Balochistan Chief Minister and IG FC at Daggers Drawn

By Amjad Hussain

After keeping silence for about two years over what the Baloch nationalists describe as loathsome and atrocious behaviour of the paramilitary force with Balochistan people, Balochistan chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani has ultimately broken the ice lashing out at the Frontier Corps and accusing it of running a parallel government in the province in the presence of an elected one. Since clinching the top executive slot of the province in April 2008, this is the first-ever public statement of Raisani wherein he has openly expressed his grudge against a subsidiary of omnipotent Pakistan Army.

The chief minister has categorically stated that the provincial government is unable to rein in the powerful paramilitary force which he added has led to exacerbation of already complicated situation in the province. Alluding to the Frontier Corps, he blamed the force for sabotaging the reconciliation process in Balochistan and urged the federal government to discourage all such forces in Balochistan which are bent on disrupting peace in the province. He said the federal government had made a commitment to put the Frontier Corps under the provincial government’s command in its latest package announced for Balochistan, but lamented that no progress has so far been made in this regard. He denounced the Centre for what he called its apathetic attitude towards the aggravating situation in Balochistan and warned Islamabad not to call him to account if the situation goes out of control in the province.

The blunt remarks were passed by the chief minister in the backdrop of alleged firing of the Frontier Corps personnel on a rally of Baloch Students Organization (Azad) in Khuzdar on January 15 which left two students dead and another four wounded. The incident triggered a series of protests across the province and flared up the already high sentiments of Baloch nationalists against the paramilitary force which thereby compelled the chief executive to openly reprimand the force. The chief minister has ordered for a judicial probe into the incident to be carried out by the chief justice and two other judges of the Balochistan High Court. Meanwhile, according to press reports Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has also constituted a five-member committee of the National Assembly legislators to visit Khuzdar to bring out the actual facts.

Frontier Corps Balochistan, on the other hand, immediately reacted to the chief minister’s remarks asserting that its personnel were not even present in the vicinity of the area where the rally was staged let alone opening fire on the participants. FC authorities, however, exercised great restraint by sparing the chief minister and confining their reaction only to clarification of their own account of the happening. They welcomed the formation of the judicial commission to get to the bottom of the incident.

Meanwhile, a new group identifying itself Baloch Musallah Defai Tanzeem (Baloch Armed Defence Organization) claimed the responsibility for firing on BSO (Azad) rally in Khuzdar. A man, Mazan Baloch, who called himself as spokesman for the organization made a telephone call to Khuzdar press club warning all the Baloch students and political parties to give a wide berth to BSO (Azad) and not to participate in its rallies and other programmes. He also threatened to take ten lives in reaction if the militant group Baloch Liberation Army kills a single Baloch. Expressing his reaction to this claim from an unknown location via satellite phone, a spokesman for Baloch Liberation Movement, another militant outfit, Zorin Baloch affirmed that this new organization has been formed under the aegis of Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies to combat the Baloch armed struggle for independence. He claimed those involved in firing on the rally have been identified and threatened that they would soon face a fate worse than death.

The actual facts to fix the responsibility of firing on the rally would surely come out after proper investigation into the happening, but what is more important is to address the growing confrontation between the Frontier Corps and the Baloch nationalist parties in Balochistan and their tense relation which is worsening further with each passing day.

Established back in 1974 after disbandment of the then Federal Security Force, the Frontier Corps Balochistan had the basic objectives of guarding frontiers and checking smuggling of arms and narcotics into the country from across the border. Its relations with the political parties in Balochistan have been erratic in nature over the past three decades depending on changing circumstances. But now it is witnessing the worst-ever of its kind as this time it is not only the political parties, but also for the first time a sitting chief executive of the province has expressed his reservations over the Frontier Corps role in the province and is demanding strict check on the force due to what he describes its unbridled actions against the masses.

