Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan addresses press briefing in Islamabad on Wednesday. – Photo by PPI

ISLAMABAD: In a major policy shift, the federal cabinet decided on Wednesday to place the Frontier Corps under administrative control of the provincial government in Balochistan.

Briefing journalists after a cabinet meeting, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said: “Fulfilling a longstanding demand of Balochistan, the cabinet has decided to shift control of the FC from the interior ministry to the provincial government.”

Under the administrative measures taken by the federal government as part of the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package, the role of FC in law enforcement in the province had been given to the political government, the minister said.

She said Establishment Secretary Khushnood Lashari gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet on the Balochistan package.

Commanded by regular army officers, the FC comes under the administrative control of the interior ministry.

Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani has raised the issue of FC working at cross purposes with the civilian government in the province and demanded that it be put under control of the political set-up.

Sources in the prime minister’s secretariat said that in most of his meetings with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani the Balochistan chief minister had raised the issue of FC.

They said there were reports that the provincial government had refused to allow FC to operate in urban areas. There had been a serious lack of coordination between police and FC, they added.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik opposed the idea, saying “the demand is unacceptable because it is detrimental to the federal authority over the force”.

Talking to Dawn, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Athar Abbas said that for all practical purposes the FC was an interior ministry’s force and a provincial government could request the centre for its placement.

But when it came to anti-smuggling duty in the border areas, Gen Abbas said, the FC acted on its own without having been asked by the provincial government.

When asked to comment on the government’s decision to hand over control of FC to the Balochistan government, the ISPR director general said the decision was between the federal and provincial governments and the military had nothing to do with it.

He said regular army officers and Rangers personnel were sent to the FC on deputation and once posted they operated under the interior ministry.

“Since January 2008, military has conducted no operation in Balochistan,” said Gen Abbas, dispelling a perception that the army was still in the field there.

According to a senior journalist who has worked in the strife-stricken province, it was a significant development. Right or wrong, there was a perception in the province that FC and army were two sides of the same coin and putting the FC under civilian control would help address concerns of the Baloch people and send a positive signal, he said.

“Yes, the civilian government has been asking for either rolling back the FC in the province or for giving it under its control.

Now time will tell how effectively the CM uses it,” he said. If Mr Raisani deployed the FC just to smoothen his own rough edges, the move will prove to be counter-productive, he added.

According to an expert on Balochistan, it has to be seen whether the move is really enforced or it will remain on the paper.

The establishment secretary told the cabinet that powers of Coast Guards under the Customs Act had been withdrawn and their limits beyond the territorial posts had also been revoked.

The information minister said the cabinet was informed that the construction of cantonments in Kohlu and Sui had been stopped and the army had been replaced with the FC.