The case of Levies Force in Balochistan

By Lieutenant General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch

In a recent article the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Afzal Shigri, has termed the restoration of Levies Force in Balochistan as a step backward towards “the dark ages”. Mr. Shigri’s analysis, with its unhealthy mix of historical inaccuracies, half truths and generalizations, is an excellent specimen of the mindset based in Islamabad.

The article is also an affront to the collective wisdom and aspirations of the people of Balochistan expressed in unanimous resolutions passed by the Balochistan Assembly opposing the disbanding of Levies Force in the province. It is no wonder then that despite total support and infusion of billions of rupees from the previous regime, the ambition of the Police bureaucracy and its allies in Islamabad to extend ‘‘Police Rule’’ in the province ran into unanimous opposition from the people of Balochistan and ground to a halt.

The origins of Balochistan Levies Force dates back to the establishment of Baluchistan (as spelled by the British) Agency in later part of seventeenth century by Robert Grove Sandeman (1835-1892), the pioneer Political Assistant of the British in Tribal Areas of Dera Ghazi Khan District.  As a result of a series of setbacks, the British felt the need to win over Baloch and Pashtun tribes by making them responsible for maintenance of law and order in their respective areas. Robert G. Sandeman realized that the centralized and impersonal system of policing in vogue in rest of colonial India was unsuited to the culture and norms of Baloch and Pashtun tribesmen rather it may incite the local tribes against the government. Accordingly in his expeditions stretched over a period of three years, accompanied by influential Sardars of Koh e Sulaiman, Robert Sandeman personally visited chieftains of various tribes and sub-tribes and persuaded them for ensuring safety and security to the life and property of government functionaries in lieu of certain perks and privileges. The tribesmen so deputed for duties were named as ‘Levies’ which originates from the levying of the burden of maintaining peace and order on the respective tribe or community.

The system so evolved proved to be highly effective in bringing almost all the tribes of Balochistan under the control of the government with least use of force or capital investment and helped Sandeman to become the Agent to the Governor-General of British Baluchistan in 1877, an office which he held until his death (Robert G. Sandeman died in 1892 and was buried at Bela, the capital of Lasbela State as per his will). These community policing units were later integrated and organized into a Balochistan Levy Corps under Captain H.F. Showers as its first Commandant in 1880. Owing to the success of a classic example of community/tribal policing, Khan of Kalat replicated the same in Kalat State as well by bestowing the responsibility to local Sardars.

In the post-independence period, the Federal Government continued to support this system both in former British Baluchistan and newly merged Kalat State because they did not want to interfere with this time-tested and cost effective arrangement for law enforcement in the rural areas of entire Balochistan. The force initially maintained writ of the state under the operational command of respective tribal Sardars and Maliks supervised and directed by Political Agents and Deputy Commissioners. In 1955 (beginning of One Unit era), however the operational command was shifted to functionaries known as Dafedars, Risaldars and Risaldar Majors officially appointed by Political Agents and Deputy Commissioners ending the direct influence of the chieftain and reorganizing the Levies into a disciplined and effective law enforcing agency while respecting the local norms and culture of the people of Balochistan. With the passage of time while the jurisdiction of Police Force was gradually increased in the urban centers, ‘‘A areas’’ of the province by making heavy investments, the Levies men still relied, until disbanded, on their camels, horses and meager resources for patrolling duties and ensured safety to life and property to the people through a community-based system of policing in rural ‘‘B areas’’ of Balochistan.

Here, one needs to clarify that the ‘B areas’ in Balochistan and Levies Force are distinct from the tribal areas of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) /Khayber Pakhtunkhwa. Terming ‘B areas’ in Balochistan as ‘ungoverned spaces’ is a travesty of truth and unfair. Unlike FATA (North and South Waziristan), which operate under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the ‘B areas’ in Balochistan operate under normal laws. Both the Police Force (A area) and the Levies Force (B area) in Balochistan operate under the same set of laws, namely, the Criminal Procedure Code 1898, and Pakistan Penal Code 1860. There are regular courts of Judicial Magistrates and Districts and Sessions Judges in  the entire ‘B area’ and the accused arrested by the Levies Force are brought for trial under regular laws as in vogue elsewhere in Pakistan.

