It could be a case of being too little, too late – or, perhaps, a case of better late than never. In either case, the urgency was apparent.
The country’s top political and military leaders met on Tuesday in an effort to urgently kick start new initiatives in Balochistan to tame what some participants called an active insurgency similar to the one that caused Pakistan’s disintegration in 1971.
Presided over by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and attended by army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) head Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam as well as Balochistan’s chief minister and governor, the meeting came up with a few initiatives including announcement of a fresh push to begin dialogue with disgruntled Baloch leaders and forming a committee for this purpose.
After the meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told media that the meeting had decided to form a six-member committee to spearhead the proposed dialogue with Baloch leaders.
Giving details, he added that the federal and provincial governments will have three members each in the committee. The body is to meet weekly to present its report. Its members, who are to be nominated later, are also to oversee the implementation of the government’s legal, political, economic, constitutional and social initiatives in Balochistan.
The meeting also focused on what is considered one of the key issues in the province: The role of the Frontier Corps (FC), and how to curtail its powers.
Kaira told media that the FC, often accused of being embroiled in cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan, will be under the complete control of the provincial administration. According to Kaira, Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani will be vested with the sole authority to deploy the FC and assign it the task of maintaining law and order in the violence-stricken province.
“From now on, the entire deployment of the FC in Balochistan will be decided by Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani,” Kaira told media.
Additionally, the effort to curtail the FC’s powers has been extended to relieving the paramilitary force of its anti-smuggling duties in border areas. This will spare members of the force for focusing on maintaining law and order in areas decided by the provincial government.
The meeting came days after a conference on Balochistan convened by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) which called for an end to a “garrison regime” in the province and replace it with an absolute civilian setup.
This statement, accompanied by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s statement this month that the FC was involved in more than 80 per cent of enforced disappearances in the province, is perhaps what spurred army chief Kayani to assure the meeting that he was on board with the plan.
The information minister said the military chief had put his weight behind political leadership to resolve the missing persons issue and put the FC under de facto civilian control.
Kaira said Kayani had assured the meeting that the military would not hinder action if anyone from the FC was found to be involved in enforced disappearances – although insiders present at the meeting did not confirm this.
The meeting also decided to bring in necessary changes in the law of evidence and other legislation dealing with the prosecution of terrorists, the information minister announced. Kaira said the meeting discussed six dimensions of the Balochistan issue in depth – operational, developmental, administrative, legal, political and financial aspects of the situation were brainstormed.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2012.