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KARACHI: Policemen `dodging` commando training

May 23, 2009

KARACHI, May 22 Hundreds of policemen who were selected for commando training have managed to 'escape' from the elite training programme, mainly by using the influence of senior police officers, bureaucrats and members of the political government, Dawn has learnt.

Reliable sources confirm that this is the case, saying it illustrates a low level of discipline and professionalism at a time when the country is facing serious security threats.

Though officials are reluctant to admit to the fact, many others concede that every year a large number of policemen use the same methods to escape elite force training, using different influences. The 24th batch currently being prepared at the Benazir Bhutto Anti-terrorism Training Centre, Razzaqabad, is no different, they say.

“A total of 600 policemen were selected from the whole province for the 24th batch of the elite training programme, which is commonly known as 'commando training',” said an official, on condition of anonymity. “So far only 350 have reported to the centre. The training has already begun and it is highly unlikely that the rest of the selected policemen would join the programme at some point.”

He said that right from the beginning of the process, the majority of policemen “try their best not to get selected for the elite training programme”, coming up with different excuses, including ill health, family problems and 'social issues'.

“Some use their connections in the police hierarchy successfully and some are 'privileged', in that they are supported by politicians and bureaucrats. Even the system to select the policemen for commando training is under question, as it depends on the group of personnel presented by the respective police stations, instead of picking the best people from the whole available lot,” he added.

The training centre, which was renamed after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is located on the outskirts of the city on the National Highway and already lacks resources, as the authorities concerned have yet to address the issue of ageing arms being used for the training of would-be police commandos.

Secondly, the indifferent attitude of the policemen and a lack of discipline further adversely affect the centre's ability to produce well-trained commandos, who are considered instrumental when handling serious operations in regular policing. Though the issue of the policemen's lack of interest remains unchecked, the authorities claim they have been offering the best courses in a six-month training programme that was designed considering the need of the times.

“Martial arts, sharp-shooting, room combat and rescue operation are the crux of the whole training programme,” said the official. “Handling of the victims is also a part of the training, which focuses on causing the least possible collateral damage during any combat operation. During the course of a six-month programme the commandos learn rope climbing techniques, which allows them to climb huge structure within seconds.”

He said that the training curriculum for the police commandos was designed on the rubric of the Pakistan Army's training programme, but there was always room for improvement and several new courses had been incorporated during the past few years to add value to the training courses.

Experts, however, question both the professionalism and discipline of the police's training programme in such testing times.

“We have observed that there is no merit as such to select the policemen for commando training,” said Jamil Yousuf, a founding member of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), respected as watchdog over crime and police performance. “In the police you would find even 35-year-old personnel being selected for commando training, which has never been an ideal age for such job.”

He said amid rising challenges of terrorism, the police force should prepare separate commando units for urban and rural areas, which demanded quite different kinds of techniques.

“But here we witness no classification of threat levels nor do we see any understanding about the need for policing in rural areas. Then if politicians and government persons would intervene to protect a constable from commando training, you can imagine the morale of the trainers and the trainees after they pass out of the course,” added Mr Yousuf.