Needless tragedy

Published April 26, 2023

HAVING battled violent extremist outfits for decades, law-enforcement agencies in Pakistan should have had streamlined and ‘bulletproof’ SOPs well in place by now.

The terrible news about Monday’s massive twin blasts inside the CTD office at the Kabal police station in Swat suggests otherwise. At least 17 people, including nine police officers and six civilians, were among the fatalities and more than 60 were injured.

The explosions destroyed the CTD office and a mosque located on the station premises, besides damaging the police station’s roof. Unsurprisingly, given the alarming rise in militant attacks, especially in KP, it was initially believed that an act of terrorism had taken place.

Later that night, it emerged that the nature of the blast was being investigated. On Tuesday morning, the IG KP stated that preliminary investigations indicated no signs of a forced entry or gunshots and the source of the two blasts appeared to be explosive weapons and ammunition stored inside the police station depot. Details, however, are still being gathered and a definitive conclusion has yet to be drawn.

While it is a relief that this was not another successful breach of a law-enforcement agency’s parameter by militants, it is all the more tragic that so many people lost their lives or sustained injuries in an entirely preventable disaster.

From what has emerged thus far, it appears that a short circuit may have triggered the blasts. Clearly, questions need to be asked about the handling and storage of incendiary devices/materials, most of which, according to sources, were recovered from militants and included mortars, grenades, small rocket launchers, explosive raw material and possibly IEDs as well. Initial estimates suggest that an amount as huge as 50kg could be responsible for the extent of damage caused.

The SOPs must be reviewed as to inspections, supervision, handling, safe custody and record-keeping at such storage sites and any gaps in these must be rectified. If the SOPs are in order, there was obviously a lapse and those responsible must be held accountable for their negligence.

There is also another aspect to consider, which is that the courts are authorised to issue orders for confiscated explosives to be destroyed by bomb disposal units. Better coordination between the police, ATCs and prosecutors through the criminal justice coordination committees functioning at the district level throughout the country would help in this regard.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2023

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