Earlier this week Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, offered 200 million rupees to anyone offering details of the whereabouts of the Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. While Mr. Malik has offered reward for information about the Taliban leadership, it is the police in Pakistan who have offered their lives while battling terrorism across the country. Over the years, several police have died while guarding mosques and processions. During the first 10 days of Muharram, the police guarded processions and imambargahs, and managed barricades, thus keeping the suicide bombers at bay.
This is not to trivialise the murder of over 30-plus Shias who died in the first 10 days of Muharram in target suicide bombings in Pakistan. The victims’ families and the communities that they came from have indeed suffered tremendous grief and irreparable loss. But with literally millions on the march on the streets in Pakistan it is next to impossible to have no loss of life when the Taliban militants have vowed to attack and kill Shias.
It is common in Pakistan to blame the police for all ills of the society. Many naively believe that Pakistan will be transformed if the Police were to be free of corruption. Stories of police excesses often surface that attract further criticism. The higher judiciary also calls in senior police officers to the Court where the officers face strong criticism by the senior members of the bench. While the police are criticised for their failure, I wonder why they are not praised when the police excel in achieving the nearly impossible goals set by the public and the politicians.
Take the processions in Muharram as an example. During the first 10 days of Muharram, millions of Shias are on the streets marching during day and night. There are literally hundreds of entry points to cities in Pakistan, which makes it impossible to prevent the militants from entering Pakistan’s major cities. At the same time, some militants are already based in cities and hence, monitoring their movements is even harder because they do not cross the security parameters established around the cities. In such circumstances, the only protection between those marching in the processions and the suicide bombers are the police.
On the 10th of Muharram in Rawalpindi, the police had established three cordons around the processions where everyone crossing the parameter was searched by the police and their identity cards were checked and recorded. Those crossing the pickets had to walk hundreds of meters before they were able to reach the processions. The police and a large number of Shia volunteers were the barrier between the processions and the would-be suicide bombers. The hard work by the police and the civilian intelligence agencies, who kept the usual suspects of all sectarian persuasions in check, prevented massive loss of life during Muharram.
While we grieve the loss of life of civilians and those from Pakistan’s armed forces, we have not been as sympathetic to the sacrifices of hundreds of police who have been brutally murdered by the Taliban in the past few years. Targeted attacks by the militants have caused the death of hundreds of police in Pakistan, but no one is willing to recognise their sacrifice or sing their praise.
Based out of the tribal areas of Pakistan, the Taliban are able to attack targets in Pakistan’s large urban centers. In October, the militants attacked and killed six police, including a senior superintendent of police Kurshid Khan, in Matani near Peshawar. Earlier in July, masked gunmen in Lahore killed nine police cadets, who were on training in Lahore from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Ehsanullah Ehsan, the Taliban’s spokesman with a 200 million rupees bounty, claimed responsibility for attacking the cadets. In March 2009, the Taliban, then led by Baitullah Mehsud attacked the Manawan Police Academy in Lahore killing 12 police.
The police are not random victims of militant violence in Pakistan. Often the Taliban have raided police check posts and abducted police whom they have killed in cold blood. The grisly footage released by the Taliban in July 2011 captured the assassination of 15 policemen who were lined up with their hands tied behind their back. A Taliban Mullah, with his face covered, declared in Pushto that the Police were “the enemies of Allah's religion and have left Islam. Allah orders to kill such people." Moments later a firing squad shoots the 15 policemen who were abducted earlier by the Taliban in a raid in Dir.
Given how terrorism has evolved in urban Pakistan it is likely that the police, and not the armed forces, will be able to curb this menace. Unlike the armed forces, whose training is based on protecting the borders while being on a lookout for external threats, the police instead are trained to, and are experienced in, coping with the threats from within. It is rather odd to see that the establishment in Pakistan has equipped the armed forces to deal with the external threats; it has kept the police ill-equipped for decades even when the nation has started to implode under the threats posed by the militants, who were born and raised in Pakistan.
It is the time to recognise that Pakistan’s enemies lie within. If we continue to scapegoat and blame foreign elements, we will continue to prepare against external threats. What is needed is to bolster Pakistan’s internal defence mechanisms. This would require us to invest in police, civil defence, and civilian intelligence agencies.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of Regionomics.com.
He tweets @regionomics