Muhammad Saeed, 39, a police constable in Islamabad, seems pretty determined doing his duty at checkposts and pickets. During the working hours, which often extend by a few hours, he is supposed to remain vigilant while carrying the gun in his hand, along with a couple of other policemen on duty. Saeed is one of the thousands of policemen who serve as the first line of defence in the war against terrorism.
“We are determined. We will fight this war. The government is trying to give us maximum resources,” he says. “However, my family is not happy now; they are always worried about my security and safety.”
Saeed’s family calls him many times during the day, especially when there is a terror attack. “They always pray for us because we are the most vulnerable; the first target of terrorists,” he says.
According to National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta), nearly 4,000 policemen have died in terror attacks since 2007. Among these deaths, a large number of casualties were reported between 2007-2013. Out of this number, more than 1,200 policemen were killed in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa alone. Only in Peshawar, police lost about 200 personnel in the ongoing war on terror during the last six years.
Police training academies and schools are another major target of terrorists. In the last quarter of 2016, militants attacked the police training academy in Quetta, killing at least 60 young recruits. At the training schools and academies, policemen are taught in dilapidated buildings with outdated weapons and limited recourses where they are likely to become easy targets of militants.
The role of the police is diminished when all credit is given to military and paramilitary forces as the key force dealing with terrorism. “That is why the role of the first responder diminishes and attention is given to other security forces,” says a senior police officer requesting anonymity.
In Karachi, and now in Punjab, paramilitary forces (Rangers) have a considerable presence. “With a heavily-equipped force, the local police is only seen as a secondary force,” the officer says.
Keeping in view the current wave of terrorist attacks across the country, there ought to be a renewed appreciation of the fact that this war will not be fought in the tribal hinterlands and through military operations alone. The ISPR Tweet that claimed to have eliminated about a hundred terrorists in the wake of Sehwan attack is all about Pakistani cities. And that’s where the military’s expertise does not hold. It is the police that is best suited to do the intelligence gathering and other policing function in cities, where all the sleeper cells and the facilitators are.
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The problem then is whether there is a consensus yet on this basic division of labour between the military and the police.
Afzal Shigri, former inspector general of police who has served in Karachi and Islamabad, urges the need for improving intelligence gathering techniques. He believes that police and police stations are the most important structures to counter terrorism. “Unless we are ready to spend on the police and its skill and physical resources, we cannot continue a sustained fight against terrorism.”
In the recent wave of attacks in Lahore and parts of KP, many policemen, including senior officers, lost their life.
“Lately, there is a trend of giving training to a limited number of policemen in Sindh and Punjab by the Pakistan army. Later, they are deployed on different duties like escorting the VIPs,” Saeed says.
The police station in Factory Area in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat area is only one of the 84 stations in the city. Operating in an old rented building, it has a staff of 70 personnel with about 50 constables to cater to more than 350,000 people. The police station has only four vehicles, which most of the time are on VIP duties.
“On average, the number of crimes of registered at this police station is 3,000 every year, which is double the average annual crime in Gilgit Baltistan. In this situation, one can guess how resourceful and equipped this frontline force is to counter any terrorism,” says Sarmad Saeed Khan, a former senior police officer, who also headed police training and welfare wing at one time.
He says what is required is capacity building, resources, and raising additional force to counter this wave of militancy and terrorism. “The biggest challenge for the first responder force is that the attacker is ready to explode himself. In such situations, paying serious attention to the force is required.” He calls for reviving the practice where constables were assigned areas to gather intelligence from the general public.
Due to budgetary constraints, a limited number of policemen is trained. “As compared to other countries where the budget for police training is 10 per cent of the total police budget, in Punjab, for example, only 2.5 per cent is spent in this category, considering Punjab is the biggest province in terms of population with the largest police force. Besides, police is overburdened with long working hours,” Khan adds.
Recently, the Sindh government has approved the training of 2,500 policemen by the Pakistan army. While in Punjab, the government has started implementing Integrated Command and Control Centre (IC3) system to monitor the whole city on screens. Some recent links to facilitators of terror attack in Lahore have been traced through these cameras.
According to the plan, Lahore will have 8,000 CCTV cameras and till now only 1,000 have been installed. The total cost of the project in Lahore is Rs15 billion while the project is aimed to further extend in four other main cities. “We have to be security conscious as a society overall and especially police force will have to develop this attitude. We have to be very careful too,” he says.
Khan calls for central intelligence sharing and coordination units, without thinking about who the credit goes to. “We have to fight this war collectively.” Shigri also calls for central and provincial-level coordinated intelligence sharing and gathering units.