QUETTA, PAKISTAN // Protests and riots have erupted across south-west Pakistan, leaving one policeman dead, after the discovery of the mutilated bodies of three missing political dissidents. The unrest raises another threat to the stability of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country already facing spreading Islamist militancy and mounting US pressure to hunt down al Qa'eda leaders on its soil. The trouble flared in Baluchistan, an impoverished region bordering Afghanistan and Iran where leaders have long campaigned - and fought - for more autonomy and control over its natural resources. Scores of protesters took to the streets of towns and cities across the province this morning after the three bodies were brought to a hospital in the town of Turbat.
In Quetta, the provincial capital, television footage showed police firing warning shots and swinging batons to disperse demonstrators who torched a bus and a car and blocked several roads with rocks and burning tires. Further south, protesters fired shots toward police in the town of Khuzdar, fatally wounding one officer, police official Ghulam Ali Lashari said. Mohammed Ayaz Baluch, a senior police official, said investigators were looking into claims from associates of the three men that they had been detained by Pakistani security agencies.
Police in Turbat said the three ethnic Baluch political leaders were reported missing on April 3. They included Ghulam Mohammed Baluch, president of a three-party alliance called the Baluchistan Nationalist Front. The bodies were so badly mutilated that "it was very difficult to recognise their faces, so we contacted their relatives and they confirmed their identities," Baluch said. He said "unknown people" brought the bodies to the hospital before dawn today. The bodies surfaced days after a Baluch group released an American UN worker kidnapped two months earlier in order to press authorities to release political prisoners. President Asif Ali Zardari said this month that authorities had "traced" 200 missing persons and urged parliament to grant Baluchistan more autonomy.