May the Force be With You

KP’s police have geared up to fight terror and crime after Zarb-e-Azb

Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has seen a remarkable turnaround in the fight against terrorist and extremist groups in the last couple of years. This province’s geographical location has indeed been a complicating factor ever since the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan and the US-led west responded to that occupation via Pakistan. In addition to having a 1,350 km border with Afghanistan, KP province is surrounded by tribal regions known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas,  Provincially Administered Tribal Areas and the Frontier Regions. All of them are governed by a special set of laws.

This unusual geographical proximity to the once virtual “no-go areas” and the Pakistani rulers’ thoughtless use of these regions for anti-Soviet jihad has generated numerous socio-political and economic challenges which gradually eroded the quality and authority of policing in the province. But in this sea of turmoil, and on the back of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, some positives are emerging. Once promised operational autonomy, provincial police chief Nasir Khan Durrani has gone about reforming the force in a professional way. That has also helped align it with the counter-terrorism objectives of Zarb-e-Azb as well as prepare the police to face the consequences of these operations. One of the major ones was the flight of the top leadership of militants and terrorists to Afghanistan and that of their operators to KP’s urban areas. Had they not been busted, arrested or killed, they would have wreaked havoc. It required a special professional response and this is what we have tried to do in the last three years or so, Durrani told TFT.

The KP police in fact found itself facing an unprecedented threat since they had been trained only to deal with common criminals. Now they find themselves confronted with a deadly mix of criminal syndicates and trans-border terrorists

The KP police in fact found itself facing an unprecedented threat since they had been trained only to deal with common criminals. Now they find themselves confronted with a deadly mix of criminal syndicates and trans-border terrorists. It should come as no surprise that the KP police lost 113 officers between 2105 and 2016, with another 1,000 or so dead since the war on terror began in late 2001.

As a whole, professional policing has helped contain the tide of terrorism in urban centres as the military went about terrorist networks in the tribal areas. During 2016, for instance, incidents of terrorism declined to 190, considerably down from 207 in 2015 and 485 incidents in the year 2014. This was the obvious result of an offensive-cum-defensive strategy that the provincial Counter Terrorism Department adopted. The CTD and police, during the last two years, for instance, carried out 25,448 search operations, detained and arrested 104,227 suspects, seized thousands of arms, ammunition and explosives.

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Most importantly, the CTD succeeded in arresting 1,156 hardcore militants (121 of them with head money) and 738 cases from previous years were traced and challaned.

Random raids and checks on rented houses and hotels, for instance, were part of the defensive strategy, which too yielded incredible results. This basically underlines the point that if implemented, the law and strategies can work as effective deterrents. Our performance on the ground is backed by statistics, IG Durrani said, adding that some 3,101 cases were lodged against the owners and managers of hotels for not verifying the identity of their guests. As many as 22,535 people were penalized for not informing the police about their tenants as required under the KP Restriction of Rented Buildings (Security) Act 2014.

Cumulatively, this strategy helped shield the province against the much apprehended “blowback” of operation Zarb-e-Azb in KP.

In order to build capacity, schools for the police were set up with the existing resources of the police department. They include the School of Investigation, School of Explosives Handling and the School of Tactics. Similarly IT tools and technologies have also been introduced to help develop and maintain a database of hardcore criminals and militants and this has been linked up with the end-user i.e. the police officer in the field. Similarly, other professional units such as the Bomb Disposal Unit, Rapid Response Force and Special Combat Unit have also been raised.

In a series of well-coordinated efforts, the provincial government also introduced three new laws to create an oversight for hotels, rented houses and educational institutions: the KP Restriction of Rental Building Act, 2014, the KP Hotel Restriction (Security) Act, 2014 and the KP Sensitive & Vulnerable Establishments Security Act, 2015 (including Education Institutions).

The situation, of course, is far from ideal. But getting a handle on the spiral of terrorist violence in an extremely difficult and complex backdrop was not an easy task at all. Statistics from the last three years suggest that professional handling can and does help contain crime and terror.

But the police can only do so much. Politicians, the media and society at large shall also have to back up professional policing with a commitment to the rule of law and non-interference. That will be the only way to cut off terrorist tentacles in society and raise walls against religious extremism.

The author Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).

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