As a matter of fact, the concept and philosophy of community policing through Levies in Balochistan has been badly misrepresented rather abused by few policemen to sell their argument in Islamabad. By employing a dozen of Levies men from a particular tribe, the state effectively entrusted the whole tribe or community with the responsibility to assist the government functionaries in maintenance of public order and peace.   A Levies sepoy from Mengal, Zehri or Kakar tribe in Levies uniform enjoys the ownership and support of his respective tribe. A miscreant would think ten times before harming or retaliating against the Levies Piada for the serious consequences he or his tribe may face from the tribe, Levies-man hails from. The same Mengal, Zehri or Kakar wearing a police uniform, on the contrary does not enjoy the immunity, ownership, aspiration and strength of his respective tribe for policing. The myth that a Levies official such as a Risaldar would not arrest his Sardar is again not true as in the past there are a number of incidents when the tribal chieftains have been detained by Levies personnel.

In theory, the Federal Government’s huge investment into the conversion of Levies area (B) into Police area (A), as referred by Mr. Shigri was supposed to pay dividends by reducing criminal activity in the erstwhile ‘B areas’. However, a look at the province’s crime statistics as compiled by Home and Tribal Affairs Department, Government of Balochistan tells a different story. In the year 2000, Police Force (then17,656 in strength bearing a cost of over Rs. 1000 million), controlled 5% of the area with a total of 306 cases of serious crime as against 304 cases of similar nature in the remaining 95% area under Levies (then 7,026 in strength bearing a cost of only Rs. 220 million) jurisdiction. However, from 2007 to 2009 when the entire province experienced Police rule, the strength of the force doubled and expenditure moved up manifold. The cases of serious crimes, as scaled above rose to 957 during 2009. I fail to understand as to what is the vision of Mr. Shigri with regard to the role of Law Enforcing Agencies (Police or Levies) in Balochistan. The judgment should be based on effectiveness with regard to their role for combating the crimes and the price that a poor province like Balochistan should pay. Be it the crime or the budgetary figures, or aspirations of the Baloch and Pashtun people of Balochistan, by all means, Levies Force is a much viable mean of policing in B areas of Balochistan.

Mr. Shigri and his likes may like to know that such remotely induced and controlled, so-called development projects have yielded complicated situation for the province. This externally imposed development and law enforcement agenda has saddled Balochistan with the highest surge in crimes rate than ever before besides placing a huge financial burden on the provincial exchequer which is growing by the day. Balochistan was very comfortable with an Inspector General of Police, four Deputies, a dozen of Superintendents and Levies Force having a total financial outlay of approximately rupees one billion per annum to maintain law and order during late 90s. The current Police Force, having one grade 22 IG, four grade 21 Additional IGs, nearly fifteen grade 20 DIGs and an enormous fleet of SSPs , SPs, DSPs and other ranks has become a white elephant on exchequer of the poorest province. What is even worse, almost all of the superior police bureaucracy hails from outside Balochistan who are aliens to the norms and culture of the province. Planned and approved at Islamabad, an aircraft has been purchased for the Police Force worth Rs.200 million which is unable to land in approximately 20 districts of the province due to non availability of air strips. Thousands of vehicles purchased for maintenance of law and order are either seen escorting Police officials or dignitaries and a few hundred are plying in other provinces with serving and retired senior policemen for household duties.

