Editorial: Curtail the cabinet to meet police demands
By Malik Siraj Akbar
With the entire police force across Balochistan on a complete strike, threat to citizens’ lives and property has reached its zenith. As the strike seeking an increase in the monthly salaries of the policemen in Balochistan continued for the second day, the best remedy the government seemed to come up with was a decision to disarm the police force in Quetta. Policemen were given clubs in their hands and were denied weapons fearing that they could become as violent as they turned out to be on Monday.
While the provincial government and police personnel still have to hammer out a solution, the biggest threat in the meanwhile continues to be posed to public safety. The depressing state of lawlessness could easily be gauged on Tuesday evening when a government employee working with Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) was killed in the provincial capital by unidentified persons. The police refused to visit the venue and help to hospitalize the victim of a firing incident by saying that they were on a strike. Unfortunately, the police did not go to the hospital either where the dead body of the WAPDA official was taken for autopsy. With such circumstances, what are the people in the province going to do when the police are adamant to protect public life and property? Until the issue is settled, one could surely say that everyone in Quetta is sitting on a time-bomb which could explode at any time.
What was done by the policemen on the first day of their protest rally is accurately regrettable. These actions have not only been widely condemned by people from different spheres of life but they have also curtailed sympathies for the ongoing movement intended to seek an increase in the salaries of the policemen. However, it is equally disappointing to see the federal and provincial governments doing nothing to at least address the issue so that an immediate peaceful and permanent solution is reached on this grave issue.
In order to temporarily grapple with the unexpected situation, the Balochistan government has only adopted a short-term and shortsighted measure by deploying the Frontier Corps in the city. The deployment of the Frontier Crops (FC), a controversial and belligerent federal force, on the state institutions and important parts of the provincial capital may help to secure the writ of the government for the time being. In the long run, it is certainly not going to soothe thousands of protesting policemen.
The crisis has struck at a time when Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani is out of the country. Despite that, several administrative decisions were briskly made to control the situation from becoming unmanageable. Fifteen policemen, including two DSPs [deputy superintendent of police], have been arrested. Cases have been registered against 250 policemen under the Criminal Act and 30 others have been suspended. That is the ultimate level of action the government could probably take.
Conflict management requires two-pronged win-win solutions to the problems. In this particular case, the government seems to falsely believe that it has fulfilled its responsibility. The issue is in fact far from over. The provincial government should have instantly initiated some backdrop diplomacy into the matter by negotiating with the leaders of the protest. By taking punitive and unilateral actions, the government is pushing the crisis deeper. The backlash is already there: Personnel of the Anti-Terrorist Force (ATF) have now refused to give official protocol to any of the provincial ministers. They blocked the National Highway in Loralai district. They refuse to give up the next stage of their strike which will start at the end of this month when the policemen will give up their weapons. This could be taken as sort of a civil disobedience by the policemen of Balochistan.
One would fully endorse the official decision to suspend, arrest and implicate policemen responsible for instigating police in the provincial capital towards violence and torture. Yet, there is no shortcut to the solution of this issue. The government should give an explanation as to why the salaries of policemen in Balochistan have not been increased while Sindh, Punjab and Pakhtunkhawa provinces have already done so. Policemen are paid too little, say something like Rs. 5000 per month, which is very insufficient from them at this age of high inflation to fulfill the needs of their families. These economic woes further make this important department prone to corruption, inducement and developing links with the mafia.
The government may cite death of resources as a pretext for its inability to meet the policemen’s demands. This ploy is hardly going to convince anyone. The government of the country’s poorest province with around fifty ministers should observe austerity in favor of Balochistan police. The Chief Minister should decrease the number of ministers in his huge cabinet of some fifty ministers and restrict lavish official expenditures to find a way out for the policemen. Confronted with serious law and order problems at the moment, Balochistan cannot afford to have a permanent clash between the government and the police.
The Baloch Hal is Balochistan’s first online English newspaper