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The dynamics of a crisis

By Imtiaz Gul

 The News, July 13, 2012


Balochistan has clearly turned into a security and governance black hole where multiple political, financial and criminal interests either converge or play out against one another.

As for governance, it is hostage to political expedience revolving around financial corruption, nepotism, tribal loyalties, ethnic affinities, and criminal operations being committed by alleged allies of the military establishment and the civilian government.

Almost six dozen gangs reportedly operate across Balochistan, often patronised by ministers, bureaucrats, the FC and some tribal chiefs through the Levies – a loosely-knit militia force handpicked by the chieftains but paid for by the government.

The province is awash with funds. Under the 6th National Finance Commission Award, the province used to get about Rs43 billion from the Federal Consolidated Fund. Under the 7th NFC award signed at Gwadar in 2009, the share of Balochistan doubled from 5.1 to 9.09 percent – i.e., a net transfer of about Rs83 billion which has been progressively increasing.

Over and above the NFC allocation, the Centre has been paying at least Rs10 billion in gas royalty arrears, meaning that total funds transfer from the Centre has meanwhile crossed the Rs100 billion mark. As far as Islamabad is concerned, it has tried to accommodate the long-standing demands of Balochistan regarding funds like gas revenues (surcharge, royalty and excise duty and wellhead gas price).

Unfortunately, a substantial chunk of this has landed with 58 ministers and six MPs of the assembly as development funds. It is the first time that the entire development budget has been distributed among all MPs. This sum has, in fact, been jacked up to Rs350 million for the current year, empowering each member of the Balochistan Assembly to use massive financial resources and opening doors to unlimited corruption.

But security trumps democratic governance. At the root of the security crisis is the establishment’s struggle to maintain peace and counter Baloch separatists. To achieve these objectives, the Army/FC and Intelligence co-opts politicians, the Levy force chiefs and informers. Besides, about half-a-dozen pro-government militant groups also help out the security forces. These groups presumably act as eyes and ears, as well as termination squads, for the security apparatus in the province.

The FC, in particular, remains in the eye of the storm. Mandated originally to guard areas within 40 kms of the borders, the FC now polices even urban centres including Quetta and Gwadar, and has a free hand in all critical matters ranging from governance to security, entailing the perception that the army prevents genuine public representatives and promotes subservient politicians only.

More alarming are the numerous allegations against the security apparatus that range from “pick, kill and dump” to protection of extremist and criminal groups. The Army/FC depends on influential civilians for dealing with separatists and neutralising their impact. The influential persons are either tribal sardars and ministers who control the Levies in their respective areas and handpicked by the chieftains themselves. While these Levies – which, despite their being state-funded, are practically private armies of tribal chieftains – are supposed to police their areas for law and order.

At the same time they operate as criminal gangs and extortionists. They are responsible for carjacking, extortion of road taxes, abductions for ransom and forced cuts in public and private development projects. The security forces know these malpractices but look the other way because they are interested only in maintaining peace and countering nationalist militants.

Some times police has no option but to release people caught for crimes because they turn out to be collaborators of the security establishment. Cases abound in which police was told to set offenders free, thus eroding people’s trust in the police and giving rise to doubts about the role of the police and security agencies.

Most of this criticism centres on the unlawful operations of the “ISI Identity Card-holders.” Many Baloch and Pakhtuns say these ISI cardholders operate with impunity, and even if caught following a crime usually go scot free after interventions from the FC or the intelligence. Senators such as Mir Hasil Bizenjo and Dr Maalik Baloch have often been demanding that these people and their protection – i.e., the cards be withdrawn.

The perception is that the FC continues to call the shots in the province and even Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had to hold this paramilitary force responsible for at least one-third of the incidents of missing persons (during the Supreme Court’s hearing on law and order on June 9 in Quetta).

If the Supreme Court proceedings in Quetta are any indicator, the entire military-led security apparatus needs to come clean on a number of charges including targeted killings, operations through sponsored groups and protection of radical and criminal outfits.

The omnipresence and influence of the security apparatus are a source of resentment for most residents of Balochistan, but there is little hope of Balochistan’s demilitarisation. Even the coalition led by Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raissani appears little interested in changing the status quo. Withdrawal of the FC from cities has been a long-standing demand of the Baloch nationalists.

The restoration of the A and B Areas – something that had been abolished under Gen Pervez Musharraf – and the continued presence of the FC in Quetta and other towns on the insistence of the chief minister are proof of the politicians’ intention to maintain the status quo. The chief minister, who visits Quetta only occasionally and briefly, also does not seem to be interested in sending the FC back to barracks. This obviously absolves him and his army of ministers and advisors.

As a whole, the Baloch nationalist insurgency provides a convenient cover for the overarching role of the security apparatus in corruption, crime, political and sectarian killings and human rights violations – which are practised both by nationalists and religious non-state actors.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies  

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk