ISLAMABAD, May 29: The government has finally taken notice of the troubles in Balochistan and announced some measures that could turn out to be revolutionary or simply symbolic.
The meeting on the province, which the prime minister had announced in a television interview a day earlier, was held on Tuesday and ended with the government decision to give the generally missing-in-action chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Aslam Raisani, the powers to deploy the Frontier Constabulary (FC) in the province. In addition, the FC was also relieved of its anti-smuggling duty in the border areas of the province.
The decisions were taken at a high-level meeting attended by the civil and military leadership which Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had convened under Article 148 of the constitution. Under this article, the federal government can play a role in protecting a province from external and internal disturbances.
The meeting was attended by federal cabinet members such as Law Minister Farooq H. Naek and Minister for Food Security Mir Israrullah Zehri, as well as Governor Balochistan Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi and Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, DG ISI, Lt General Muhammad Zaheer-ul-Islam were also present along with DG IB, Aftab Sultan and IG Police Karar Hussain.
A government official who was aware of the meeting’s proceedings told Dawn that the military authorities told the federal government they had no objections if the provincial government took charge of the security situation of the volatile province.
However, military officers made it clear that some separatist elements in the province needed to be held accountable.
After the meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira gave a detailed briefing to the media at the Press Information Department.
Evidently satisfied with the meeting, he said: “It was very reassuring and encouraging that both the army chief and DG ISI have ensured the civilian provincial government their support to normalise the situation in the strife-ridden province.” He was careful throughout the briefing to give a positive spin to the decisions.
Hence, he ignored the question about the rationale of putting the FC under the control of a chief minister, who, according to some accounts, was hardly ever in Balochistan. He also didn’t give much importance to the infighting among provincial ministers, some of whom had even lodged FIRs against each other for kidnapping people for ransoms.
Mr Kaira said the army chief had categorically said that in the future the FC would only follow the orders of the provincial government.
It may be recalled that the administrative control of the FC in Balochistan and its activities in the province have been a bone of contention between the civilian and military leaders.
In one such meeting in Islamabad last year, a senior military official had argued that if politicians in Balochistan were given charge of the FC they would use the force to settle their personal vendetta.
Regarding allegations that the FC and intelligence agencies have been found involved in kidnapping people who later on joined the list of missing persons, Mr Kaira conceded that the issue came up during the meeting and the army chief promised to look into the issue; the COAS also said that anyone found involved in such activities would be taken to task.
In addition, the government also decided to constitute a six-member committee—three members each from federal and provincial governments—that will meet weekly and report to the federal government.
The meeting also decided to change the law of evidence and other laws dealing with the prosecution of terrorists to ensure successful prosecution.
However, the measures announced by the government have been met with scepticism. Even some within the ruling PPP are not hopeful of any positive outcome for the province as a result of this meeting and others, terming them as electoral stunts.
Former Senator Manzoor Ghichki, who is associated with the ruling PPP, rejected the decisions made at the meeting, saying that similar orders in the past had brought no change.
Though he welcomed the idea that the army leadership had realised its mistakes and agreed to put the FC under civilian control he expressed concern over the fact that the chief minister and his cabinet members rarely visited Quetta.
“Who will implement these decisions?” asked Mr Ghichki.
A sitting PPP MNA from Quetta, Syed Nasir Ali Shah, who in the past has criticised the FC operations in Balochistan, also dismissed the announcements and called for real change.
He went so far as to say that Mr Raisani and his cabinet were not the real representatives of the people of Balochistan.
Both Mr Shah and Mr Ghichki called for an end to the military operation in the province, which they claimed was still going on and recommended meaningful negotiations with the alienated Baloch nationalists.
Mr Shah pointed out that the Chief Justice of Pakistan had said that the FC was involved in kidnapping of the missing persons. “Somebody should be held responsible for all this.”