A big step closer to the destabilization of Pakistan. From Reuters, Aug. 29:
QUETTA, Pakistan – Security forces and gunmen clashed on Tuesday in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province after prayers for a slain rebel leader and one policeman was killed, while a blast elsewhere killed three people, police said.
Violent protests have erupted across gas-rich Baluchistan since nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed on Saturday in a government assault on his cave hideout in the remote hills of Pakistan’s biggest but poorest province.
Police said about 10,000 people had attended prayers for Bugti in Quetta, the provincial capital. At the end, some mourners had thrown stones at police and set fire to government offices, shops and vehicles.
Firing soon erupted between some protesters on rooftops and police and paramilitary troops below, a witness said. Sporadic gunfire went on for several hours and one policeman was killed and several people were wounded, police and a doctor said.
“I think the major wave is over now and we hope it’s subsiding,” provincial police chief Chaudhry Mohammad Yaqub told Reuters, referring to the violence.
“Things have been handled effectively without calling in the army. We tried our best to avoid the use of force,” he said. A former provincial governor respected by many, Bugti, 79, went underground this year and joined rebels who have been waging a low-key insurgency for decades seeking autonomy and a greater share of profits from Baluchistan’s resources.
Government officials said security forces had not targeted Bugti but that he was killed when explosives went off during heavy fighting in a cave, which then collapsed.
The government said his body had not been recovered.
Political analysts and opposition politicians dismissed the government explanation and said his killing appeared to have been intentional.
Analysts say Bugti’s killing is likely to inflame opposition to the government in Baluchistan. It could also stir nationalist sentiment in other provinces and galvanize broad opposition to President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup.
A bomb went off in a hotel in the Baluchistan town of Hub, killing three people and wounding up to nine, police said. Provincial interior minister Shoaib Nausherwani said it was too early to say if the blast was linked to the protests.
Rioting also erupted in the port city of Gwadar and several other parts of Baluchistan, police said.
Earlier, police said suspected rebels had blown up a gas pipeline and electricity pylons near the city of Qalat late on Monday, in what appeared to be their first attack since Bugti’s death.
The military said 1,500 Baluch militants had surrendered on Tuesday, apparently because they had lost hope after Bugti’s death. The military also vowed to continue operations against rebels who refused to disarm.
The Baluchistan rebels have no links with Islamist fighters on the Afghan border who have also been battling security forces, security officials say.
Opposition politicians, speaking in a debate of no-confidence in Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, also denounced Bugti’s killing.
“Nawab Akbar Bugti was murdered and this is part of the charge sheet against the government,” said Makdoom Amin Fahim, a leader of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.
Musharraf issued a warning to those he said were “against the country’s progress and sovereignty” in a speech on Monday and said he was committed to improving conditions in Baluchistan.
Baluchistan still sounds terribly exotic, doesn’t it? Dr. Robert D. Crane, writing on The American Muslim Aug. 29, calls it “the pivot of Asia”—and the potential key to a general regional disintegration.
The Baluchis are like the Kurds. They come from an era before there were any state boundaries, which was a concept invented by European rivals during the 19th century. Each imperial power supported its favorite tyrant’s expansionist policies…
Earlier this month major military operations were carried out to suppress the Baluchis, who have an alliance with the Taliban, whom half of the Pakistani military support and half do not. Musharraf has not been able to crack down on his own army, so he may be overthrown as an American puppet. In my estimation, the pro-Taliban faction then would win out over the anti-Baluchi faction.
At that point, it would be best for the American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, just as they should withdraw from Iraq, so that they will no longer be a cause for extremism. We have a number of options in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ranging from bad to worst.
Withdrawal may be the best of the bad, if only because the American imperial presence has been Osama bin Laden’s strongest card.