TARTARI, Pakistan – Pakistani soldiers searching a cave found the body of a fugitive tribal leader whose death in a military raid sparked large-scale unrest, but it was pinned under a boulder and will take days to retrieve, army officials said Thursday.
Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, was killed when an explosion Saturday destroyed his mountain cave hide-out in the Tartari area of Kohlu district in southwestern Baluchistan province. His son has said the violence that has gripped southern Pakistan since his death would continue until his father's body was returned.
Two senior army officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the search for the remains, said soldiers working at the cave on Wednesday spotted Bugti's head and shoulders protruding from underneath a giant boulder.
It would take at least three days to remove his body from underneath the boulder, said one of the officials, who works in army intelligence.
Bugti's death has sparked days of rioting and protests led by his supporters in Baluchistan, a fiercely independent and restive region bordering Iran and Afghanistan. Bugti had led an often violent political campaign against the Pakistani government to win a greater share of wealth obtained from natural resources, like gas and oil, extracted in the region.
On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters blocked highways across Baluchistan, cutting Quetta off from major cities like Karachi in the south and Lahore to the east. Hundreds of people were prevented from going to work and scores of businesses and offices shut for the day.
Officials said Thursday that all the roads had reopened.
Bugti's son, Jamil, had warned that the unrest would continue until his father's body is returned to his family for burial. "We need my father's body. It is very important for us according to Islam and our culture," the son said Wednesday while greeting people expressing their condolences at his father's home in Quetta.
Pakistani officials initially said the military did not know Bugti was in the cave during Saturday's attack. But on Tuesday, the military's top spokesman said army officers "rushed" into the cave for talks with Bugti after one of the tribal leader's guides told officers he was there.
An unexplained explosion occurred, killing five soldiers, whose bodies were later retrieved. Bugti and several supporters were believed to have been crushed inside the cave.
For decades, Bugti worked as a governor and elected lawmaker seeking greater rights for the impoverished region's people. But the government accused him of ordering bombings on government installations, running an illegal militia and operating a private jail in his ancestral home of Dera Bugti.