Balochistan witnesses tussle on Leives-police merger

By Malik Siraj Akbar

While Balochistan remains on the boil, Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani says all is well in the province and that trouble persists only in two tehsils. This, coming from the governor, is strange, considering that five civilians were recently killed in his own backyard following a powerful bomb blast in Quetta. To this issue of rising violence is added the debate of whether the Levies force, composed of locals, should be merged with the police, which is perceived in Balochistan as getting its orders directly from the federal government.

The rosy picture Governor Ghani is painting is considered unrealistic by analysts. Incidents of violence – bomb blasts, rocket attacks on security checkpoints, and blowing up of railway tracks intermittently – take place in almost every district of Balochistan and the government appears to be totally helpless before the saboteurs. The number of criminal cases taking place in the area have also risen considerably.

“Terrorists in Balochistan recently displayed unprecedented gallantry when they attacked a checkpoint in Noshaki district and abducted two security personnel. If security forces are vulnerable to such attacks, how can the common man feel secure?” asks one analyst.

A major issue that is causing bad blood between the government and the opposition these days is that of merging the Levies force into the police. President Pervez Musharraf has issued instructions to the Balochistan government to do away with the Balochistan Levies; sources say this decision was taken because a former police chief developed differences with the Levies.

A large section of opinion in Balochistan is opposed to this decision. “The Balochistan Levies is the cheapest available law-enforcement agency with a deep commitment to defending people,” said an observer. “It is the first reliable defence line of civil society and considered more efficient than the police in many respects. The police, which is predominantly manned by non-locals, will not be able to maintain law and order in Balochistan because it is alien to the ground realities and traditions that exist here. The Levies are Baloch men who know this side of the country like the back of their hands,” he added.

Notably, just five percent of the area in Balochistan, including the capital, Quetta, is policed by the provincial police. The remaining 95 percent is policed by the Balochistan Levies. Incidentally, the Levies spend Rs940 million or less to maintain law and order in his area. The police, on the other hand, spends more than Rs3.8 billion to man less than five percent territory. Despite this, more heinous and violent crimes are reported in the police-controlled area.

“The federal government’s decision to merge the Levies force into police is wrong, illegal, immoral and against the supreme interests of the people of Balochistan,” says one politician, adding that “In a way, this merger will wipe out the concept of community policing which is, by and large, the most successful form of curbing violent crimes all over the world, including in developed countries”.

Experts also say that Islamabad’s decision to merge the Levies and police will have financial implications. “If the Levies is done away with and made a part of a larger police, Quetta might be unable to meet the high police costs. Since the province largely relies on Islamabad for its financial needs, meeting the cost of the police will be even more out of Quetta’s reach. This means the Balochistan government will have to spare Rs20 billion a year to police 43 percent of the territory of Pakistan,” said an expert.

While many laud the Levies for their efficiency, Balochistan Home Minister, Mir Shoaib Nausherwani, contends that the Levies force only serves the interests of tribal chiefs in the far-off districts of Balochistan. There is a constant tussle now on this issue of merger: one side says that because of being manned largely by the local people, Levies is more cognisant of the ground realities of the province while the police is notorious for being a crony of the federal government; the other side insists that the merger will be beneficial and will reduce the power of the tyrants whose interests the Levies force protects.

“The top-down command and control system of the police is not needed in Balochistan as police officials take orders from the Ministry of Interior and Secretary Interior while law and order is and should be a provincial subject,” says Siddiq Baluch, a noted journalist. Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, parliamentary leader of Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party in Balochistan Assembly, adds that “instead of abolishing the Levies, the government should concentrate on revamping the force by providing it modern facilities and proper training”.

As far as the budget goes, the Balochistan government has proposed to spend more than Rs3.8 billion on the police in the next fiscal year. In the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the cost of policing in Balochistan because besides the upsurge of organised crime, there is also an increase in small-scale violent crimes

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