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October 8, 2019

Powerful group subverts reform to convert Quetta, Gwadar into police zones

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October 8, 2019

KARACHI: The euphoria generated two months ago by the Balochistan cabinet decision declaring Quetta, Gwadar and Lasbela as police zones (A areas) from B areas that are run by the Levies, has turned into a big frustration as even the jurisdictions of police stations have not been notified as yet. Similarly, the decision to merge levies with police has also been put on the back burner.

More: Levies have no place in today’s Balochistan

These decisions in August were taken in the wake of massive terrorist attacks across Balochistan but primarily targeting Quetta, and Gwadar where Levies simply failed to anticipate, withstand and take on terrorism. With high stakes in keeping Levies, the Pakistan Administrative Services who actually command the force, ex DMG, politicians and the larger tribal forces form the power group strongly resisting the reform.

Police operate under the jurisdiction of its stations defined by the Criminal Procedure Code. A belated summary was moved by the home department and tribal affairs to the chief minister and is now lying there pending decision. That is not the only one. Parts of Quetta fell under A Area (police jurisdiction) even before the home department’s August notification, but the police jurisdiction remained restricted to the urban areas spread under the 24 police stations.

The other parts of the Quetta district, including "parts" of the surrounding hills and beyond into the five districts including Hanna, Zargoon, Nosar, Pajpai and Saragolla continue to remain under the Levies, effectively out of police control. This continues to pose serious coordination challenges in real time as well as during hot pursuit of criminals from a police zone into the Levies zone. While the terrorists are transnational in character, highly skilled and operate under a unity of command, they are confronted by a fragmented force with different mandates ( police, Levies, FC) SOPs, operating independently with multiplicity of command, varied application of law and lack of defined responsibilities. No wonder, Balochistan remains on the target of friends and enemies from across the borders. The new modus operandi of terrorists is to hire houses in rural areas without any questions asked and use them as launching pads for attacks. Recently police and intelligence agencies found terrorist hideouts in districts Mastung, Pishin and Qilla Abdullah, surrounding Quetta, all falling under the jurisdiction of Levies who are not geared for round the clock policing and surveillance under revenue officers. They do not have the tradition of filing FIRs, hence the crime rate is zero in their jurisdictions, which is used as an argument in their favour.

Through the notification, effort was made to fix this vacuum and police jurisdiction was extended to the whole of Quetta, including the rural districts at the outskirts, but any new police recruitment has been disallowed. Same goes for Gwadar and Lasbela districts. This raises the question as to how can there be police zones without police recruitment. Gwadar and Lasbela, where unlike Quetta police never operated, require fresh recruitment, equipment, arms, transport and new buildings but this has not even been considered by the home department.

To remove the wrinkles, after protracted negotiations, the government had agreed to set up an Assets Distribution Committee under respective commissioners to share the existing Levies resources like Levies police stations, weapons, wireless equipment, vehicles, etc with police. This would have paved the way for smooth and low budget transition, but so far the committees have not even met once.

Well if these were not enough of road blocks, merger of police and Levies has also been ruled out, practically striking a deadly blow to the whole reform proposal.

It is a tragic comic state of affairs in Balochistan that continues to be presided and managed by a tribal political mindset and a complacent, short sighted bureaucracy who are resisting the much needed reform. No wonder, the war against terrorism in Balochistan is never ending. When a senior Balochistan Home Deptt officer was contacted for his viewpoint, insisting on condition of anonymity he said the work on the complex issue is underway with all sincerity. But it requires some more time for the issues to be comprehensively dealt with, he said.

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