By Naziha Syed Ali | 6/9/2015

THE vast, sparsely populated stretches of Balochistan give up their tales of terrible human rights violations only reluctantly, but closer to urban areas like Quetta murder makes it to the news. In the provincial capital, after a brief lull, it is killing season again.

Since April, at least 17 Hazara Shias have been murdered in targeted attacks in the city, besides the May 29 massacre of 22 Pakhtuns in Mastung district.

The mandate that allows the Frontier Corps (FC) -the federal paramilitary force assisting police in maintaining law and order in the province -to exercise policing powers in the province has been recently renewed by the Balochistan government. This has been the case ever since it was given to the FC in 2012 on account of the increasing lawlessness in the province, including tribal disputes, insurgent activity, religious extremism, etc.

There appears no simple answer to the question whether the expansion in the FC`s powers is desirable or even capable of achieving its objective.

Some analysts hold that the FC`s policing powers have contributed to the disempowerment of the provincial police and the Levies. (Levies is a locally raised, tribal police force deployed in Balochistan`s rural areas, also known as `B-areas`.) `The FC should only assist the police. In reality, the police are like lackeys taking orders from them,` said journalist Siddiq Baloch. `The FC`s job is border security and they`re trained to use tactics of force. The police should be equipped both in terms of training and authority to address law and order problems because they work within the community.

Meanwhile, of the FC personnel deployed in the province Baloch comprise only 10pc, while the rest are from Fata or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The other side of the coin is that it is precisely the non-local character of the FC that gives it an edge in the province`s tribal dynamics. `The FC has no tribal linkages here; this enables them stop anyone, search them, or arrest them, said Dawn`s senior journalist Saleem Shahid. `People don`t take the police seriously here. Moreover, until recently the police was only trained to counter small crime, not terrorism.

Criminals used to come and fire on police pickets, killing and injuring personnel, and get away with it. The police was demoralised and completely out of its depth.

There is also the fact, however, that the FC, commanded by an army officer of at least major-general rank, and whose senior officials are all high-ranking army personnel, enjoys enormous latitude in a province where the military is fighting a ten-year insurgency. `If the police file an FIR against someone questions are asked as to whether personal enmity is behind it, let alone if they kill someone in an encounter,` said Fareed Ahmed, provincial coordinator, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). `For the FC, there is no such accountability.

Most troubling, there are numerous accounts, many substantiated by eyewitnesses, alleging that FC personnel are involved in enforced disappearances of suspected Baloch insurgents. National Party`s Sardar Kamal Khan Bangulzai recently accused law enforcement agencies of kill-and-dump tactics. `Declaring all Baloch terrorists and killing them will only fuel militancy in the province,` he said in the National Assembly.

According to Ghani Parwaz, the HRCP representative in Turbat, local law-enforcement also knows its place. `When someone is abducted and the police or Levies suspect the FC is responsible, they will not file an FIR. They are more likely to do so if the crime murder, robbery, whatsoever appears to have been done by regular citizens.

At the same time, the community links of local law enforcement, particularly the Levies, make them extremely vulnerable to intimidation by Baloch insurgents as well. Last month, when 20 labourers were gunned down in Turbat district, in an attack claimed by the Baloch Liberation Front, a contingent of Levies deputed for their protection fled the scene without putting up any resistance.

Other issues further compromise the effectiveness of the police. `Because of the lawlessness, many accomplished personnel from the Pakistan Police Service don`t want to be posted here,` said journalist Shahzada Zulfiqar. `They use their contacts to either not report for duty at all, or they go on leave. The provincial police thus lose out on these officers valuable input. There is also the problem of radicalisation within police ranks which makes the police unwilling to take action against extremist groups.

It is this apparent lack of a viable alternative at present that has made it possible for some to reconcile themselves with the extension in the FC`s mandate. In the last few weeks, they say, scores of people have been arrested in `intelligence based operations` carried out by the FC, police and Levies in connection with the targeted killings. (Meanwhile, the Balochistan government announced that at least seven militants involved in the Mastung massacre had been killed by security forces.) No one, however, seems to be able to explain why the Hazaras continue to be fair game for murder.

Published in Dawn