A police officer and bystanders remove an injured victim of a suicide car bomb in Peshawar. Photograph: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
The public perceive the police as as much an innocent casualty as the innocent civilians in the state’s pursuit of strategic goals in Afghanistan. They see an ethnic discrimination behind the lack of equipment, and training of the police
A considerable public perception in the NWFP puts an alarming ethnic perspective on the rising police casualties in the province. They note that the police disproportionally suffer more casualties than the army in the province. They observe that public entry into the cantonments is restricted, thus enhancing the security of the army in there, whereas the policemen are left dangerously vulnerable to terrorist attacks. They resent the lack of weapons and training in the police and compare it all the time with that in the army. They ask why the army must have better security arrangements and not the police, especially when the latter is much more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than the army?
The people question how come the intelligence agencies are able to provide advance information on terror attacks? This means they know the whereabouts of the terrorists. They ask why the intelligence agencies are not striking them in their hideouts and wait till they come into the cities and towns to kill policemen and civilians.
It should be kept in mind that NWFP policemen have invited dangers upon themselves in the line of duty to the state. It is not a good sign for the integrity of our country that the Pakhtun public perceives some ethnic discrimination on behalf of the state against the police. The perceived discrimination is an extension of the wider perception in NWFP and FATA that the Pakhtun, both civilians and police, are paying with their blood for the military generals’ pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan.
The NWFP police are the first line of defence against the onslaught of the terrorists. Almost on a daily basis they defend hundreds of civilians by giving their own lives. They are doing so most of the time with their will power and commitment to duty. According to the NWFP police department, 523 police personnel have been killed and 1,083 injured between 2004 and 2009 in the war on terror.
Some people also inform that in terms of modern equipment for intelligence, the NWFP police are completely dependent on the IB and ISI. This dependency varies from case to case and on the relations between the heads of the departments. These people suggest that a powerful way to dilute the public perception of state-sponsored ethnic discrimination against the NWFP police is that the Special Branch of NWFP police should be provided with modern intelligence equipment like that of the IB and ISI to counter terrorism in an efficient manner, reduce the police casualties and also provide better security to the public.
I had a chance to talk to the relatives of some of the martyred policemen. They died in exchanges of fire with militants, explosions caused by remote controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and suicide bombings. The key question I asked them all was: what — in terms of weapons, tools, training or any other thing that your relative policeman lacked — would have saved his life or at least could reduce the number of casualties among the police?
They all referred to jammers and scanners. The jammers given to the NWFP police often do not work. The son of a martyred policeman said: “The jammer would heat up the engine so much that the vehicle would refuse to move. To keep the vehicle going, the jammer had to be turned off.” The uncle of a martyred policeman said that all policemen guarding check posts must be given powerful scanners. He informed that official vehicles provided to ministers have scanners that can detect explosive material within a radius of one kilometre. He said all the policemen must be provided with such scanners, especially those on duty in sensitive places and check posts.
Some of the relatives informed that the tools of communication given to the police, like wireless sets, are not only useless but also dangerous. Anyone, including the terrorists, can intercept communications among policemen sent out through these wireless sets. This, they said, mortally endangers their security in combat situations when policemen send out important messages to their colleagues outside the combat area and these are accessed by the terrorists. The Pakistan Army has much better tools of communication. The same tools must be given to the policemen as well.
Everyone said the terrorists have much more advanced weapons than the policemen. They said there is an urgent need to give the NWFP police sophisticated weapons and train them how to use these weapons. The son of a martyred policeman said the militants who attacked the police patrol, including his father, had rocket launchers and the policemen had only machine guns. He said his father had never been trained to use rocket launchers. He informed that new police recruits have been trained in the use of rocket launchers, but not those who joined the police force before the war on terror.
The police have extremely unusual duty timings. Children of a martyred policeman said they would see their father only once in a couple of weeks and that too for an hour or so, even though their father’s place of duty and their home are at the same place, Peshawar. This is because the police force is short of manpower, they said.
Some relatives pointed out the difference in compensation given by the government to the families of those who were martyred before and after June 2009. The latter have a much better compensation package than the former. Relatives of the former said they are happy for the better compensation to the latter, but wanted similar compensation.
One of the relatives said he has been doing some calculations for some time and has come to the conclusion that in pure financial terms, it is cheaper for the government to provide the police with better weapons and tools than the compensation paid to the families of the martyred. This, he said, is also a much better deal for the families who wish to see their near and dear ones in the police alive rather than being compensated for their deaths.
All the relatives are in high spirits and believe the terrorists would be defeated. The public, however, perceive the police as as much an innocent casualty as the innocent civilians in the state’s pursuit of strategic goals in Afghanistan. Thus there is an urgent need to immediately provide the NWFP police with all the weapons, tools and training that they may need to deal with the terrorists.
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times