Who will police the new districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

A tussle over power has paralysed the integration of the criminal justice system, writes Sohail Khattak

Who will police the new districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?
The indecision of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government and a strong bureaucratic opposition to extension of police to merged districts is complicating the region’s integration with the criminal justice system of the province. Although the extension and transition of all government departments and machinery is underway in the merged districts, the establishment of a criminal justice system establishment has become paralysed.

A tug of war for power has ensued over administrative control in the new districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This is obvious from some developments and events that occurred soon after the 25th Amendment in the Constitution was passed to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in KP.

The KP governor appears unwilling to surrender his powers which his chair enjoyed over FATA before the 25th Amendment was passed. Similarly, the bureaucrats who were running the administration and the criminal justice system as political agents and assistant political agents (now termed deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners) are also not ready to share their powers. Meanwhile, it appears that the police department is in a hurry to enter the new districts with complete administrative, financial and operational autonomy.

On February 9, the federal government abruptly removed KP Chief Secretary Naveed Kamran Baloch and Inspector General of Police Salahuddin Mehsud. This decision of changing the province’s top heads triggered a discussion on social media and among the police and bureaucratic circles on the motives behind the abrupt move.

Sources in the KP police department told The Friday Times that some senior officials were not happy with what they called the “unceremonious removal” of their chief Salahuddin Mehsud, who was a great advocate of integration of the Levies and Khasadar forces with the KP police.

It is believed that some elements in the bureaucracy opposes this integration because then the two forces would come under administrative control of the police department - which these bureaucrats will have no power over the Khasadar and Levies in the merged districts.

A bureaucrat currently serving in the merged districts told The Friday Times that the police department wanted to unilaterally to take control there. He believed that crime rate was never high in these districts and the Khasadar were serving the community in the best possible way.

“There is no need for a new police force in the merged districts. Khasadar, Levies and the army are already present there. As a result of this, civil liberties of the people have already been greatly compromised. Why should police be added as another force?” he asked. He added that the Levies and Khasadar should be trained and strengthened.

Another official said the Levies should be integrated with the police while the Khasadar should be regularised and kept as a separate force with district commissioners to perform administrative tasks, such as removing encroachments.

A senior official of the police requesting anonymity said many in the department were unhappy with Mehsud’s removal. “He is a competent officer who always kept his work limited to the job outlined for him as the head of the department. His unceremonious removal hurt us,” he said. He added that Mehsud did not believe that he would be removed even a day before the orders of his transfer were issued.

It is said that former chief secretary Naveed Kamran Baloch was not supporting the bureaucracy in their stance and that Governor Shah Farman was unhappy Baloch, even though he, too, was a competent officer. “Everything was running smoothly in his tenure,” said one official.

Sources say that Mehsud was lobbying for the integration of the two forces with the police and to bring police in the merged districts with complete administrative, financial and operational control as outlined under the KP Police Act. They say the police department was preparing a draft of amendments in the KP Police Act to give legal cover to integration of the Levies and Khasadar.

The bureaucracy wants the Khasadar and Levies to be kept as parallel force in the merged districts along with the police, but under the control of the district administration.

On February 7, the governor chaired a meeting on this issue. Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, the Peshawar Corps Commander, IGP Salahuddin Mehsud and some other top officials were also present. It was decided that policing powers in the merged districts would be kept with Levies and Khasadar and legal cover would be provided to each through separate laws. However, a statement issued by the KP police information department after the meeting said both forces would be under the control of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IGP.

The KP Home and Tribal Affairs Department was tasked to prepare drafts for the KP Levies Act 2019 and the KP Khasadar 2019 in 10 days to give legal cover to both. However, a day after the meeting, orders of the transfer of Mehsud were issued from Islamabad. Sources say that senior bureaucrats in the capital were behind the abrupt removal of the IGP and the chief secretary.

The tug of war between the police and the bureaucracy has emerged within six months of the merger. It appears that the government has hard road ahead in rebuilding the militancy-hit region.

Role of the Governor

Senior officials in the KP government say that the governor is no longer the authority over the new districts of KP, as the constitutional clauses from which he derived his powers had been rescinded. Still, the governor chairs meetings on issues of the merged districts and takes decisions. This is being criticised by many people, as he has no power to decide these issues.

“The governor the same power over the merged districts which he does over Peshawar, Charsadda or any other district. His constitutional and legal status is the same as governors of other provinces,” said an official of the Law Department. “The governor has no constitutional power or role in making decisions for the merged districts, but since he is influential in the party (the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), he is present at every important meeting on the tribal districts,” he said.

A move from the Governor’s House, constituting a four-member advisory board of elders and experts on former FATA to advise the government on issues arising of the merger, was criticised on social media and newspapers. Once again, the power of the governor to make these decisions was questioned.

After the merger, three committees - including the governor’s advisory board - have been constituted to deal with the issues of the merged districts. First, a committee comprising cabinet members was constituted. Then, Governor Shah Farman formed his own committee and finally, a committee was ordered by Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and on Tuesday February 19, it was notified with its terms of references. The committee includes elected members of the National Assembly and Senate from the former FATA.

Advisor to Chief Minister on Merged Districts Ajmal Wazir has said legislation for the merged districts would be in accordance with the decisions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Constitution. “The people of the merged districts would have all rights enjoyed by the other citizens of the country,” he said. He added that the chief minister had constituted an advisory committee comprising elected representatives from the merged districts and senators.

The Courts

The process of the integration of the judicial system in the merged districts appears to be running smoothly, especially after the Supreme Court’s orders giving six months to the government to establish regular courts in the merged districts. The apex court had also declared the Fata Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) unconstitutional. The KP government has notified the seven merged districts as ‘Sessions Divisions’, while six subdivisions - including Hassan Khel, Dara Adam Khel, Wazir, Bettani, Drazanda and Jandola  - have been made part of the Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank sessions divisions. A focal person has been notified for the establishment of the session courts in the new districts and 907 posts, including those for judges and auxiliary staff, have also been approved by the chief minister with the annual cost of Rs545.7 million.

The government has also approved extension of directorate of prison, directorate of prosecution, directorate of reclamation and probation and directorate of public safety and complaints commissions to the merged districts at a cost of Rs794 million. The chief minister has approved a summary for the extension of the directorates, a copy of which is available with The Friday Times.

Many departments which were already functional in the merged districts under the FATA secretariat are being notified to report to their respective administrative secretaries in the KP government. The issue is only with the criminal justice system, which is stuck in a tussle for power between the police and bureaucracy.