A Dark Day For Balochistan Police


editorialIn one of the worst terrorist attacks ever on the Balochistan Police, the Tehreek-e-Taliban killed at least 30 policemen in a suicide bombing in Quetta on Thursday. As top officers gathered at Police Lane, the local headquarters of the police department, to attend the funeral of Mohibullah Dawai, a sub-house officer (S.H.O.), who had been killed in Quetta just a few hours earlier, a suicide bomber struck. The massive blast killed Deputy Inspector General (D.I.G.-Operations), Fayaz Ahmed Sumbal, three deputy superintendents of police (D.S.P.s) and several other police officers who had gathered to pay tributes to one of their slain colleagues.

The fact that this incident took place just a day before the Muslim festival of Eid makes it deeply tragic.

Policing has become a very thankless job in Pakistan in general and in Balochistan in particular. Throughout the year, the policemen face constant threats to their lives. The Baloch nationalists, the Sunni militants (headed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) and the Taliban regularly target them.

August is generally considered to be a month when policemen have to prepare for attacks from Baloch nationalists. During this month, the nationalists mark Balochistan’s “Independence Day” on August 11th amid extremely tight security which is soon followed by a black day on August 14th, Pakistan’s Independence Day. On August 14th, the government increases the police deployment across the province in order to thwart any attacks from the nationalists on Independence Day celebrations. In the recent times, it has become almost impossible for August 14 events in Balochistan to take place peacefully. The third dangerous occasion during this month for the police is August 26th, the death anniversary of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the veteran Baloch leader who was killed in 2006.

In addition, the police in Balochistan have to take extraordinary caution during the month of Muharram when Sunni extremist groups carry out deadly attacks on Shia Muslims.

These are some of the times when the police can prepare for any assaults but there are numerous occasions when it is impossible for the police to predict an assault, and Thursday was one such day.

The funeral bombing on Thursday merits special attention because it was carried out by the local umbrella of the Pakistani Taliban. While most suicide attacks in the past had been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi against Shia, Hazaras, this attack targeted predominantly Sunni police officers. In other words, it was not a sectarian attack.

According to Dawn, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of “another big attack in the next coming days.”

“We are at war with police and other security agencies. They are attacking us and we are targeting them…anywhere and whenever we get the chance, we will target security forces, government officials and police,” he warned.

Since their ouster from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban, headed by Mullah Omar, have reportedly found safe sanctuary in Quetta. The Pakistani authorities have done nothing to check the Taliban presence in the provincial capital. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban provide active support to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that has been carrying out endless attacks on Shia, Hazaras in Quetta. The Taliban, on their part, have kept a low profile all these years. They have carried out only a few attacks but they continued to assert their presence from time to time.

For instance, in 2007, the Taliban carried out several attacks in various parts of Balochistan. On February 17, 2007, they killed  13 people, including a senior judge in a courtroom suicide bombing in Quetta.

In 2009, Engineer Asad, a self-proclaimed spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Balochistan, emerged in the local media and confirmed the existence of a Balochistan chapter of the Taliban although he insisted that his organization was not related to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsud nor did it approve of suicide bombings.

The government should take Taliban’s warning of “another big attack” very seriously.

Unfortunately, the police in Balochistan remains deeply demoralized. Since the days of Nawab Raisani as the chief minister, the police have been traded with the Frontier Corps (F.C.). Instead of building their capacity, the government has adopted the F.C. as a solution to the law and order problems.

The policemen are not motivated to work because they enjoy little support from the political government. For example, when a Superintendent of Police (S.P.) recently prevented the armed private guards of the Pakistan Muslim League provincial chief Sardar Sanaullah Zehri from entering the surroundings of the Balochistan Assembly, the entire provincial government ganged up against the poor officer. Much to our disappointment, Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch suspended the police officer for his honesty and professionalism.

While every citizen desires peace in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan, it is important for the government and the community to cooperate with the police. The brave men who lost their lives on Thursday deserve our utmost respect. The government should not only recognize their sacrifices but also provide immediate financial compensation to assist their families in the wake of the unimaginable losses.

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