Bisham attack: Karakoram blocked in Upper, Lower Kohistan as citizens protest against suspension of officials

Published April 12, 2024
Residents of Upper and Lower Kohistan districts blocked the Karakoram highway on Friday as they staged protests against the suspension of senior police officers over the Bisham suicide attack. — Photo provided by author
Residents of Upper and Lower Kohistan districts blocked the Karakoram highway on Friday as they staged protests against the suspension of senior police officers over the Bisham suicide attack. — Photo provided by author

Residents of Upper and Lower Kohistan districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa blocked the Karakoram highway on Friday, the third day of Eidul Fitr, as they staged protests against the suspension of senior police officers over the Bisham suicide attack.

On March 26, Five Chinese engineers — and their Pakistani driver — were killed in a suicide bombing in KP’s Bisham while travelling between Islamabad and a hydroelectric dam construction site in Dasu. The bus was attacked in the Bisham city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shangla district.

The attack prompted China to demand a thorough probe into the deadly blast and security for its citizens. In response, Islamabad had announced a swift probe to hold the “perpetrators and accomplices” accountable. Chinese investigators had also arrived to join the probe.

In response to the Chinese government’s demand to promptly investigate the incident and act against those involved, the government had also decided to form a joint investigation team to probe the attack.

Last week, Prime Mini­ster Shehbaz Sharif ordered action against five senior police officers over negligence and security lapses, which led to the Bisham attack.

Addressing a press conference, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar said the action was ordered against the police chiefs of Hazara division, Upper Kohistan and Lower Kohistan districts; Dasu Hydropower Project security director; and the commandant of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Special Security Unit.

“The inquiry report found these security officials were negligent in their duties and should have remained alert on the day of the incident,” he said, adding, “Disciplinary action will be taken within 15 days,” the minister said.

Today, the residents of Upper and Lower Kohistan staged protests in the main bazaars of both districts. They alleged that the officials suspended were not culpable as the attack had taken place in Shangla district’s Bisham area.

They lamented that the officials of Upper and Lower Kohistan, as well as the regional police officer of Hazara division, were suspended instead of those from Malakand division, where Shangla is located. They also demanded compensation for the Pakistani driver who was martyred in the attack.

The protesters chanted slogans against Tarar while blocking the Karakoram Highway for two hours.

One of the protesters, Maulana Abdul Aziz Haqqani, said that Kohistan had remained peaceful during a surge in militancy in Malakand and other areas. He further highlighted that after the 2021 attack in Upper Kohistan, China had received a large amount as compensation but authorities did not do the same for the Pakistani driver that was killed.

In 2021, a suicide attack had targeted Chinese engineers, killing 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, and injured over 23 passengers.

He said that he would not rest until the federal government provided compensation to the heirs of the Pakistani driver killed in the Bisham attack. He also alleged that authorities had not even visited the family of the deceased driver.

“We will not let the government continue [with] this behaviour [of] suspending the Kohistan, Hazara division police officers in a case pertaining to Shangla and Malakand division,” Maulana Israr, another protester, said.

He said that the protesters wanted a transparent inquiry into the blast, adding that action should be taken against those who were responsible for the crime.

Maulana Waliullah Tawhedi said that doling out punishments to officers from Kohistan in a case pertaining to Shangla was not justified. He also demanded compensation for the Pakistani driver killed in the attack, saying that it should be equal to the amount given to the Chinese.

‘Bus carrying Chinese was not bombproof’

Last week, a committee tasked with investigating the suicide attack in Bisham pointed out significant lapses in the security detail of the Chinese engineers and a blatant disregard for the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Sources said that a three-member committee, comprising two senior officials from the federal and one from the KP government, had been directed to assess if the movement of the Chinese nationals on March 26 was in accordance with the SOPs. Six people, including five Chinese nationals, were killed after a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into their bus in Bisham, Kohistan.

During the course of the probe, the investigators found that the bus transporting the foreign nationals was not even bulletproof, let alone bombproof, which is a requirement under the security SOPs.

Sources said that the committee pointed out multiple flaws in the provision of security to Chinese nationals. Sources said the committee was shocked to learn that “the vehicle carrying the Chinese nationals should have been bombproof but the vehicle was not even bulletproof”.

They further said the company “that was required to provide bullet- and bombproof vehicles to transport Chinese workers, and duly paid for, failed to meet its contractual obligations”.

“Vehicles carrying the Chinese nationals should be bombproof, according to the SOPs but two forensic audits show they were not even bulletproof,” the sources said, adding that the committee also informed the federal government that it was difficult to pinpoint inefficiencies because there was no unity of command in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) task force.

Sources privy to the report filed by the committee said the district police officer in Upper Kohistan was supposed to be informed about the convoy movement seven days in advance but not only was the DPO informed late, but the police officer “totally forgot to convey the message about the Chinese nationals’ movement to anyone further”.

They said that the committee also held the security director of the Dasu dam as well as the director general of the Special Security Unit negligent.

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