Security personnel from Pakistan’s former tribal areas launch protest against police merger

Khasadars and Levies personnel attend a protest camp in Bajaur tribal district on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Khasadar force)
Updated 14 September 2019

Security personnel from Pakistan’s former tribal areas launch protest against police merger

  • Government unilaterally decided not to fully merge paramilitary forces with KP police
  • The Khasadars and Levies personnel are demanding the full rights and privileges of police around the country

PESHAWAR: Two days after the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly passed a bill that would bring 28,000 personnel of the Levies and Khasadar paramilitary forces previously operating in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) under the command of the provincial police, province-wide protests erupted led by the All FATA Khasadar Force Committee on Saturday, with campaigners demanding their full integration with police.
In January this year, the government announced that thousands of existing local paramilitary personnel recruited from among the tribes of former FATA would be merged with KP police, after a constitutional amendment last year merged the tribal areas with neighboring KP province and the Supreme Court abolished draconian colonial era laws under which entire tribes were held responsible for the crime committed by an individual.

Khasadars, Levies personnel and tribal elders attend a protest camp in Bajaur tribal district on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Khasadar force)

But the government on Thursday took a unilateral decision against merging the two inadequately trained forces into KP police immediately, though the law gives them the allowance to fully merge with the provincial force at a later stage. According to the hotly protested bill, two special Khasadar and Levies forces would instead be working parallel to the police, in a move that representatives of the forces deem unacceptable.
“We plan to mobilize 28,000 plus Khasadar and Levies personnel for a decisive sit-in in Peshawar, and then at Bani Gala in front of the Prime Minister’s home,” Syed Jalal Wazir, chairman All FATA Khasadar and Levy Force Committee, told Arab News.
“We will ask the Prime Minister... if you have merged tribal areas with KP then merge us with the police, but if tribal areas’ merger is just an eyewash, then we will step back from our legitimate demand,” he said.

Syed Jalal Wazir, chairman All FATA Khasadar and Levy Force Committee, addresses Khasadars and Levies personnel (not in the picture) at a protest camp in Bajaur tribal district on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Khasadar force)

On Thursday, as KP Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ghani chaired the session, Khasadar and Levies personnel chanted slogans against the bill outside and demanded they be given the perks and privileges enjoyed by the police force in the rest of the country. The bill was tabled without allowing for debate, which caused pandemonium in the house.
But Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said the reservations of former FATA personnel were unfounded, and that they were toeing the opposition’s line.
“It is totally unfair that Khasadars and Levies personnel have opted for protests. I know the opposition is behind them, fueling protests to destabilize the provincial government,” he said. 
But the opposition bench said the government must take opposition lawmakers into confidence before introducing bills of public importance. 
Opposition member from the Awami National Party (ANP), Sardar Hussain Babak, said KP’s Chief Minister, Mahmood Khan, had promised the Khasadars and Levies personnel that they would be fully absorbed into provincial police, but the pledge had never materialized.
According to Wazir, over 2,000 Khasadars and Levies Force personnel attended Saturday’s protest camp in Bajaur tribal district to protest the bill. Arab News could not independently verify the figure.
He said the new law was unacceptable, and that the Police Act 2017, which made KP police more accountable to elected institutions at district and provincial levels, should be applied to the Khasadar Force.
“We can go to any extent to get our constitutionally mandated rights,” Wazir said. “Otherwise our generation will suffer.”

India, Pakistan said to sign Kartarpur agreement on Wednesday

Updated 22 October 2019

India, Pakistan said to sign Kartarpur agreement on Wednesday

  • The project is a rare recent example of diplomatic cooperation between the two South Asian rivals
  • New Delhi says “disappointed” by Pakistan’s decision of “levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit”

LAHORE: India has decided to sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement on October 23, said an official statement issued by New Delhi’s External Affairs Ministry on Monday, even though it expressed its disappointment over Pakistan’s decision to levy $20 service fee per pilgrims and asked Islamabad to reconsider it.

“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalization of the corridor in time before the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12, the government on Monday conveyed [to Pakistan] that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on Wednesday,” the statement said.

Pakistan is all set to open the world’s largest Sikh temple to pilgrims and the public on Nov. 9, as construction work on the Kartarpur corridor enters its final stages, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on his official Facebook page on Sunday.

The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur in Pakistan will be inaugurated just ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals, and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak on Nov. 12.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” the Prime Minister said on Facebook.

He added: “World’s largest Gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

However, India’s official statement on Monday said it was “a matter of disappointment” that Pakistan continued “to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit.”

The Kartarpur project is a rare recent example of diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February this year. In August, relations were further inflamed when India flooded its portion of the disputed Kashmir valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been virtually non-existent, with Pakistan recalling its envoy from India and banning bilateral trade.

But for the Sikh minority population in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere, the diplomatic overture from Pakistan will come as a relief. The community has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just 4 km over the border in Pakistan, and which otherwise requires a lengthy visa and travel process.

Instead of visas, Sikh and other pilgrims will now be given special permits to access the shrine, with online registration from the Indian interior ministry live on Sunday.

Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has invited the leaders of all Indian political parties to join him to cross the border to the Gurdwara for the opening ceremony.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor but it is yet unclear whether he will cross into Pakistan following the event.

Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, a bridge over the Ravi River and an immigration office, with up to 5,000 Indians to be allowed access daily.