Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, one of Pakistan's top insurgents, was killed in a massive military operation in which around 60 other guerrillas were also gunned down. The killings fuelled arson, forcing the authorities to clamp indefinite curfew in the heart of Balochistan.
Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said Bugti, at 82 the grand old man of Baloch nationalism, was killed late Saturday in the hilly Kohlu district of mineral-rich Balochistan, Pakistan's largest of four provinces and bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
The former governor and chief minister of Balochistan in the 1970s was seen as the kingpin in a rapidly expanding Baloch nationalist insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had refused to bow to demands for greater provincial autonomy.
According to reports from Quetta received on Sunday, up to 60 Baloch separatists were also killed in the military operation that claimed Bugti's life while security forces suffered at least 25 casualties from gunfire.
Officially, the army conceded the deaths of only four officers.
Authorities clamped an indefinite curfew on Quetta, the provincial capital, following the killing and law enforcement agencies were put on high alert in all major cities in Pakistan including Islamabad and Karachi.
Senior police official Salman Syed Mohammad told reporters in Quetta that following incidents of arson, the army was called out and curfew would remain in place until further orders.
Army sources said Bugti and his commanders were holed up in a cave and during the crossfire the roof of the cave collapsed, killing several people.
Earlier, the private Geo TV reported that intelligence and security forces tracked down Bugti by his satellite phones, which they said the tribal chieftain had been using frequently.
Musharraf had recently vowed to get Bugti.
"I do not consider him Nawab (baron) any more, he and two other tribal chieftains are indulging in anti-state activities with the help of foreign money and weapons. We will soon sort them out," he had said.
On Aug 25, the authorities helped organise a grand tribal meeting that drew thousands of tribesmen in the deceased chieftain's hometown Sui, the source of about 25 percent of Pakistan's gas supplies.
The meeting produced an announcement that Bugti's ancestral properties and homes would be confiscated.
Bugti was among the Baloch nationalist leaders in the early 1970s who mounted a separatist movement that was eventually quashed by the Pakistan Army.
The current turmoil in Balochistan began in January 2005 when security personnel allegedly raped a woman doctor in Bugti's hometown Sui.
Attacks on gas and power installations as well as military targets had been rampant since then, with the nationalist but amorphous Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) taking responsibility for most of them.
The killing of Bugti has ignited widespread condemnation from most political parties, including a government ally.
Altaf Hussein, who lives in London but whose ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement party is an ally of the ruling pro-Musharraf alliance, called Bugti's killing a "great tragedy".
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who lives in exile abroad, described the incident as "extremely regrettable" and predicted "dire consequences" for Pakistan.
"It is a tragedy that the guns and ammunition meant for enemies is being used against politicians," Sharif told the private ARY TV from London.
Amin Faheem, president of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), meanwhile, condemned Bugti's killing and warned it would spell more problems for Musharraf.
"I can foresee more turmoil from Baloch nationalists in the coming days," Faheem told Geo TV.