A long time ago when I introduced my future husband to my friend and editor Razia Bhatti, and he proceeded to tell her about his workday as an under training police officer (‘ASP UT’), she exclaimed that it sounded gruelling and sort of like a dog’s life or — as she jokingly paraphrased — a cop’s life.
She was right, and as I have seen in the decades since we married, it is immensely under-appreciated and very dangerous work. And just how dangerous can be gauged from the number of police colleagues who have been marked by violence. One killed by a bomber at a Muharram procession, another by a suicide attack on his car, one gunned down on a busy road… the list goes on and on. These are the men struck down because they are always on the front line in the war against crime, the fight against terrorism. And so every time a policeman is killed, for me it seems to take on the dimension of an almost personal loss.
CCTV footage seems to show that the main target of last Monday’s suicide bombing was the police officers at the scene. Six police officials were killed in the attack including two senior officers. The two officers, DIG Traffic Captain Mobin and SSP Operations Zahid Gondal, have been widely mourned and much mentioned — not because the value of their lives was more than anybody else’s but because they were men who were leading from the front: part of the fray with their men, not hiding in an air-conditioned office or hovering around the CM and currying favour in the corridors of power.
A commanding officer’s bravery, commitment and integrity can charge a fighting force with such zeal and fervour that it can somehow achieve much beyond its stated capacity. When you kill an officer who has led bravely from the front, you also put a big dent in the self-belief of the force. Terrorists understand this well: targeting law enforcers and police recruitment or training centres have long been their prime target; as these attacks strike deep at the heart of the very force that is fighting against them. So these men in uniform are walking targets, their presence a taunt to their enemies, their deaths a boost for the terrorists.
Pakistan is fighting a war against these terrorists, and like all counter terror ops its successes are mostly unheralded — the attacks that are foiled, the messages that are intercepted, the contacts that are made… More is the pity then that, a day after the Lahore attack, the police were being expected to ‘police St Valentine’s Day celebrations’ as an Islamabad High Court judge ruled that this was a banned activity. Are the police to fight a war against crime and terror or against red roses, hearts and soppy cards? Which poses the greater threat?
Sad too that the protest at which policemen were targeted in Lahore was not really upholding any great social principle but was merely a disruptive and illegal assembly of those refusing to comply with new regulations — regulation that would basically make getting away with murder (via substandard/adulterated drugs) less easy….
Police families know how deeply personal the death of any police official feels. It brings back not just memories of slain comrades but of all the many times that somebody close to them has been a whisker away from death: the bullet that injured and the one that just missed, the bomb that got their house but didn’t get them, the open threats from captured militants who reminded their police captors that they knew exactly where their families lived and where their children went to school….
It’s life on the front line….