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PAKISTAN: Police Pay Heavy Toll in Fight Against Terrorism

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 2 2010 (IPS) - As the frontline province in Pakistan’s war against terrorism, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has been bearing the brunt of the soaring militancy in the country through massive loss of life and property.

The resulting death toll has been particularly heavy among police.

“The NWFP police lost 353 policemen in 2009 in terrorism-related incidents,” said Noshad Khan, statistical officer of the NWFP police department.

He said many of the slain policemen in the war-torn NWFP, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, “blocked the suicide bombers from going into crowded areas, thereby saving hundreds of lives” at the cost of their lives, he said.

“We are targeting the police and the army because they are protecting the pro-American government in the country,” Muslim Khan, spokesman of the outlawed Tehrik Taliban Pakistan in Swat – an administrative district in the province, which had been one of the major strongholds of the militant group until the Pakistan army regained control of it – had told the English daily ‘Dawn’ before he was arrested in August 2009.

In December last year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani acknowledged the risks constantly faced by police officers.

“I salute the gallantry being shown by police. The government will acknowledge the sacrifices of the police for putting the brakes on the soaring terrorism in the country,” said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in Peshawar while addressing the violence-affected traders.

“Now the militants are on the back foot due to the courage of police and I am sure that they would leave no stone unturned to protect the lives and property of the people,” Gillani added. The escalation of war against militant groups in Pakistan in 2009 had resulted in the wounding of some 818 police officers. It was the worst year the province had witnessed so far since the U.S.-led war on terrorism began in 2001, said police officer Khan.

Until the Taliban government in Kabul was toppled by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the United States, the NWFP had been peaceful.

“From September 2007 to March 2009, 20 policemen and 11 army soldiers were slaughtered by the Taliban,” NWFP information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told IPS. “Their corpses were hanged from electricity poles in Swat.”

On Dec. 22, 2009, the Peshawar Press Club building was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing three people. Head constable Riazuddin, who was deployed at the entrance to the building, was blown to pieces.

“The closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) clearly showed that Riazuddin caught the suicide bomber while he was forcing his way to the press club and then blew himself up in desperation,” said Mohammad Ali Khan, general secretary of the press club.

“Had the suicide attacker succeeded in making his way inside (the building), the death toll might have been in the hundreds, because three press conferences were in progress (when the attack took place),” he said. Efforts are underway to honour Riazuddin with a posthumous award for his bravery, he added.

About 58,631 policemen are assigned to ensure the security of the streets and keep watch over the movements of potential perpetrators of crimes in the NWFP, according to NWFP police chief Malik Naveed Khan. The province is spread over an area of 74,521 square kilometers and inhabited by some 22 million people, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas.

“They aren’t trained in counter-terrorism. They neither have sophisticated weapons nor modern techniques and gadgets, but their great advantage is their bravery and commitment due to which they have been able to lessen the casualties from the suicide attacks,” said police officer Hameedur Rehman.

The province’s 218 police stations are undergoing reconstruction simultaneously to ensure that these can withstand bomb attacks, said Rehamn. The 28-million U.S. dollar construction is expected to be completed within the year.

Pakistani police were generally perceived as corrupt and widely scorned by the public. But that image appears to have changed since the South Asian country’s fight against terrorism began.

“The police have gained the respect of the people because of their sacrifices to protect the people against terrorists,” said Jamil Shah, a university teacher.

Since the suicide attack in the NWFP’s Lakki Marwat on Jan. 1, which killed more than 100 people, there has been no other major attack in this province so far. Police chief Khan credited it to “the deployment of police on roads, in markets and outside schools.”

On Dec. 25 last year, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive wrapped around his body when he was denied entry by police into a crowed bazaar in the Peshawar cantonment area.

“It was because of the police that the suicide attacker failed to cause more damage and human losses. The CCTV footage shows the bravery of the police,” NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour told IPS.

He added that the police have been instrumental in minimising the quantum of damages from the suicide attacks. On Dec. 24, 2009 a suicide bomber killed five persons and wounded 20 others at a security checkpoint on the Arbab Road in the cantonment area of the NWFP.

One of the casualties was constable Mohammad Rafiq. “I am proud that my father had died in the line of duty. My father’s services would long be remembered and God will grant him a place in the paradise,” his son Kashif Ali, 14, told IPS.

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