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Situationer: Balochistan police in the line of fire

Muhammad Akbar NotezaiUpdated July 19, 2017

SP Mubarak Shah was gunned down along with three police guards shortly after leaving for work on July 14.

QUETTA: Mir Baz Khan Mengal Road slopes downhill in the austere Kili Deba locality leading up to a beige home that has an address plaque with the title: Jamal Shah House. This is the residence of Quaidabad police superintendent Mubarak Shah Achakzai, who was gunned down along with three police guards shortly after leaving for work on July 14.

Although the gate of Jamal Shah House is not locked, the family is not home. A shopkeeper explains that the slain police officer’s body was taken to Gulistan, in the Qilla Abdullah district of Balochistan, for burial.

The attack that killed Mr Achakzai was the second targeted attack on high-ranking police officers in the province in a week. On July 10, the border town of Chaman, one of the four towns in Qilla Abdullah district, saw a deadly suicide attack targeting the district police officer. The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

There is little doubt that police officers are high-risk targets here. According to a Home Department report, the men who attacked Mr Achakzai stopped to pump 30 bullets into his body. “The macabre act shows how much these terrorists loathe police officers....we expect more attacks in the near future,” a police officer observed.

Balochistan has been divided into two areas – A and B – based on how their security is organised. Siddique Baloch, editor of Balochistan Express, explains that police are responsible for maintaining law and order in areas that fall under category A. The category covers 10 per cent of the province’s area, while the remaining province (category B) is under the control of the Balochistan Levies. “As much as 90 per cent of violent crime occurs in areas covered by police,” Mr Baloch says.

The primary reason he cites is the high level of organisation in police ranks, a fact that seems to incite violence against it by terrorist outfits.

Around 2001, at the onset of the deterioration in Balochistan’s security situation, Baloch separatists would target police constables in Quetta, mainly because most cops hailed from Punjab.

With the passage of time, as the ethnic composition of the police department changed, sectarian and militant outfits began carrying out attacks against cops. In recent years, most targeted attacks against policemen have been claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) or the TTP.

According to security analysts, military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) pushed militants towards the northern Pakhtun belt of the province. They have managed to regroup there and collaborate with sectarian outfits to target state installations and security forces.

In May, law enforcement agencies claimed to have arrested Saeed Ahmad Badini, the Quetta emir of the TTP who also worked with the LeJ — a local affiliate of the militant Islamic State group in Balochistan. Badini was the alleged mastermind of last year’s attacks on lawyers at the Quetta Civil Hospital, the Police Training College and the Shah Noorani shrine in Khuzdar district.

According to some accounts, Badini had been tasked with establishing an IS foothold in Balochistan. Chief Minister Nawab Sanullah Khan Zehri disclosed at a press conference that at the time of his arrest, even 10 policemen failed to overpower and handcuff Badini.

One of the cops, who had interrogated Badini, told Dawn that when he enquired about his motivation for the attacks, he replied: “What I did was simply the right thing to do.”

Talking to Dawn, Abdul Razzaque Cheema, the capital city police officer (CCPO) of Quetta, says: “Police constables and officers live among the civilian population...they are visible and perform their duties openly. That is why terrorists kill them before they move on to their next targets...the police stand as a rock between them and civilians.”

According to Mr Cheema, the same set of targeted killers attack law enforcement personnel under different names — the LeJ, the TTP, the IS, and the LeJ Alami. “There are around 10 to 12 hardcore militants of the LeJ who carry out attacks in Quetta. Their aim is to first target police — the first line of resistance.”

Mr Cheema claims that “police have managed to eliminate” the LeJ’s top leadership in the province.

The officer, who had interrogated Badini, reveals that the investigation and Badini’s interrogation had helped law enforcement agencies trap 12 hardcore IS terrorists in the Splinji area of Mastung district last month.

Most security analysts agree that there has been robust action against militants, many of whom have been killed in various raids. It is because of this very reason that banned sectarian outfits are striking back, they add.

Journalist Shahzada Zulfiqar says the recent attacks on police officers suggest that militants are still capable of carrying out attacks in Quetta and elsewhere in the province. “It is their (militants’) strategy to target police or other law enforcers, remain in hiding, change their position, and move here and there. This is just to show that they exist and are still powerful.”

According to the police department, it has lost as many as 834 officers and constables in different incidents since 1979.

Mr Cheema points out: “In the past, Baloch separatists too would attack police, but their capacity has dwindled. Although we do not have sufficient resources, institutional support or other facilities, we will not give up on taking out militants.”

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2017


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