Policing Balochistan through Levies

Any form of government, police primarily functions on the basis of a legal framework, not traditional values

Mohammad Ali Babakhel July 16, 2015
The writer is a senior police officer posted to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Reverting the policing functions in the ‘B’ areas of Balochistan to the Levies in 2010 gave birth to a number of questions that still remain unanswered. If other provinces are being policed by their regular police forces, why is Balochistan being policed by two different forces? Are the Levies really more efficient or are they a mere custodian of the tribal fabric? Are Levies cost-effective? Why is there the classification of ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas in the province? Was the 2003 decision to merge the Levies with the regular police a hasty one? Has any effort been made to find the reasons for the failure of this plan? Though the federal government spent billions on the merger, without a well thought-out plan, this decision was bound to be reversed. Why are we so possessive of the tribal culture? In a modern nation-state, to what extent can tribalism be accommodated?

Historically, the British Indian government had divided Balochistan into ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas. The Levies were primarily introduced as a community police force in 1883. However, with the passage of time, it came under the influence of tribal chiefs. Hence, instead of strengthening the writ of the state, it strengthened tribalism.

Levies are classified under the categories of federal and provincial. The federal Levies were created by Sir Robert Sandeman, mandated with the tasks of crime-control and guarding government installations. They were established to enable broad-based tribal representation and encourage the local people to protect their own areas. Federal Levies are further classified under Tribal Service Levies and Agency Levies. Under Tribal Service Levies, a tribe renders collective policing services. In such a scenario, tribal chiefs wield profound influence. After independence, Agency Levies were transformed into Government Service Levies. In 1983, Provincial Levies were introduced to police the rural areas of Balochistan.

In 2003, the decision was made to convert ‘B’ areas, which form 95 per cent of Balochistan and were manned by Levies, into ‘A’ areas, supervised by the regular police. Though the conversion plan had political ownership and the will of the federal government, it lacked vision, lobbying and an effective and smooth transition. It was thought that the plan would modernise the law-enforcement apparatus in a province where the state had been confronting insurgents, extremists and terrorists. The conversion annoyed tribal chiefs, with the majority of them attributing peace in area ‘B’ to the well-entrenched presence of the Levies and their strong connection with the local communities. In a 2003 meeting jointly presided over by the president and the prime minister, it was decided that the Levies would be abolished in order to bring uniformity in the policing system in Balochistan. A five-year conversion plan, divided into eight phases, was introduced. Every year, five districts were to be brought into the integrated plan. In 2003, in the first phase, Quetta, Lasbela and Naseerabad were selected to be converted to the ‘A’ area. Kohlu, Shirani, Zhob and Kila Saifullah were the last four districts brought into the orbit of ‘A’ in 2007.

Globally, the police are considered the universal law-enforcement apparatus and any form of government primarily functions on the basis of a legal framework, not traditional values. The pro-Levies lobby advocates that Levies have a greater knowledge of local traditions and causes of crime and are, therefore, in a better position to detect crime. However, after 9/11, ground realities changed drastically as security concerns shifted from criminals to insurgents, extremists and terrorists with external links. In such a scenario, the Levies need a credible intelligence collection apparatus, having links with other law-enforcement agencies.

The pro-conversion lobby argues that since sessions and district courts exists in the province, the ground realities are unlike those in Fata and Pata, thus the abolition of the Levies was inevitable. Owing to weak training, the majority of the Levies personnel are unable to respond to the challenges of extremism and insurgency. Weak investigation skills were another argument offered for their abolition, with investigation of high-profile cases in ‘B’ areas often entrusted to the police crime branch in Quetta. Traditionally, the recruitment apparatus of Levies remained tilted towards those who facilitated their induction. This provided another strong argument for their abolition.

Historically, Balochistan was a low-crime area. However, owing to increased involvement of non-state actors patronised by external elements, this changed. Sectarian attacks and those based on ethnicity are a newly-added dimension. Those in favour of Levies plead that the force protects the cultural and tribal fabric of the province and in 2006 the Balochistan Assembly unanimously passed a resolution for their restoration. The resolution termed policing a costly business and averse to local traditions. Another resolution having the same theme was passed in April 2008. The pro-Levies lobby argues that instead of doing away with Levies, there should be more focus on recruitment, training and career progression. Another reason for the negative attitude of locals towards the regular police system was the recruitment of non-locals to the police. Critics also argue that doing away with the Levies was costly. Instead, investment in modernisation, training and capacity-building can improve their performance.

After the 18th Amendment, law and order has become the exclusive domain of the provinces, but provincial governments still lack the will and capacity to cope with this challenge, often expecting the centre to help. This situation warrants that provinces invest more in law enforcement. The initial decision to convert ‘B’ areas into ‘A’ leading to the abolition of the Levies, and the subsequent one to reverse this decision were both hasty, lacking any consultation with stakeholders or research. Now a study is to be carried out into why the transition failed, how the jurisdiction of the police in Balochistan can be increased and how the modernisation of the Levies can be achieved. Though at the moment the conversion of ‘B’ areas into ‘A’ may seem difficult, in the future this can become a reality. It will be ideal if this is properly thought through and then implemented to improve Balochistan’s security.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th,  2015.

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