February issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

In 2008, 166 policemen in the NWFP have been killed in bombings, suicide attacks and other terrorist activities, a number that is higher than any previous year.

Attacks on policemen, who have become a direct target of the Taliban, has affected the morale of the police force, who are not trained to fight a low-intensity insurgency and are out-gunned and out-numbered by militants. Operating without jammers to deal with roadside bombings, the police lack the monitoring, tracking and interception devices required for this kind of combat.

In most of the militancy-affected areas, the police now either barricade themselves or lock themselves inside the police stations at nightfall, whereas night patrolling in rural and peripheral areas is considered too dangerous a job to be performed anymore. After instances of sniper shootings, even the traffic police have stopped performing its duties.

Desertion is at an all-time high, while the number of those seeking medical leave to avoid postings in militancy-hit areas has registered a steep rise. In Swat alone, the 1,700 sanctioned police strength has decreased by nearly half the number. Police constables serving in Swat routinely place advertisements in local newspapers announcing their resignation from service to avoid a backlash from the Taliban.

So hard-pressed is the police force after the refusal of 600 young recruits, trained by the military at the Punjab Regiment Centre in Mardan, to serve in Swat, that it has been forced to ask the government to recruit retired army soldiers to serve in the area instead. Already, 140 retired army soldiers have been recruited, says provincial police chief Malik Naveed Khan.

The rampant violence, particularly targeted killings, has not only forced constables and junior officers to reconsider opting to serve in the militancy-plagued areas, but also senior police officers. Many seasoned and experienced police officers from the prestigious Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) are reluctant to serve in the NWFP, often trying to manoeuvre their ways into lucrative postings in departments like the Motorway Police or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

The government believes that part of the problem is due to resource constraint, limiting the ability of the cash-strapped province to recruit more policemen and buy them better arms and equipment. Thus, the federal government has announced a Rs 4 billion package for the region, but the provincial government says that, despite assurances by President Asif Ali Zardari, the money has yet to come. Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti has also pledged to do all that he can to muster enough resources to strengthen the police force, by cutting the budget wherever necessary.

To further boost the morale of the forces, the NWFP government has announced that it will enhance the Shaheed Police Package and provide the forces with the latest arms and equipment. Additionally, the entitlement of the amount given to a slain cop’s family has been raised from Rs 500,000 to Rs 1,000,000.

Police stations in the hometowns of martyred policemen are being named after them and their children are being given scholarships and plots. So far, 400 plots have been distributed among such families in the past few months, says the IGP. A proposal is also being considered to double the salaries of policemen, especially those serving in areas such as Swat and Hangu, as an incentive to shore up their morale.

But for many, this comes a little too late, when much has already been lost. Members of the police maintain that the government has been too slow to react and has dragged its feet where vital assistance, in terms of arms and equipment, as well as the morale-boosting incentive package, is concerned. Also, fighting militancy, say police officials, does not fit their job description. “The job of the police is to maintain law and order and fight crime, not fight insurgency,” says a police official. Police officials now emphasise the need for a revision of their rules of engagement.

This article appears as a box within Paradise Lost.