Following the recent increase in the incidents of terror in the country and particularly after the attack on the Army Public School and College in Peshawar, the Pakistan Army’s Inter Services Public Relations dedicated two telephone numbers that can be universally accessed round the clock for reporting any suspicious activity linked to terrorism.
The hotline numbers, 1125 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 1135 for Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan can be dialed directly from landline or mobile phone for sharing information regarding any suspicious activity, person, vehicle or object.
The information arriving at a centrally controlled location in the major cities will be shared rapidly with the concerned departments; for instance in case of a suspicious object found unattended, the Bomb Disposal Squad will be informed.
Brigadier (Retd) Mehmood Shah, defence analyst and an expert on the tribal areas, believes the presence of a hotline would definitely improve the overall security of Peshawar. “In the past people were not clear whom to contact when they came across such a situation. Now they just have to dial one number and share valuable information,” he says.
Peshawar, the frontline city in Pakistan’s 11 years-long war against terror has suffered dozens of terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of civilians and many security personnel.
The city has more than two dozen police checkposts at the entry-points and also on the frequently used roads in different areas. There are at least 18 military checkpoints to secure the sensitive Peshawar Cantonment area.
These checkposts are guarded by well-trained policemen and army soldiers. The number of personnel continuously change from a minimum of three to six or even eight, depending on the threat level on a given day.
Almost all the soldiers on these posts have obtained Anti-Terrorism training at the Pakistan Army-run National Counter Terrorism Centre, Pabbi in Kharian. Most of the policemen too get specialised counter-terrorism training at the Special Services Group training centre in Nowshera.
A source in the Army reveals on condition of anonymity that the military checkposts in Peshawar are equipped with modern weaponry. “Soldiers perform two or four hours duty shifts. They are equipped with AK-47 and G-3 rifles, bullet-proof vests and helmets, a light-machine-gun and RPG-7. Some checkpoints also possess explosives detection equipment,” he says.
However, Peshawarites frequenting the checkpoints can testify that often the checking is a mere formality. A commuter, Inayatullah says he passes through at least two checkposts daily without being checked. “I often carry a licensed weapon in my car but the security personnel always let me pass by just seeing my national identity card,” he says.
Inspector General of Police, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Nasir Khan Durrani speaks high of his force’s courage and bravery but complains about the lack of resources, weak intelligence gathering and the unwanted delay in getting approvals from the bureaucracy. “Bravery is in the blood of these men. Courage and use of tactics is the strength of KP Police. However, intelligence collection remains a weak point,” he admits.
The provincial police chief says that the KP Police is adopting modern ways of intelligence gathering as the use of human resources is getting riskier by the day. “We are adapting to the use of modern equipment, software and tools like tapping mobile phones of suspects. There are, however, complications in getting the legal permission in doing so,” he adds.
Nasir Khan Durrani maintains that the provincial police has established three specialised schools over the past year to introduce modern techniques in the police force. “The School of Investigation in Peshawar, School of Intelligence in Abbottabad and the School of Police Tactics for senior officers are up and running. The School of Explosives Handling in Nowshera will start training officers from January 2015,” he adds.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police has trained a 1200-strong Rapid Response Force and a 150-men Special Combat Unit to be operational by April 2015 for emergency situations, including hostage crisis. The vehicles in police use are getting armour-plated in a bid to reduce police casualties by 60 percent.
The security measures already in place have failed to stop terrorists from entering Peshawar and carrying out attacks on soft targets such as the one on the Army Public School and College. There are many unprotected routes and despite their brave efforts the police force cannot secure the largely vulnerable city due to shortage of resources and manpower.
Nasir Khan Durrani believes that peace in Peshawar is directly related to the establishment of the writ of government in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), particularly in places adjacent to Peshawar and other cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The terrorists have their bases in the tribal areas close to Peshawar. All measures we take to tighten security around the city would be meaningless until the tribal areas are secured. That is the only way to avoid catastrophic attacks on Peshawar,” he argues.
Fata is beyond the jurisdiction of the provincial police. “The unstable security situation of the province demands that the Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel deployed outside the province be returned and assigned their original duty of safeguarding the boundary between the tribal and settled areas. Unfortunately, those men are busy somewhere else,” he points out.
Brig (Retd) Mehmood Shah also believes that the suburbs of Peshawar need to be secured first. “Our best chance of safeguarding Peshawar lies in the cleansing of its suburbs from militants and their supporters. Many countries have done this in cities bigger than Peshawar. We too should start doing it from today,” he says.
He also backs the provincial government’s decision to repatriate illegal Afghan refugees residing in the province. “We have hosted our Afghan guests for many years. They need to return to their country. The minimum we could do is to relocate them to the refugee camps where they should be guarded by the police and allowed to leave the camp only on passes valid for a period of time,” he adds.