In an age when even advanced countries of the West are trying to cultivate local communities for policing, the Police Force in Pakistan remains an over-centralized institution with key postings and transfers being controlled from Islamabad. The Police Order 2002 further exacerbated this situation by taking away the power of recruitment of DSP’s from the Provincial Governments and their induction through CSS Exams. The last batch of local DSP’s in Balochistan was inducted through Public Service Commission in 1992. Since 2002, the induction of ASP’s (equivalent of DSP) has been carried out by the Federal Government. As in other Federal services, the share of Balochistan Province in the induction of ASP’s is negligible.  Police Service of Pakistan (PSP), whose doyens are criticizing the community-based Levies System, ‘a handful of politicians passing a unanimous resolution’, do not seem to notice the contradiction inherent in the very structure of their recruitment, tenure and due share of the provinces which is anathema to the spirit of community-based policing that is the norm in most of the developing countries.

While it is true that the Levies Force has a different organizational structure than the Police Force which leads to occasional frictions between Levies and Police Forces, it more than makes up for this shortcoming due to its bonds with the local community and the general esteem and trust that it enjoys in the eyes of the people of Balochistan. Unfortunately, the Police Force has failed to win that trust and esteem despite a vigorous propaganda campaign from Islamabad for the entire length of Musharraf regime. When the decision of extending Police jurisdiction in Balochistan was taken by the Provincial Cabinet in 2003 under intense pressure from the then Federal Government, it was opposed by all political parties in Balochistan, including members of the ruling PML (Q) terming this decision an affront to the culture and norms of the people of Balochistan. On the other hand, nobody in the entire province shed a single tear over the recent Cabinet decision regarding the reversal of Police jurisdiction. Instead, as a cursory reading of national and regional language press would show, the restoration of Levies Force was welcomed by all and sundry.

There are good reasons for this mistrust. The Police Force brings with itself a ‘‘Thana culture’’ where ordinary people feel abused and insulted and which promotes all kind of abuses of power such as illegal confinement, torture, chethrol (the nation may refer to the recent footages on electronic media) and giving cover to criminal elements in return for bribes. Unfortunately, the Police Force has failed to put a stop to this Thana culture despite their lofty claims and repeated attempts at reform.  An example of this indifference to the plight of ordinary citizens was on display on January 10th, 2010, when Police officials, with the connivance of their higher ups, rose up in open revolt against the Provincial Government over pay and allowances and inflicted a reign of terror on the innocent citizens of Quetta by resorting to extreme steps such as aerial firing. This kind of behavior would have been unthinkable in the Levies Force. This is not because Levies personnel are angels but because, despite the fact that they received lower pay and allowances, they would think twice before harassing innocent people for fear of disapproval and censure from the local community.

The myth exploited by the mindsets in Islamabad that it’s a combined struggle of Nawabs and Sardars to revive Levies in Balochistan is totally unprofessional and smells for vested interests. The nation may like to know that the present Provincial Assembly has only four Nawab or Sardars out of a total of 65 members namely Nawab Aslam Khan Raisani, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind and Sardar Aslam Bijenjo. The unanimous resolution of Balochistan Assembly for revival of the levies force twice and inclusion of the same in Aghaz e Huqooq e Balochistan Package represent the aspirations of the people of Balochistan acknowledged by Federal and Provincial Governments and has no link with the Sardari System. Sir, it is not a Sardar but the ownership of a common Baloch and Pashtun of Balochistan asking for the revival of a system more akin to them and much closer to their norms and culture.

With the historical intervention of 18th amendment, I think it is now high time that the wizards of Islamabad should rethink regarding their role and start ‘minding’ their own business. Mr. Shigri’s suggestion to the Interior Ministry in Islamabad to take notice of the situation is a blatant call for interference of the Federal Government in a subject matter which now according to the constitution is under the exclusive domain of the Provincial Government, and hence is a constitutional violation warranting a suo motu action by the higher judiciary.

Enough of harm has been caused to this unfortunate nation. It will be great favor to this poor nation if such ‘wise men’ stop meddling in matters pertaining to other geographical and ethnic entities regarding whom their knowledge and wisdom is sketchy and unsubstantiated.

(The writer is a former Governor and Corps Commander of Balochistan. He is currently a member of  Pakistan’s National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz)