Guest journalist Ahmed Rashid assesses what the killing of a rebel tribal leader in Balochistan province means for the Baloch rebel movement and for the Pakistani government.
Nawab Akbar Bugti was a key figure in the Baloch movement
In his death and the manner in which it was carried out, Sardar Akbar Bugti is likely to become a martyred hero for Baloch nationalism and nationalists elsewhere in Pakistan - rather than the anti-government renegade and reactionary tribesman Islamabad would like to portray him as.
Bugti, the Sardar or chief of more than 200,000 Bugti tribesmen, was killed along with more than 35 of his followers when the Pakistan Air Force bombed his hideout in the Bambore mountain range in the Marri tribal area.
Pakistani officials say that at least 16 soldiers including four officers were killed after they went in to mop up the remnants of the Baloch guerrilla group. A fierce battle ensued which led to their deaths.
Bugti, a 79-year-old invalid who could not walk due to arthritis, is reported to be buried in the rubble of the cave where he was hiding.
For months, Pakistani politicians including members of the ruling party had been insisting that the military regime agree to hold talks with the Baloch leaders in order to stop what was becoming an ever-widening civil war in the province.
Several security agencies and advisers to President Pervez Musharraf, including the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau, asked Gen Musharraf to talk to the Baloch leaders.
However, other advisers and the hawkish Military Intelligence advised him to crush the Baloch leaders, which includes three prominent Sardars, Bugti, Khair Bux Marri and Ataullah Mengal.
Senior politicians say that Gen Musharraf's lack of understanding about the Baloch issue, his underestimation of the growing sense of alienation in all the smaller provinces and the attack on his ego when his helicopter was fired upon by Baloch rebels last December, all contributed to his helping him take the decision to kill Bugti.
Bugti was not the leader of the mysterious Balochistan Liberation Army which has been banned by Pakistan and Britain, but he was certainly its most visible spokesman over the past three years, as the Baloch insurgency against Islamabad has grown.
The army has attempted to divide the Baloch by promising large aid grants to those tribal leaders who support the government, even as Islamabad claims that it is eliminating the Sardari system.
Pervez Musharraf may have underestimated Baloch nationalism
Baloch nationalists have long argued that while Islamabad exploits their massive gas and mineral deposits, they give little in return to the province.
Last year, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League agreed on a package of incentives for the Baloch that included a constitutional amendment giving greater autonomy to the province, but it was overruled by Gen Musharraf and the army who then vowed to militarily crush the rebellion.
The army argues that millions have been spent in development, but projects such as the building of the Gawadar port, the building of cantonments and even new roads do not necessarily benefit ordinary Baloch.
The projects are defined by the army and its national security needs, rather than through consultations with the Baloch or even the Balochistan provincial assembly. Then the projects are carried out by outside companies who give few jobs to the Baloch.
By killing Bugti, the president has now earned the permanent enmity of not just the Baloch rebels but the wider Baloch population who may not believe in taking up arms, but are still frustrated with Islamabad for its failure to develop the province.
He may have seriously underestimated the power of Baloch nationalism which has led to four wars with the Pakistan army in the past.
Nationalism within the smaller provinces has always been the biggest threat to military regimes just as it is to Gen Musharraf.
The hanging of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979, who was a Sindhi, by an earlier military ruler has made Sindhis resentful of the army, while they have, by and large, always voted for the opposition Pakistan People's Party.
In the North West Frontier Province where Talebanisation is rampant, Pashtun nationalism is presently taking the form of political Islam.
By killing Bugti, the army is sending a clear message to nationalists in other provinces as to how they will be dealt with if they rear their heads.
However, the smaller provinces are seething with resentment against continued military rule. Their sense of frustration and alienation is growing as they see the army representing only its own interests or that of Punjab, the largest province in the country.
Bugti was killed in a battle near his mountain hide-out
The army is also sending a powerful signal to neighbouring India and Afghanistan.
The army has accused India of financing and arming the Baloch rebels, while it has accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of allowing the Baloch to train in Afghanistan.
India and Afghanistan have denied these charges at the highest level, but Pakistani officials say there is little doubt that the Indians were involved in funding the Baloch movement because of their long-standing involvement with the Baloch and the evidence that arrested Baloch rebels have provided the Pakistani intelligence services.
The tit-for-tat proxy war between Pakistan on one side and India and Afghanistan on the other, will now heat up.
India accuses Pakistan of continuing to arm and finance Islamic extremists in Kashmir and funding anti-government and Maoist movements in other parts of the Indian sub-continent.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of arming and giving sanctuary to the Taleban and its leadership.
Pakistan denies both charges.
There is an ever-deepening political crisis in Pakistan which the death of Bugti will only exacerbate.
Many people say that the country is rapidly unravelling with Gen Musharraf refusing to give clear-cut guarantees about free and fair elections next year, while he insists on running again for another five-year term as president even as he remains army chief.
Bugti's death will only add to the growing fears about the country's future and the danger inherent in a policy of killing political opponents rather than holding a dialogue with them.
This debate is now closed. Here is a selection of comments sent.
Surprises me to see how many people have fallen for the propoganda about Bugti being a traitor. His battle was for a prosperous Baluchistan within Pakistan. Musharaf will go down as another Yahya Khan. Afterall there were many who said that the army action in 1971 had saved Pakistan!!Bugti's death is a great blow.