Chief minister Raisani’s reproaching of the Frontier Corps has taken aback not only the military and paramilitary top brass, but also the Baloch nationalist parties and seasoned observers and analysts. It is because the chief minister himself had requisitioned the paramilitary troops to assist the civil administration in maintaining peace in many districts of the province including Quetta, Khuzdar, Gwadar, Lasbella, Kalat, Bolan, Hurnai, Loralai and Killa Abdullah and now he himself is blaming the same force for running a parallel government in the province. A latest requisition in this regard was submitted to the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps only two days after the chief minister’s statement in which the force’s assistance had been sought for restoring peace in Jaffarabad district where an armed clash between the supporters of Mir Aali Bugti and Shahzain Bugti – the two grandsons of late Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti – was going on for the last few days over the possession of some land which has rendered several people killed and many others injured. The request was honoured on Thursday, January 22, and FC troops were immediately deployed in the affected area which brought about an end to the week-long gun battle. In return for its peace keeping services, the present provincial administration has so far paid a sum of Rs189 millions to the Frontier Corps while another hundreds of millions are yet to be paid to them. Now, if the chief minister really considers the Frontier Corps a thorn in his flesh then why is he calling in the same force to different parts of the province in the name of maintaining peace and thereby paying it a huge amount in return for its services by narrowing down uplift schemes meant for welfare of the impoverished people?

What are the reasons barring him from recalling the Frontier Corps troops to their barracks once peace is maintained in the disturbed areas? Amazingly, instead of wielding his prerogative power to call back the paramilitary troops from various districts in Balochistan, the chief minister is blaming the force for bypassing the provincial government and is showing his eagerness to have its command in his hands for which he has also been making demand from the Prime Minister for quite long time to make the Frontier Corps accountable to him instead of the federal government. If Raisani’s demand was met by the federal government what would be the guarantee that the force would not be used, like the police and levies, by the provincial government to crush its political opponents?

Moreover, once, such practice starts in Balochistan then it would, indeed, spill over into other provinces as well and the same demand would also be made by other provincial governments to put their respective paramilitary forces under their command which, thereby, would destroy the entire paramilitary structure in the country which Pakistan can not afford at least at this critical juncture of history when it is confronting sore threats from its eastern and western borders. The entire nation is evident as to what is happening with police force in Pakistan. Is not it being used by the sitting incumbents against their political rivals? Moreover, Pakistan’s history shows that Army has always been the most powerful force in the country which have never accepted the supremacy of civilian rulers and have always proved them superior by driving the sitting governments according to their own will and volition. Given this mindset of the military, it is almost impossible that Raisani’s dream to have Frontier Corps strings in his hands would ever be materialized. So, this demand of the Balochistan chief minister is entirely irrational and injudicious.

In fact, the chief minister’s remarks about Frontier Corps show his helplessness in front of military and paramilitary forces. He knows it very well that he can only exercise a bit of his prerogative powers being a chief minister as rest of it is the privilege of the military commanders to wield whenever and wherever they deem it necessary. Allowing for his limited powers, the chief minister should have instead called upon the federal government to restrict the Frontier Corps to its fundamental duty of guarding the borders to check illegal flow of arms and narcotics and entrance of infiltrators into the country from across the borders to preclude the force from indulging itself in internal affairs of the province. This demand would also have gained much support from the political groups in Balochistan as they would never tolerate the Frontier Corps interfere in political and tribal affairs or it be used by the provincial government as a deterring force like police and levies to harass and suppress its opponents.

The mounting grievances of political parties, and now, of the provincial government against the Frontier Corps calls for immediate attention of the federal government to redefine the parameters and responsibilities of the paramilitary force in Balochistan to improve its image and prestige among the masses and to make it more public-friendly. The escalating feelings of animosity against the Frontier Corps among Balochistan people in general and Baloch nationality in particular would lead to destructions and irreparable losses of lives otherwise.

(The writer is a senior Quetta-based journalist: