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Challenges and a chance

January 14, 2013

EVERY day, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police strive to save people from the terrorists’ wrath. The department has lost 619 lives so far.

Across the border in Afghanistan 1,555 policemen have been killed. Policing this region is a hazardous task.

Historically, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department has adapted to circumstances. In 2001, as the American bombardment in Afghanistan was initiated, the Peshawar police had to extend security cover to over 400 foreign journalists. Further, the erstwhile Frontier Police had to deal with widespread anti-US demonstrations.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police was not trained to counter terrorism. Yet, along with the government, the department is shouldering the burden of not just their comrades’ coffins, but also of maintaining law and order and fighting the militants.

The force that is now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police was established as the Frontier Police in 1861. It polices an area of 74,521 square kilometres, and is administratively functional in 25 districts. There are 250 police stations, 343 police posts and 365 patrolling posts for a population of 21 million people.

For the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police one significant challenge comes from the geographical location of the province and the proximity to Afghanistan, Fata and Pata.

In 2004, the then Frontier Police had 35,704 men, which increased to 78,320 (including 9,025 men from the Special Police Force and 2,511 men recruited from amongst retired army personnel).

As a result, after the education department the police are the second largest establishment in the province. In the last eight years its strength has increased by 41 per cent but infrastructure has not been expanded at the same pace. (UN standards for peacetime policing allow one police officer for every 400 persons but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there is now one policeman for every 258 citizens.)

The ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan and the presence of millions of Afghan refugees increased the challenges but the force, as in other provinces, was a neglected department. During the initial phase of militancy, the police were neither equipped nor trained to respond.

Effective policing requires financing and planning. Unfortunately, one of the legacies of colonialism is that policing was considered a non-developmental cum ceremonial activity. Now the department has been allocated a budget enhanced by 117 per cent. This indicates that there is some realisation that policing is a developmental activity.

Yet the major share of the increased funds goes towards salaries and as compensation to the families of the slain. An analysis of last year’s financial allocation shows that 84 per cent of the budget was spent on salaries, with only 16 per cent left for the development of the force.

Meanwhile, despite the financial constraints, the government increased the compensation sum from Rs500,000 to Rs3m. During 2011 the heirs of policemen killed in action received Rs149.5m.

The challenges include boosting the morale of policemen. It was in this spirit that the quota for policemen’s sons was raised from 10 to 20 per cent. The sons of police martyrs have an unlimited share or quota in recruitment.

To reward talent, the governor’s and the chief minister’s gold medals for outstanding performance have been introduced. Efforts have also been made to extend a welfare umbrella over the families of the slain.

How gigantic a task this is can be gauged from the fact that 90 per cent of those killed in action were in their 30s, and left behind on the average two children under the age of 10, young widows and aged parents. It has been suggested that a Police Shuhada (martyrs) Day be commemorated.

Most importantly, though, police capabilities need improvement through focusing on transparency, training, management, intelligence collection, mobility and connectivity.

Only two police training centres and one police college are functional in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Police training is a continuing process and needs adaptability, dedication and financing. Worryingly, these are areas that extremist organisations are concerning themselves with as well.

A mere increase in manpower will not resolve the problem, and might even enhance the administrative hassles. Given the current realities, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department must opt for technology-led policing.

Over the past three years, the province’s police arrested 2,668 militants, recovered 58,131 kilograms of explosives and defused 2,750 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the cost of their lives.

During the last four years, terrorists unleashed 507 attacks on police mobiles and installations, while 631 such attempts were foiled. During the last four years around 283 pro-government community elders have died in targeted killings making it difficult for police leadership to secure elders’ cooperation against the extremists.

Militancy has badly affected the police infrastructure, particularly the buildings. To improve structural development the government has devised a three-year phased plan to construct 56 police stations, 81 police posts and nine police lines at the cost of Rs12,600m.

It has been realised that while establishing police stations, it is vital not to compromise on their location and design from the point of view of defending them.

During this decade-long spell of violence, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police put together a professionally committed elite force, established an elite force training centre, a directorate of counterterrorism and a school of intelligence.

Even now, though, investigation, training, counterterrorism, prosecution, forensics, intelligence-gathering and coordination within the criminal justice system need more attention. The force also needs helicopters for quick mobility.

During this ongoing phase of adversity, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police have learned to operate in an environment containing multiple security forces. The planning, response and investigation skills of officers and the image of the police have improved, and standard operating procedures have been drafted.

The current scenario in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a challenge — yet it is also an opportunity. This is what the leadership must realise.

The writer is deputy inspector general of police.