Assassination of Nawab Bugti Threatens to Escalate Pak-Baloch Tensions

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 34

On August 26, Pakistan killed one of its most prominent politicians, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who was leading an armed struggle for greater autonomy over Balochistan’s natural resource wealth (The News, August 27). Among other resources, Balochistan is estimated to possess 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and six trillion barrels of oil. Last year, Nawab Bugti, according to Baloch traditions of protest, took to living in the mountains, from where he was reportedly commanding military operations against Pakistani authorities. The Pakistani army has since been on his trail. On August 24, an intercepted telephone call tracked him to his mountain command post (The News, August 27). For three days, a fierce battle raged that killed him and 21 army commandos. On September 1, when he was laid to rest, all of Pakistan (except central Punjab) was shut down to mourn his passing.

Nawab’s killing has set off a violent reaction in Balochistan, Sind and parts of Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, where two million Balochs live. In Balochistan alone, 93 government buildings, 87 businesses, 31 homes, 28 banks and 37 vehicles were burned down in the four days after the killing (The News, August 31). Many of these businesses and homes belonged to Punjabis, Pakistan’s dominant ethnic group. This direction of violence has alarmed Punjabi civil servants, who are now reluctant to serve in Balochistan (The News, August 31). As a result, 18 police commanders have had their posting orders cancelled or have remained non-compliant.

It is feared that the assassination will radicalize the Baloch youth, who have already begun to destroy federal icons. On August 29, a number of youth in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital, tore down the portrait of Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (The Nation, August 30). In Karachi, they tore down the Pakistani flag and stomped on it before they set it alight. Apparently shocked by this reaction, the United States cautiously urged the “peaceful” resolution of issues within “a strong and unified Pakistan” (AFP, August 29). In contrast, Afghanistan gushed with sympathy with its parliament having spent four hours paying homage to the slain leader (Daily Jang, August 31). Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly grieved for him. India did also, although to the seething resentment of Pakistan (Dawn, August 28). Regardless of the domestic and foreign reaction, however, Nawab Bugti’s slaying has deepened the divide between Balochistan and Pakistan, which will not be easy to bridge.