By Akbar Ahmed
The new government in “Naya Pakistan” is facing the age-old problem of dealing with the breakdown of law and order. Yet there several factors to consider: There is the coordination between the provincial government and the divisional/district administration, between the civil administration and the police, between the elected representatives and the administration and the local elders. If the different parts of the system worked swiftly in coordination and with resolve, there was no problem that could not be solved.
Let me present a case-study and, after making allowances for the different cultural and historical context, see what lessons can be learned for “Naya Pakistan”.
In June 1986 when I was commissioner of Sibi division in Baluchistan, Mir Noor Muhammad Jamali, a chieftain of the influential Jamali tribe, was kidnapped from Nasirabad, a district headquarters in Sibi division, by dacoits, or an armed criminal gang. The dacoits headed for their base in the Sind province with their prize. This incident came after a series of kidnappings in which dacoits would cross over from the Sind to kidnap people and take them across the provincial border for ransom. The operations were widespread and becoming increasingly bold. For the dacoits, it was a highly successful criminal enterprise.
I had recently taken over the Sibi division, and the incident became a test-case formy reputation. Immediately mobilizing all my resources, I followed the gang in “hot pursuit.” I instructed one group of my officers to form an advance scouts’ party, along with members of the Jamali tribe, and to leave without a moment’s delay so as not to lose the trail of the gang. As the second prong of my attack, Igathered whatever armed men I had available to me and crossed into the Sind province. I had a great team of field officers, specially the excellent head of the police Sikander Muhammadzai, who unhesitatingly led his force personally over the next few days.
As commissioner of Sibi division, I was not authorized to act outside my jurisdiction, and crossing into another province with a raiding party was fraught with dangers. I was constantly in touch, however, with the chief minister, the head of Baluchistan province, who had telephoned his counterpart in Sind, informing him of my imminent arrival in his area, and this gave me administrative cover.
As the news spread, anger grew among the Baluch tribes at the outrage. A tribal war erupting across provincial borders was a real danger. In the meantime, on the national level, the opposition was hammering at the newly formed elected government in Islamabad about losing control of the law and order situation in the country.
I knew if the trail went cold we would not be able to recover Noor Jamali easily, if at all. We were relentless in our chase however. Gunfire was exchanged and several people wounded, but we kept after the dacoits. The heat was oppressive and the region desolate. We had virtually no food or water for three days. When I could, I snatched sleep at night in the back seat of the commissioner’s car, with my Bugti bodyguard throwing a ring of protection around it. My protection became a matter of honor for them. With their fierce-looking appearance and reputation, their presence added to the earnestness of our purpose.
Deep in the Sind province, we were in the middle of what I described in my official report later as “no man’s land.”The people in these villages found it hard to believe that an officer of the seniority of the commissioner was among them. The police usually locked themselves behind closed doors in their dilapidated police stations in fear of the dacoits. “The Sind Government,” I wrote in my report, “cannot even collect revenue from here” and “the local police were demoralized and fearful.”
After the intensity of our pursuit, the dacoits felt it was no longer worth keeping Noor Jamali. They told him what was happening was unprecedented and would ruin their business. They could not have senior officers exchanging fire with them and tramping around in their areas, thus exposing their hideouts. They released Noor Jamali unconditionally. He was brought home safely. Given the national prominence the matter had assumed, it was widely reported in the press. The prime minister and chief minister gave statements to show the extent of control they had over law and order in the country.
Expressing his appreciation, the chief minister of Baluchistan wrote to me:”This is to place on record the appreciation of the Provincial Government for good work done and the high sense of duty displayed by you in giving a hot pursuit to the criminals who had abducted a notable of Jamali tribe namely Mir Noor Muhammad Jamali and taken to Sind area. But for the untiring efforts and constant pressure put on the criminals recovery of the abducted tribal elderwould not have been possible. It is only with such dedication and hard work that these undesirable elements can be controlled and discouraged. I am confident that you would keep up and continue with dedication for the eradication of such elements.”
A Baluch chief himself and the former ruler of a Baluch state, Mir Jam Qadir Khan was a scholarly, compassionate man with a desire to serve his people. He always treated me with honor and made me feel welcome in Baluchistan. He followed up his generous letter with an equally generous gesture. He convened an all-Baluchistan jirga or council of chiefs and members of Parliament where in glowing terms he publicly honored me and my key officials with special awards.
The word had got out to dacoits in the region: any breach of law would be met by swift and resolute action. I was informed by my police that a saying was circulating among the dacoits that it was best to lie low as the “new commissioner was quite mad” and capable of turning up with a large force at their doorstep in the middle of the night if they broke the law. I would not have any law and order problem for the rest of my tenure as commissioner of Sibi Division.
There are lessons for us today. Given the low morale, neither civil nor police officials would be inclined to risk their lives in facing exchange of gunfire. Before long we would have seen large numbers of heavily armed security personnel in armored vehicles, likely with little understanding of local culture moving into the area. Anyone who appeared slightly suspicious-which could include virtually every citizen-would be picked up and taken for “interrogation.” Ordinary people would be outraged by the disproportionate use of force. The dacoits who thrive on local sympathy would have let things die down before returning to business as usual.
The complicated Baluch case would not have been resolved if the commissioner was not fully involved at the center of the operation directing and coordinating it, or without the full backing he received from the chief minister, the cooperation from his service colleagues and the moral support of the public. If there is coordination and cooperation, no problem in the field is too great to resolve.
(The writer is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington, DC, and author of Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity)