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Swat’s policemen too scared to go on duty

world Updated: Sep 11, 2008 00:29 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Kamal Siddiqi
Hindustan Times
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Meet Saqib-ur-Rehman, 26, a Pakistani victim of terror. One leg is lacerated, the other, a stump.

Rehman stares into space at the orthopedic ward of Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital. Earlier this month, this police constable was in a van in the Swat, situated in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Over the past year, nearly 200 soldiers and members of law enforcement agencies have been killed on injured in fighting or in suicide bomb attacks in this province alone.

A bomb exploded as his police van went over a bridge, killing nine and injuring two. “I remember very little,” he said.

“Our van hit a bump and then there was a flash and a loud noise. Then I lost consciousness. That had to happen,” said Rehman, explaining how the frequency of the attacks was increasing to almost three in a week. “We just kept praying one day it would not be us. But our luck ran out.”

Rehman said police morale in Swat is low. Many local policemen have refused to perform their duties owing to the dangers, prompting the induction of personnel from outside.

Rehman’s immediate worry is what will happen after he leaves hospital. “For the police, I am now useless,” he says. “Maybe I will start a shop with the compensation money I get”. He wipes away a tear. “There is so much I wanted to do. I am not even married yet.” He also talks about his colleagues killed in the bomb attack: “They were my friends. They had lives, dreams and families. Now there is nothing.”

The other survivor of the blast lies a few beds away. Constable Izhar Ahmad (25) has lost four fingers and his hand is broken in two places. “I will be up and about soon,” he promises, but his father, Amir Ahmad, a policeman with 34 years experience, is not so sure.

Amir Ahmad says that he has never seen anything like what is happening in Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). “What can we do?” he mutters to himself, but does not blame anyone. “I leave it to Allah.”

Amir Ahmad laments the fact that his son, the only child who is earning in the family, may not be able to rejoin the police force. “For the government he is just another casualty figure. For me, my life has changed. I do not look forward to retirement.”

As the Pakistan army conducts its operation in the FATA and Swat areas, it counts on support from paramilitary and civilian agencies like the Frontier Constabulary and the local police. But that support is drying up. Cops are running away.

Others brought in from parts of the NWFP are refusing to serve. And it is easy to see why at the Lady Reading Hospital. Almost every day new men and women come from Swat or FATA or other cities in the province where suicide bombings have taken place. For many, the chances of survival are slim.

Lying on a bed, oblivious to anything happening around him is Shah Zarin Khan, a 26-year-old van driver who was injured in a recent attack on an Air Force bus on the outskirts of Peshawar. His brothers, almost all of them van drivers, crowd round him and try to talk to him.

Zarin Khan’s face, hand and lower torso have been mutilated. But he lucky. His van was destroyed in the attack and almost all his passengers, and his conductor, have died. Unlike policemen and soldiers, for whom the government pays, the civilians are left to fend for themselves.

Zarin Khan has three children who have been told by his family that he has “gone somewhere.” The children are too young to understand. But the adults are as clueless as well as to who they should blame.

Bashir Ahmad, Saqib-ur Rehman’s brother, said: “This is my brother whose life have been destroyed by the Taliban and I have suffered greatly because of this. But I do not blame the Taliban. I blame Musharraf and the government. You should go and see how much bombing they have done in our area. At least there is some one who has stood up to protest.”