SHAHID KHAN, LONDON
Tough Mr Bugti was a good tribal leader but for Pakistan his politics could turn fatal.
Pakistan needed to get rid to him sooner or later but the mode of getting rid of him could be any thing but military action.
This military action will cause civil unrest and urge nationalists like BLA to bring arms up again.
RASHID, Birmingham, Uk
This guy was a traitor, who was funded by outside forces, namely India and also some Gulf States. If he really cared for his Baloch brothers, then why start a rebellion against the federal government just when they are for the first time in Pakistani history trying to develop the province. No other government has invested so much resources of the country in to developing Balochistan as has this government and this is when the so called Baloch "tribal" leaders decide more forcefully to arm against the rest of the country. This is a domestic matter which has been exploited by the Indians and other regional forces to destabilise Pakistan.
Bugti has had enough opportunities to discuss the matter with the leaders but he has always backed down. This despite most other tribal leaders deciding to work alongside the federal govenment in developing Balochistan.
There is only one punishment for traitors world over......eventual death. Lets mourn the 16 brave soldiers of Pakistan forces that died in this battle to protect the national integrity against traitors.
Adnan, London, UK
No patriort Pakistan should have regrets on the killing of Bugti, he was cruel person who didnt wanted his peoples to move forward in the feild of education and development of the area. Those who are protesting they only trying to acheiving political objectives. We should keep in mind those who were supresed and killed by Bugti was also peoples and no person should be allowed to spread anti feelings about division of Pakistan
Faisal, Islamabad, Pakistan
Bugti was a cruel,greedy feudal lord who contributed nothing to the development of his people and when his feudalism was threatend, took up arms against the state under the guise of nationalism. I am glad the government fixed him. There might be a some unrest for a few weeks, long term Bugti will be remembered as a warlord.
Aamir Ali, Peshawar, Pakistan
Three Pakistani former Prime Ministers, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and Zafar Ullah Jamali condemnet the act taken by army without any parliment approval.
Is ARMY above law?
Does Pakistan need any civil courts anymore or it is on army's discretion to take action without any court approval and kill people???
Quaid-e-Azam, the founder of Pakistan said that Pakistan will be an Islamic Country and Army will be working under the civil government but so far ARMY is not working under civil government.
Ashraf, Chicag, USA
Without a doubt the feudal lords in Pakistan belong to another century and not a single one comes to mind who can be seen as progressive or even closely connected with the 21st century Pakistani imperatives. Having said that there is nothing enlightend or moderate about the Musharraf government in handling the Bugti massacre. Paradoxically enough the people also suffer from apathy to take to the streets for day or two, but never fighting for lasting reforms. They know deep down in their hearts that no one is to be trusted. That theirs is not a land of leaders but opportunists. Akbar Bugti as a feudal lord knew only one way of being an opportunist, by being a political menace.
Haider Raza, Atherton, California, USA
Bugti was probably given enough time to solve out things through dialogue,when Mushahid Hussain and Shujaat went to him but he didnt show interest.These were the key political leaders and situation would have been better,had the Bugti showed slight flexibility.There is no doubt in it that India and Afghanistan are involoved in worsening the situation in Balochistan by supportingrebel leaders.How could Pakistan be charged of supporting Taliban when it is fighting them in their own country,it is ridiculous.Karzai Govt has failed and is blaming Pakistan for its incompetence.
Ume Farwah Naqvi, Lahore,Pakistan
There is no doubt that it is a political mistake of Military Govt. but I feel they had right to use the force against militants creating civil disorder like bombing railway tracks, roads, power supply lines, bombing gas pipe-lines and many similar activities. Army must continue suppressing such militants, remove the Sardari or Jarga System but apart from that also must care the Balochi region equally as any other part of Pakistan. I feel sorrow about Balochi nation who were left behind because of dirty-politicians from both sides, but they must get up and fight in other ways like go for education, for boys and girls. When they all are equal and no Sardar as their head then they will be free and will get their rights.
Yasir Iqbal, Berlin, Germany
its a very good article.specially, the forecasting of the future political problems, which are not really discussed but are at the background of the article.
omer usaf, peshawar, pakistan
Mr. Rashid has always had a bias against Musharaf government and to an extent the country as well. He would go to any length and cover anything that is even remotely anti-Pakistan. Whatever the intentions are, they are surely hampering writer from drawing a balanced opinion.
I was infact expecting some Pakistan bashing regarding latest cricket controversy. But alas SAD DEMISE of an outlaw took away the moment.
Shahid Waheed, NY, Us
i am a student of quaid-e-azam university.The killing of Baloch leader is totally illegal and unfair. If he was involved in terrorism than govt. he shouuld have presented before the court. There is no law to kill a person only on behalf of mysterious intelligence reports and without proofs.
hassan, islamabad pakistan
Akbar Bugti was a traitor. He died a traitor's death.
He was really the Tiger of Balochistan who was a man of principles and always boldly faced the tortures for the rights of oppressed class. Be the blesing of Allah on him.
Ansar Durrani, Ontario, Canada
It is said that there is always a limit for every action.
The recent anti-nationalist slogan by the Bughti was marring the integrity of Pakistan. No body should be allowed to make pakistan hostage to its malign designs. I being pakistani is of firm view that the death of bughti will ultimately bring stability.
sohail ahmad, pakistan