RAWALPINDI: The Rangers deployed at sensitive buildings and other places in Punjab following the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar a year ago are being withdrawn and prison facilities will now be guarded by military trained police after convicted terrorists are moved to a prison in Sahiwal.

Dawn has learned that the provincial police have been directed to transfer high profile, convicted terrorists from the Kot Lakhpat jail of Lahore and the central jails of Faisalabad and Multan to the newly built, high security prison in Sahiwal.

A Punjab prison department official said the process of shifting the terrorism convicts to the high security Sahiwal prison has started. “We will now protect our prison facilities with military-trained police,” he said, adding that the deployment of Rangers was not a permanent arrangement.

“They are in hundreds – not more than a thousand,” he said when asked for the number of convicted terrorists held in Punjab’s jails.

Rangers relieved of guard duty as all convicted terrorists moved to Sahiwal

Orders to shift the convicts to Sahiwal coincided with the Punjab government’s decision to withdraw the Rangers.

Both were conveyed to the divisional police chiefs of the province on December 7 in a meeting called to chalk out the post-Rangers security plan for sensitive jails, bridges, barrages and other places.

A senior official of the province’s home department identified three jails, Lahore Fort, Qaddafi Stadium, the five bridges that connect Punjab with other provinces and the Attock district as the sensitive places where Punjab police will replace the Rangers.

“Private security guards will help local police to protect main barrages and irrigation systems instead of Rangers,” he said.

Some senior police officers had reservations about the decision and the divisional police chief of D.G. Khan was of the view that the Rangers should not be withdrawn from Taunsa Barrage and other sensitive places.

But the home department overruled the officer and suggested that the irrigation department engage private security guards for the purpose.

Apart from Lahore Kot Lakhpat jail and the central jails of Multan and Faisalabad, the Rangers are being replaced with police force at Attock Bridge, Khushal Gharh Bridge, Malal Tola Attock, Jinnah and Chashma barrages in Mianwali, Taunsa Barrage Muzaffargarh, Dajal Bridge Bakhar, Kala Bagh Bridge Mianwali, Chazi Ghat Bridge D.G Khan, and Empress Bridge Bahawalpur.

Extra policemen, Punjab constabulary, Elite Commandoes and Specialized Police Units, trained to provide security to foreigners working on development projects across the province, will be deployed to keep the protective force in full strength after the departure of the Rangers.

Meanwhile, the Rawalpindi divisional police chief is learnt to have informed the authorities concerned that the two bridges located in Attock falls in the limits of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and that the Punjab police strength deployed there was sufficient.

If additional replacement personnel were required, they should be taken from the Special Protection Units of Chakwal and Jhelum, the officer suggested.

Specifically, the Punjab Constabulary was suggested to replace the Rangers being withdrawn from Multan Jail, though the Bahawalpur police feel that the training of the Punjab Constabulary needs to be improved to the standards of the Counter Terrorism Department’s force.

When contacted, Punjab’s Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Sukhera said: “The Rangers wished for the provincial government to relieve them so they could attend to their prime duty of protecting the country’s borders.”

“All convicted terrorists are being shifted to the high security prison in Sahiwal. There is nothing to worry about the security of the jails where no such convict is being held,” he added.

IGP Sukhera said that security to sensitive installations was mainly being provided by the police. “The Rangers were deployed only wherever they were needed,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2015