was killed, two car bombs exploded in Quetta, wounding 13 people and shattering windows. Smoking ruins are a regular sight in Quetta and its environs as militants target military installations and government gas pipelines.

The Army has responded with aerial bombings and helicopter gun ships, Baloch leaders say, a claim Islamabad denies.


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