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Levies have no place in today’s Balochistan


May 15, 2019

The Baloch tribal sardars and the bureaucracy remain the biggest resistance to modern policing helping province to continue to be the black hole of smuggling, terrorism and other organized crime.

Against the backdrop of recent terrorist strikes, the Balochistan cabinet approved to shift Gwadar, Lasbela and Quetta status from B to A areas, which means that the police would be responsible for security instead of Balochistan Levies forces. While this is one small step in the right direction of insulating the provincial capital, the major CPEC route through Lasbela and Gwadar from repeated terrorist strikes, but it needs to be expanded to the whole province.

The Levies operate in 23 out of 30 revenue districts of the province. With 23,132 poorly equipped and trained personnel of the Levies are responsible for controlling 90 per cent areas of Balochistan. They undergo little formal and specialized training to manage major functions like manning prisons, anti smuggling role, recovery of land revenue and even patrolling highways. They are recruited against the word of tribal elders.

Armed with policing and investigation powers, they are primarily tasked to provide security to the district and the community they belong. While this could have been their biggest strength in policing and intelligence gathering against organized crime and terrorism, it has virtually been turned on its head over decades of abuse by the tribal sardars and politicized transfers and postings that have subdued it into watch and ward functions of the tribal fiefdom. Backlash by terrorists and smugglers and lack of institutional support have turned any initiative into instant vulnerability, rendering them passive witnesses. In the aftermath of the 2016 Civil Hospital massacre in Quetta, the terrorist hideout was eventually located in Huramzai, Pishin, but the Levies could not inform the police.

This was despite publicizing pictures and other information about the suspects. Similarly, the force remained clueless about the terrorists behind the Shah Noorani shrine attack in Nov 2016, last year’s suicide attack on a bus carrying Chinese nationals in Dalbandin, the assassination of Siraj Raisani with 128 others in Mastung and lately the Ormara attack are some of the examples where they failed miserably to pre -empt the murderous attacks. Apart from coincidental action, Levies have rarely undertaken any action. Most of the counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations inside the Levies jurisdictions have been carried out by police, FC and the intelligence agencies.

Poorly trained on weapons, despite some headway in combat training, they are outgunned against drug traffickers and terrorists equipped with the most sophisticated firearms. Similarly, they have little orientation and skills for security functions but are chartered to control all the inter-district and intra-district movement through ‘Levies Chains’. This is a common nomenclature for the Levies check posts where chains are sling across all the known routes to control smuggling and protection of Pak Afghan border, collect duties, octroy, etc across the province.

With little to offer for sustenance, Balochistan is a smuggling bonanza due to lax controls and the proceeds forming huge part of the provincial black market economy. Virtually everything from drugs, humans, Iranian diesel, vehicles, truck load of precious metals and minerals, tyres, fertilizer, animals, fresh fruits and vegetables crisscross the province to and from Iran and Afghanistan. Due to manipulated transfer and postings, the “Levies chains” are often accused of hardly posing any serious obstacle to the massive smuggling.

Officered by commissioners, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners and the non-officer classes of subedar and tehsildar equivalent of police SHO controlling the Levies Police Stations, they are fully empowered legally, but lack freedom of independent action and capacity. Beset against a tribal society with misogynist tendencies, it has been reported that 150 women were killed in 2018. Aurat Foundation describes “50 cases of honour killings involving 30 female victims in Balochistan with Nasirabad topping the list.” As many as 18 women were kidnapped in 2018, the Foundation said. In the first quarter of 2019, 25 were women were killed including 10 for honour. But the honour killing is only one part of the larger trend that escapes the attention since crimes in the B Area are rarely registered ‘to keep the clean slate’. But this is not the only vice. Owing allegiance to the tribal Sardar, the more ominous practice is the Levies strong advocacy to the parties to a conflict through Jirga, rather than adjudication through courts by registering FIRs of crimes.

The victim with no recourse to justice is thereby forced to approach the chieftain who hands downs the verdict with practically no chance of appeal. The jirgas, criminalized by the Constitution and the apex court, headed by the Sardars routinely arbitrate over murders, kidnappings for ransom, crimes related to women, money disputes almost on a regular basis, “over a mandatory fees.” The system works to the benefit of the tribal system.

There is near zero crime rate on the Levies files and the chieftain is sustained by promoting the miscarriage of justice with willing help from commissioners, DCs and ACs. Together with the Sardars, the revenue officers, the Home Department leads the foray of resistance to the transformation to preserve the archaic system holding the dream of a dignified life hostage.

They advocate for the status quo on grounds of the tribal force being well adept with the tribal customs and maintaining effective law and order and explain the zero crime rate, conveniently ignoring the starkly different reality.

Many a times even the political leadership attempted modern transformation like former chief minister Dr Malik Baloch and Nawab Sanaullah Zehri but in vain. PPP’s Sadiq Umrani of Nasirabad put up a stiff resistance and saved his native area, when large parts of Balochistan were being converted back to B Areas in 2008, following a brief interlude during Gen Musharraf 2002-2008 when the whole province was brought under police. The Levies personnel were absorbed in the police, but the PPP’s Gilani government buckled under political pressure to reverse the system.

A similar decision was taken in December 2018 to put Police in charge of Gwadar’s security but was shot down due to resistance, like today, from the powerful bureaucracy-tribal Sardar complex. Levies are not certainly geared to manage the modern complicated security dynamics and the threat matrix in Quetta and Gwadar and larger Balochistan, as we have seen repeatedly. There is no defence to the awful service standards of the Police, but they have evolved nonetheless to keep crimes at bay. In Quetta, like rest of the country, the police have been proverbially baptized by fire to successfully grapple with the existential threat. They are much better in intelligence gathering and management than others by virtue of mere presence. The Law and Justice Commission is also helping police reform into an effective service.

There is little doubt that the TTP and the Baloch sub nationals operate in sync. They have been doing so for years.

In the current resurgence the TTP is focusing on Quetta as their primary target. While their secondary targets remain in the Pashtun belt of Zhob, Loralai, Chaman where they have carried out serious attacks. While the Baloch sub nationalists are concentrating in southern coastal parts of Awaran, Makran to target the Chinese investors and personnel working on the CPEC projects, besides harassing attacks in other Baloch areas. While pre-emptive and reactive kinetic actions would be taken against these cells by police, army and the intelligence tentacles, but the situation leaves little room for ad hoc management. In the aftermath, the military led set up would fade eventually and only a permanent 24X7 police presence backed by safe city projects can keep any future resurgences of terrorism and organised crime at bay.

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