QUETTA, Pakistan (AFP) -Pakistan was on high alert after riots erupted over the killing of a prominent tribal rebel leader in gas-rich Baluchistan province in a major military operation.
Extra police and security officers were deployed at key installations and a curfew imposed in provincial capital Quetta city after news broke of the killing, triggering the violence late Saturday that left one protester dead, officials told AFP Sunday.
Pakistani forces launched air strikes Friday in the mountains of the province, where rebel chieftain Nawab Akbar Bugti was hiding, in the major operation that left scores more dead, officials said.
“I can confirm that Akbar Bugti was killed in the operation,” Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani told AFP.
At least 25 elite commandos and more than 30 tribal insurgents were killed in the fighting near Dera Bugti town, close to the mountain hideout where Bugti was sheltering, security officials said.
Followers of Bugti then ransacked and torched a petrol pump, four banks, 18 buses, two ambulances, two state-owned provisions stores and a federal accounts office in Quetta. Another four banks were set ablaze in nearby Khuzdar district also late on Saturday, police officials said.
Dozens of people involved in the riots have been detained and all student hostels have been closed, they said.
Sporadic gunshots were heard in Quetta and other areas through the night, and police said one person was killed, and six policemen and five protestors were wounded after they exchanged gunfire in Quetta.
Tension gripped the region Sunday as protestors blocked two major highways, one leading from Quetta to Iran and another to Khuzdar town and the southern port city of Karachi, the officials said.
Passenger train services were also suspended to and from Quetta, railway official Ghulam Rasool told AFP.
Rioters also torched an office of Pakistan International Airline, attacked a paramilitary checkpost and ransacked the office of the national registration authority in the coastal town of Gwadar, they said.
A few incidents were also reported in Karachi which has a sizeable ethnic Baluch population loyal to Bugti.
The colourful British-educated tribal chieftain, who is in his 80s, fled his former stronghold earlier this year following a crackdown by the Pakistani military.
He has been accused of operating private jails and running a feudal justice system in the area in addition to being blamed for the deaths of dozens of soldiers and police.
The clampdown on Bugti was sparked by a rocket attack during a visit by President Pervez Musharraf to Baluchistan in December.
Baluchistan has been rocked by a near two-year insurgency blamed on autonomy-seeking tribesmen who also want a greater share of the gas-rich province’s natural resources.
Opposition leaders condemned Bugti’s killing and national and regional political parties have convened emergency meetings to discuss the development.
“Bugti’s murder is an extra-judicial killing,” said Liaquat Baloch, a leader of the six-party religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
“It’s one of the darkest eras in Pakistan’s political history,” Baloch said.
“It’s the worst news for the Baluch nation. I cannot say much as we are busy collecting the bodies,” said Shahid Bugti, spokesman for Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party.
Mir Hasil Bizenjo, chief of the Baluchistan National Party, told AFP the death was shocking for democracy and the politics of hatred there would now increase.
Ghulam Mohammed, chief of Baluch National Party, agreed saying there would be far reaching implications for politics in Baluchistan.
Separately, a paramilitary solider was killed and four others were wounded when their vehicle hit a landmine in Tartani area of Kohlu district of the same province, a security official told AFP.